A series of finger pointing and tension came in the wake of the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime´s annual report on coca production that notes a “worrysome” trend that Peru could overtake Colombia as the world´s top producer of the leaf, the raw ingredient in cocaine.
In late June, the Colombia representative of the agency, UNODC, said Peru had already surpassed Colombia as the world´s top producer of coca, citing figures from the World Drug Report 2010.
The report said Peru´s 2009 production potential of dry coca leaf was 119,000 metric tons, or 45 percent of the region´s total, and Colombia´s dry leaf potential production was 103,100 metric tons.
But the comments by the agency´s Colombia representative, Aldo Lale-Demoz, set off a controversy between the neighboring countries over which measurements were accurate.
Country-specific reports also published in June by the UN office on Bolivia, Colombia and Peru – the world´s top three coca producers – said that Colombia´s 2009 production totaled 147,748 metric tons of dry coca leaf and Peru´s was 128,000 metric tons, 9,000 of which was destined for traditional uses, as coca is a sacred crop of indigenous Andean peoples.
“We are reporting that Peru already surpassed Colombia as the world´s top producer of coca,” Lale-Demoz said.
Still, both reports were consistent with showing an increase in coca cultivation in Peru and a decrease in the crop´s production in Colombia, a fact that Colombian officials were eager to attribute to outgoing President´s Álvaro Uribe´s “Democratic Security” policy, a highly militarized anti-drug and insurgent campaign.
“Not only have we reduced the cultivated area by 60 percent during the government of President Uribe, but this report also shows lower cocaine production since 1999, when these measurements began,” said Colombian Interior Minister Fabio Valencia Cossio. Colombia “is not only the top combatant against drugs, it´s also the most efficient.”
For his part, rejecting the possibility that Peru has become the world´s top coca producer, Peruvian Foreign Minister José García Belaúnde said the information was “inconsistent” and that the statistics did not give a clear picture of coca production in the countries.
Wrong path for anti-drug model
Peruvian economist and sustainable development specialist Hugo Cabieses says the debate should be more about anti-drug policies than measuring coca production, which in itself does not provide an accurate estimate of cocaine production.
“What is important is not the coca production but the number of cultivated hectares and quantity of cocaine that is produced,” he said. “In 2009, Colombia produced 410 metric tons of cocaine from 68,000 hectares [of coca].”
He said Peru had a production potential of 316 metric tons from 59,900 hectares.
Though Bolivia and Peru did not provide cocaine production figures for the UN report, Cabieses based his calculations on the conversion model used by the United Nations through 2008 that said 375 kilograms of dry coca leaf were needed to produce 1 kilogram of pure cocaine.
Bolivia is in a distant third with 30,900 hectares cultivated and a production potential of 114 metric tons a year.
“The policies implemented by the Bolivian government such as the coca rationing and social control have shown positive results to stop the crop´s expansion and eventually have a net reduction, said César Guedes, the UNODC´s Latin America representative, upon presenting the report in La Paz.
According to Cabieses, “Bolivia is currently winning the absurd race to be the least bad, and has even been congratulated by the UNODC along with Ecuador and Venezuela as the countries with the best efforts against drug trafficking.”
“Colombia and Peru, with strong support from the United States, continue with the absurd fumigation and eradication policies with ´alternative development´ that is neither development nor alternative because it continues with the same ´export production model,´” said Cabieses, referring to replacing coca with export crops, particularly in the highland jungle, which are not apt for such crops because of its fragile environment and shallow and inhospitable soil.
Unlike Colombia and Peru, Bolivia does not receive anti-drug aid from the United States, and uses mainly European funds.
The market calls the shots
Even though Peru produces less cocaine than Colombia, it is the world´s top exporter of the drug, some say.
According to Fernando Rospigliosi, Peru´s former interior minister and a columnist at the Peruvian daily La República, Colombia is exporting around 207 metric tons of the drug a year, compared with 313 metric tons exported from Peru.
He says that Colombia seized 203 metric tons of the drug last year – 53 percent of its production – and Peru seized just 10 metric tons.
The United States and Europe are the principal consumers of the Andean cocaine.
The UNODC estimates that the United States consumes an average of 196 metric tons of cocaine a year, and 124 metric tons in Europe, about 40 percent of the Andean cocaine total, with the rest consumed in Latin America and Asia, or seized by authorities.
According to the UNODC report “The Globalization of Crime: A Transnational Organized Crime Threat Assessment,” published in mid-June, cocaine transport has changed somewhat over time, shifting with police responses to the trade. The current method is transportation from the Andes by sea to Central America and Mexico. US authorities estimate that 90 percent of the cocaine that enters their country arrives overland from Mexico, and 70 percent comes from Colombia´s Pacific coast, 20 percent by the Atlantic and 10 percent through Venezuela or the Caribbean.
Antonio Maria Costa, the UNODC´s executive director, told the UN General Assembly rising drug violence in Mexico is the result of lower cocaine demand in the United States.
“One reason for the drug-related violence in Mexico is that cartels are fighting over a shrinking market,” he said. “This in-fight is a blessing for America, as the resulting cocaine drought is causing lower addiction rates, higher prices and lesser purity of doses.”
Most drug trafficking income comes from rich countries that consume the drug, he said, adding that from the US$72 billion cocaine market of North America and Europe, mid-level distributors in those countries, not in the Andean region, receive 70 percent. Less than 1 percent of the sales go to Andean growers.
He said the lower demand is the result of market forces and not of specific criminal groups, adding that the drug trade will not be ended by going after traffickers alone, but by stemming demand that finances these criminal groups.