BOGOTA, Colombia -- Peru has regained its former distinction as the world’s top cocaine producer, according to an annual White House report, issued Monday, that says Colombia’s output fell sharply last year, putting the former leader in third place behind Bolivia.
The report by the Office of National Drug Control Policy diverged from a U.N. monitor’s report last week that estimated Colombian cocaine production at a much higher level. No reason was given for the disparity in the reports, which usually track each other closely.
The White House report estimates Peruvian cocaine production last year at 358 U.S. tons, followed by Bolivia with 292 tons and Colombia at 215 tons. It’s the first year since 1997 that Colombia has not led in global cocaine output in the report. The recent figures represent a 25% drop from White House estimates that Colombia produced 286 tons of cocaine in 2010, topping all producers.
Peru was the world's leading producer of the drug through most of the 1980s and 1990s, before Colombian drug traffickers introduced crops here in a bid to form vertically integrated cocaine cartels. Both the White House and the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime use satellite imagery, on-the-ground monitoring, seizures and other indicators to come up with their estimates of cocaine production.
The U.N. survey on July 25 pegged potential Colombian cocaine output last year at 380 tons and said output had declined only about 1% from the year before. It did not release Peruvian and Bolivian output estimates, which are due out next month.
In prepared remarks to a Washington think tank Monday, Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House drug policy office, described Colombia’s reduction as “historic” and credited “strategic pressure across more than one administration in both the United States and Colombia” for the decline.
Kerlikowske was referring to Plan Colombia, a U.S. taxpayer-funded program to combat drugs and terrorism that has funneled $8 billion to Colombia since 2000, the largest U.S. foreign aid program outside the Middle East and Afghanistan.
“The security threat that the United States and Colombia faced in 1999 is gone,” Kerlikowske said. “We don’t just have a safe Colombia, we have a vibrant Colombia that is an active partner in helping with the drug and criminal issue in the region.”
Colombia is helping train anti-narcotics police and pilots in Mexico and Central America.
Speaking in the city of Rio Negro on Monday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos hailed the report as confirmation of his strategy of “cutting terrorists’ financing sources.” Authorities say the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia uses drug trafficking profits to finance its war against government forces.
According to the White House document, Colombian cocaine production has fallen 72% since 2001, when the country produced an estimated 771 tons. The U.N. estimates show a similar percentage decline in Colombian cocaine production over the decade: down 65% from 1,070 tons in 2001.
Much of the Plan Colombia money has gone to finance aerial spraying of cocaine plantations. Last year, for example, pilots flying crop dusters dispersing glyphosate, the generic term for the weed killer Roundup, sprayed 258,000 acres, down from a peak of 422,500 acres in 2006. U.N. monitors estimated that as of Dec. 31, about 160,000 acres of coca leaf, the base material for cocaine, were being farmed in Colombia.
In addition, alternative economic development programs under the auspices of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the increased presence of Colombian army and police have also been factors in cocaine output declining, experts say.
The White House also says cocaine use in the United States has declined 39% since 2006, based on indicators such as overdose deaths, workplace drug tests, retail drug purity and cocaine seizures.
Rising cocaine use in Europe and Asia have partly compensated traffickers for the apparent decline in U.S. demand, analysts say.
-- Chris Kraul in Bogota and Jenny Carolina Gonzalez in Rio Negro
Photo: In this file photograph from March 17, 2010, a soldier in Quebrada Guainia, Colombia, walks through a clandestine laboratory used in making cocaine that, according to the army, belonged to rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Credit: Christian Escobar Mora / Associated Press