BOGOTA, Colombia -- The United Nation’s annual survey of coca leaf and cocaine production in Colombia on Wednesday showed little change from a year earlier, leading Colombian officials to praise the country's efforts to reduce its output of illicit drugs.
A determination on whether Peru has taken the lead in coca leaf or cocaine production, as some law enforcement officials expect, will have to wait until late August when that country’s survey is completed, U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime local director Aldo Lale Demoz said at a news conference in Bogota.
Peru led the world in cocaine production in the early 1980s before the main nexus of the illicit industry shifted to Colombia. By 2010, increased law enforcement pressure on criminal gangs and rebel groups processing cocaine had forced the industry back south to Peru and Bolivia. Last year, Peru nearly displaced Colombia as the world’s largest producer of the illegal powder.
The U.N. survey based on satellite and on the ground monitoring showed that as of Dec. 31, there were roughly 160,000 acres of coca crops being grown in Colombia, up from 155,000 acres at the end of 2010. “Potential production” of cocaine was calculated at 345 metric tons for all of 2011, down slightly from 350 metric tons a year previous.
Unlike some past years, the U.N. survey for other Andean coca and cocaine producers was not released on the same day as the Colombian study.
Although the figures for both coca and cocaine production were about flat on a year on year basis -- a 3% increase in coca leaf production and a 1% decline in cocaine production -- Colombian justice minister Ruth Stella Correa hailed them as part of a continuing decadelong trend toward less illegal drug production.
“The 345 tons produced last year are 625 tons less than were estimated a decade ago. That’s an important statistic to highlight and one which the people should know,” said Correa, who attended the U.N. news conference. She noted that the U.N. estimated that Colombia produced 970 tons of cocaine in 2001.
Officials said total acres eradicated manually or through aerial spraying of herbicides in 2011 totaled 342,000 acres, down 6% from the 362,500 acres of crops destroyed in 2010. Manual eradication programs have been scaled back in recent years partly because of the rising casualty rates among eradicators and armed forces members who guard them.
The U.N. report noted that the fastest growing coca farming region in Colombia is southern Putumayo province, particularly the strip within about six miles of the Ecuadorean border, a zone where Colombian authorities have agreed not to spray herbicides because of alleged health consequences for Ecuadoreans living across the border.
The U.N. also reported that Colombian authorities seized 155.8 metric tons of cocaine last year, down from 164.8 tons in 2010.
-- Chris Kraul
Photo: The representative in Colombia of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Aldo Lale Demoz, center, talks next to Colombia Justice Minister Ruth Stella Correa, left, and the director of Counternarcotics Police of Colombia, Gen. Luis Alberto Perez, during the presentation of the annual report on illicit crops in the country, in Bogota on Wednesday. Credit: Leonardo Munoz / EPA