Colombia Says Previous War on Drugs Failed, Suspends Destruction of Coca Plants

Rather than take action against small farmers who grow the plants, the police will instead concentrate on attacking the “big mafias” higher up the chain

The new policy may cause friction with Washington since Colombia is the world’s biggest producer of cocaine
By Matthew Bristow
August 23, 2022 | 04:18 PM

Bloomberg — Colombia suspended the forced eradication of coca, the raw material for making cocaine, after the nation’s new leftist president said the war on drugs had failed.

Rather than take action against small farmers who grow the plants, the police will instead concentrate on attacking the “big mafias” higher up the chain, the nation’s top police Henry Sanabria said Tuesday, in an interview with El Tiempo newspaper.

In his inaugural address this month, President Gustavo Petro said the war on drugs had caused the death of one million Latin Americans, without stemming the flow of cocaine. The new policy may cause friction with Washington since Colombia is the world’s biggest producer of the drug, with higher output than Peru and Bolivia combined, as well as being a large recipient of US aid.

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Sanabria said the police took the decision to suspend eradication while they wait for guidance from the new government.

The authorities are still helping with “voluntary eradication” Sanabria said, whereby farmers are encouraged to dig up their own coca in return for assistance to grow legal crops.

Colombia stopped the aerial spraying of coca in 2015 on concerns that the herbicides used were carcinogenic. Instead, the authorities relied on sending in workers to dig up the crops by hand, protected by police and anti-explosives dogs.

Colombia had about 143,000 hectares planted with the coca in 2020, enough to produce more than 1,200 tons of cocaine, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Fighting between mafia groups and guerrillas for control of the coca-growing regions is one of the main causes of the violent chaos afflicting swathes of the Colombian countryside.

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