Colombia Targets Borders to Drive Cocaine Output to Decades-Low

(Bloomberg) Colombia, the largest supplier of cocaine to the U.S., is increasing anti-drug operations in coordination with its South American neighbors as its production of the narcotic falls to a two-decade low, the nation’s top anti-drug official said.

Colombia is developing plans for near-simultaneous strikes with neighbors including Peru and Ecuador on drug crops and hidden laboratories in border areas, General Luis Alberto Perez Alvaran said yesterday in an interview in Bogota.

“It affects traffickers in both countries,” he said. “We have border areas with illicit crops on both sides.”

Colombia has intensified attacks against drug-funded guerrilla groups that process and export the cocaine –including in disposable submersibles. The government wants to push production of the narcotic down by 25 tons to about 320 tons this year while shrinking the area where rebels and crime organizations grow coca leaves, the main ingredient in cocaine.

The government already is working with neighboring countries to capture traffickers, track the ingredients used to process cocaine and find the location of processing laboratories, Perez Alvaran said from his headquarters near an airfield. Concern about slowing global economies hasn’t affected demand for the drug in a market where the dollar remains the favored currency by traffickers, Perez Alvaran said.

Colombia is targeting areas near its borders that are among the last strongholds for cocaine production because thick jungle in many areas helps provide camouflage for labs and makes access by the military difficult. Because the government doesn’t spray pesticides near its borders, coca plants have to be manually pulled out by the root in border areas often dotted with landmines, Perez Alvaran said.
Reducing Plantings

Colombia wants to cut the total area planted with coca to less than 50,000 hectares (124,000 acres) this year from as much as 64,000 hectares last year and 165,000 hectares in 2000. The goal is less than 30,000 hectares in 2014, he said.

Across Colombia, the nation’s police will begin increasing their presence in areas where coca has been eradicated to prevent the drug from being replanted, he said. Planted areas have become smaller, making it tougher to locate and eradicate them, especially in areas defended by guerrillas and criminal groups.

“It’s really difficult to move our troops to those sites,” Perez Alvaran said.

About 90 percent of cocaine in the U.S. originated in Colombia, according to a June 2011 United Nations’ report. Declines in the nation’s output reduced global cocaine production even as supplies grew from Peru and Bolivia. The three nations produced 100 percent of global supplies of coca leaf for a global cocaine market worth about $85 billion in 2009.

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