Saturday, November 08, 2008

Drug Wars: Erradication in Colombia and Bolivia

From the New York Times article on the failure of Plan Colombia's goals of erradication.

Despite record aerial eradication, coca cultivation rose by 15 percent during Plan Colombia’s 2000-2006 run, the report said.

It added that cocaine production rose by less — 4 percent — because eradication efforts forced growers to disperse their crops more widely, contributing to lower yields.

In Bolivia, the issue of erradication of coca and fighting trafficking has come up again due to Evo expelling the DEA, as the Economist points out:

The government points out that it is wiping out more than 5,000 hectares (12,000 acres) of coca this year (though the UN reckons Bolivia’s cocaine output rose 11% in 2007)..

Comparing Apples And Oranges

Both countries erradication efforts are often compared by analysts. The Bolivian government itself often cites its "successes" erradicating illegal coca and cocaine production, in contrast to the expensive and allegedly unworkable efforts in Colombia.

In some ways this is comparing apples and oranges. Most of the illegal coca production in Bolivia is centered in one clearly delimited area in Chapare. The area is controlled by growers, organized in unions that happen to be the core of the support of the governing party. You have the curious case of the president as commander in chief of the armed forces (including anti-narcotics units) and at the same time being the elected leader of of the coca growers unions. There has long been a sort of Mexican-standoff in the area b/w authorities and cocaleros, which at least on the surface it looked like coca leaf production was contained and not expanding back to pre-2002 levels.

Colombia on the other hand has coca growing areas - some enormous - spread out over the country. Given the size and topography it is easy for farmers whose crops have been destroyed to literally "move down the road" and replant elsewhere.

Complicating the entire situation is that growing areas are disputed by tens of thousands of guerrillas, paramilitaries and drug smuggling bands. In one sense creating "mini-conflicts" within the larger war in Colombia, over growing/production areas and key smuggling routes. Rents collected finance all the warring parties. The FARC's continued existence owes a lot to taxing coca and cocaine and direct involvement, while the paramilitaries are largely product of drug smuggler money.

It is using these funds that the FARC is able to mount its war against the Colombian state. And this larger conflict acts as a sort of buffer - by denying control of territory and diverting resources - insulating many of the actors involved in the drug trade from central authority. If the government has to focus on FARC guerillas attacking authorities in a given area, drug dealers who go out of their way to avoid authority often can go about their business - more so if they kill guerillas and anyone connected to them on their own dime.

Growing Vs. Production

Given these differences it is hardly surprising that coca production has increased in Colombia and remained more or less constant in Bolivia.

But, if we measure actual cocaine production, it appears that the increases in coca leaf acreage have not yielded a corresponding increase in cocaine production in Colombia. In other words the growers are forced to grow more to provide the labs with raw materials.

On the other hand in Bolivia, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that under this regime, it has become much easier for coca to reach cocaine producers. The cocaleros have become more efficient. Since there is no comparable 'existential' threat to this Bolivian government as the FARC presents in Colombia, there is much less excuse for the Morales government. Or at minimum it shows just how hard it is to show real results in erradicating coca - and cocaine production.

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