BOGOTA (AP) — Colombia's coca crop shrank by nearly a fifth last year while cultivation of the bush that is the basis of cocaine rose in Peru and Bolivia, the world's two other coca-producing nations, the United Nations said Friday.
The U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime said the "dramatic" 18 percent reduction in Colombia from 2007 owed in part to the manual eradication — as opposed to the aerial spraying of herbicide — of 96,100 hectares (371 square miles).
The agency's annual survey of the Andes' coca crop and estimated cocaine production said cultivation in Colombia dropped to 81,000 hectares — the lowest since 2004 — while Bolivia's crop increased by 6 percent and Peru's by 4.5 percent.
In last year's report, it noted a 27 percent increase in coca cultivation in Colombia, the world's top producer of cocaine.
Estimated cocaine production in Colombia, meanwhile, was down 28 percent last year to 430 metric tons from 2007 — with 20,000 fewer households growing coca, the U.N. agency said.
Colombia analyst Adam Isacson, of the Washington-based Center for International Policy, cautioned about "one element that should keep the champagne corks from popping" in the Andean nation's government.
Beginning in October, when a series of pyramid schemes began collapsing in southern Colombian coca-growing regions, peasants who lost their savings began replanting coca on a huge scale, he said.
That certainly offset, said Isacson, some of the gains of the 133,496 hectares (515 square miles) of coca crop that the UNODC said were sprayed with the herbicide glyphosate in Colombia last year.
Neither Peru nor Bolivia use herbicides against coca and the United States complains that Bolivia is no longer a serious partner in the war on drugs after expelling U.S. drug agents last year for alleged espionage.
Nevertheless, the U.N. said drug trafficking was seriously disrupted overall in the region, with 200 tons of cocaine seized in Colombia, 22 tons in Bolivia and 12 tons in Peru.
"Peru must guard against a return to the days when terrorists and insurgents, like the Shining Path, profited from drugs and crime," agency director Mario Costa said in a statement.
Remnants of the Shining Path insurgency, which was nearly eradicated in the mid-1990s, control an area on the eastern slope of the Andes that the U.N. says is now the world's leading source of cocaine.
Lima-based drug trade analyst Jaime Antezana estimates actual cultivation in Peru grew at least seven percent.
"Peru still lacks an integral, national strategy that uses all available instruments," he said. Eradication only takes place in two of Peru's eight main coca-producing regions.
The UNODC put Peru's production capacity last year at 302 tons compared to 113 tons for Bolivia.
By FRANK BAJAK
June 19, 2009