Cocaine is set to overtake oil to become Colombia’s main export as a result of far-left President Gustavo Petro’s lenient drug policies, according to a report published by Bloomberg on Thursday.
The report follows a warning from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) that the amount of coca being grown in Colombia and the nation’s potential cocaine output have reached their highest levels in more than two decades.
Bloomberg compared the dramatic increase in Colombian cocaine production with a marked 30-percent drop in Colombian oil exports during the first half of 2023. Bloomberg economist Felipe Hernandez warned that if the trend indicates cocaine could become Colombia’s top export “as soon as this year.”
“We estimate cocaine export revenues jumped to $18.2 billion in 2022 — not far behind oil exports of $19.1 billion last year,” Hernandez said in the report. “The government is destroying laboratories where coca leaves are manufactured into cocaine, but that hasn’t prevented production from expanding.”
Colombia, under its first leftist president ever, has undertaken a cocaine policy Petro has called “total peace,” opting to focus on targeting drug lords that benefit from overseas drug sales rather than local producers of coca leaves, which the Bloomberg report describes as “the weakest link in the production chain.”
Coca leaves are the main ingredient used in the manufacture of cocaine. Colombia is the world’s top cocaine producer. Colombia’s Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN) terrorist guerrillas both heavily depend on narcotics trafficking to fund their activities, in addition to extortion, kidnapping, and other illicit activities.
Petro, a former member of the Marxist M19 terrorist guerrilla group, has branded the United States’s war on drugs a “failure.” The Colombian far-left president has also repeatedly insisted that sugar, coal, and oil are “more poisonous” to mankind than cocaine — an assertion he firmly reiterated during his first United Nations General Assembly speech in September 2022, when he dedicated much of his time at the podium to presenting arguments in defense of the growth and cultivation of the coca plant.
“The opinion of [those in] power has commanded that cocaine is poison and must be persecuted,” Petro said at the time, “even if it only causes minimal deaths by overdose, and more by the mixtures created as a result of its clandestine state. But, instead, coal and oil must be protected, even if their use can extinguish all mankind.”
Petro’s policies, according to Bloomberg’s report, have facilitated the increase in cocaine production by illegal organizations.
Petro recently stated that a “new approach” is needed to fight drugs, one that is not based on repression and forced eradication of illicit crops but, rather, “voluntary consultations” to convince local communities to replace illicit coca crops with legal ones in exchange for economic incentives.
The solution to the drug problem will not come from “repeating little wars and wars, so bloody and ferocious and so wrong, like the wrongly called war on drugs,” Petro said this week, or “looking at drugs as a military problem and not as a health problem of society.”
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released its 2022 report on the monitoring of Colombian territories where coca is cultivated this week. The report found that coca crops in Colombia covered 230,000 hectares in 2022, a 13-percent increase compared to 204,000 hectares in 2021.
UNODC also determined that potential cocaine output in Colombia rose by 24 percent, reaching 1,738 metric tonnes. The increase in both Colombia’s coca crop development and potential cocaine output marks the nation’s highest levels in more than two decades. The report stated that half of coca farmers process coca leaves into cocaine base paste on their farms.
A source from the Colombian government told Reuters on Monday that Petro’s government aims to entice rural communities to voluntarily substitute some 100,000 hectares of coca crops over the next four years. Petro has promised “more social investment in production areas” and ruled out any plans to eradicate coca crops through aerial fumigation using the herbicide glyphosate — a tactic used in the past with the support of the United States as part of the “Plan Colombia” strategy.
In October, the Director of Colombia’s National Directorate of Taxes and Customs (DIAN) Luis Carlos Reyes declared that it “was time” to legalize cocaine in the South American nation, a statement he issued with regards to an article published at the time in the left-wing magazine the Economist, titled “Joe Biden Is Too Timid. It Is Time to Legalize Cocaine.”
Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.
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