The 15 percent increase in coca cultivation in Bolivia in 2020, according to analyst and researcher Fernando Salazar, reflects that drug trafficking is booming and growing despite the political crisis of 2019 and the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic last year.
There is no data on an increase in traditional coca leaf use in Bolivian society and less evidence of vigorous industrialization of the plant, leading to the conclusion that this entire increase in production will directly benefit the drug trade.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (Unodc) reported yesterday that coca leaf cultivation in Bolivia has grown from 25,500 hectares (ha) in 2019 to 29,400 hectares in 2020, d a year.
This growth of coca plants is taking place for the second time in a row, the Unodc report 2019 shows an increase of 10 percent compared to 2018. From 23,100 ha to 25,500 ha.
The situation is worrying for the European Union, the main international organization that supports Bolivia in the fight against drug trafficking.
“The increase for the second year in a row (2019: 10 percent, 2020: 15 percent) is worrying and reflects the extent of the challenge,” said a tweet from the international body.
For Salazar, the growth of coca plants in the country confirms suspicions that the period of restrictions during the pandemic did not affect the drug trade in the country at all.
“All the restrictive measures such as strict quarantine, closing of markets and international airports allow us to confirm that the entire industry connected with the illegal drug trade already has its own autonomy. In other words, we are also manufacturers of the supplies and chemicals needed to make cocaine, ”the researcher explained.
For Salazar, the number of 29,400 hectares of coca grown last year that Unodc supplies could be even higher, as the land produced by the traditional cultivation areas is not taken into account.
“Coca from Pojo, Pocona, Totora, Tiraque, Colomi, Independencia, Morochata and other ancestral areas is not measured by the Unodc and can vary between 3,000 and 5,000 hectares. Then we would be talking about about 35 thousand hectares of coca grown, ”explained Salazar.
The researcher warns of the rise in coca cultivation numbers because there could be a similar phenomenon of the increase in drug trafficking as in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s.
“That means something serious is happening. There is no control on the illegal market, there is terrible demand and prices have not changed, we are talking about an average of $ 10 per kilo of coca, ”said Salazar.
According to the specific data released by the report, the expansion of coca cultivation in the Yungas increased from 16,296 hectares in 2019 to 18,302 in 2020. In the tropic of Cochabamba, the increase was from 8,769 to 10,606 hectares. In the north of La Paz, coca cultivation increased from 468 to 510 ha.
“62 percent of the area cultivated with coca was quantified in the Yungas region of La Paz, 36 percent in the tropic of Cochabamba and 2 percent in the north of La Paz. Compared to 2019, the three regions recorded an increase of 12 percent, 21 percent and 9 percent, respectively, “adds the text.
The report also highlights that the largest increases in harvests were recorded in Sud Yungas Province with 1,560 hectares and Carrasco Province with 807 hectares.
International support stands out
The European Union highlighted the work done by Unodc in surveying the coca-growing area in Bolivia.
The Unodc report found that the growth in coca crops, the decline in the eradication of illegal and excess coca, the commercialization of the leaf and its price have been affected by the strict quarantine imposed by Jeanine Áñez’s government to prevent coronavirus infections was imposed.
The largest increases in coca cultivation were recorded in the Sud Yungas and the tropics of Cochabamba.
Unodc calls for intensification of the extermination tasks
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (Unodc) proposed increasing the intensity of plant eradication and control measures to prevent their expansion, particularly to protected areas.
An increase in coca cultivation was also noted in protected areas, with 315 hectares in 2019 and 454 in 2020.
Unodc representative in Bolivia, Thierry Rostan, expressed his confidence that the recommendations will be useful to strengthen the control policy of these plantations and that Bolivia’s efforts will make it more “manageable” this year.
For his part, the head of EU cooperation in Bolivia, Emanuel Amaral, considered the data in the report to be “a wake-up call” and show “the extent of the challenge the country is facing”.
“Given that this is a year that control capacities have been severely limited due to the pandemic, it is important not to lower our vigilance and continue the task of containing illegal crops,” he said.
The diplomat ratified European support for the Bolivian anti-drug strategy and for “Integral Development with Coca”, which has already received more than $ 72 million and will get an additional $ 60 million with two new programs.