UN: Colombia coca crop down 25 percent

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Posted: Aug 08, 2013 3:55 PM
UN: Colombia coca crop down 25 percent

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Colombia reduced its area under coca cultivation by 25 percent last year, the United Nations said Thursday, meaning Peru has likely surpassed it as the world's No. 1 cocaine-producing-country.

The annual reduction was Colombia's biggest since the international body began monitoring it in 2001.

The U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime is not slated to release 2012 Peru coca crop numbers until next month.

Earlier this week, it announced that Bolivia's crop, the world's third-largest, dropped for a second straight year.

The UNODC said the Colombian coca crop fell to 185 square miles (48,000 hectares) last year from 247 square miles (64,000 hectares) in 2011. It placed Peru's crop at 240 square miles (62,500 hectares) in 2011.

Peru says it destroyed 54 square miles (14,000 hectares) of coca last year, all manually. That compares to 505 square miles (131,000 hectares) eradicated in Colombia, most via U.S.-funded aerial spraying.

Neither UNODC officials in Peru's nor the country's drug czar, Carmen Masias, would comment on whether Peru has passed Colombia.

Former Peruvian drug czar Ricardo Soberon said there is little doubt that Peru's crop is now bigger, although he has little faith in either the U.N. or the U.S. measuring methods.

"There is more area (under cultivation), and more unrefined cocaine," he said. Much of it is being smuggled eastward via small plane to Bolivia for final processing, he said.

That cocaine almost exclusively serves the Brazilian, Argentine and European markets while Colombian cocaine is primarily shipped to the United States.

Colombian and U.N. authorities attributed the big drop in Colombia's coca crop last year to repeated eradication of land where coca growers have tried to replant and to a migration of a lot of coca growers to mining.

When he retired last year, Colombia's police director Gen. Oscar Naranjo said illegal gold mining had become more lucrative than cocaine.

Former Colombian counter-narcotics director Leonardo Gallego said years of diligent police work — which has included a major role for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration — also contributed to the decrease in the country's coca crop.

In only three of Colombia's 23 states did coca production increase.

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Associated Press Writer Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.