Long after the days of Pablo Escobar and cocaine cartels, Colombia has regained the crown as world's No. 1 producer of coca. It gives further urgency that FARC-government peace talks succeed.
BOGOTÁ — Colombia has recovered its dubious claim to fame as the world's No. 1 coca producer, supplanting Peru and Bolivia. The ranking is a disconcerting reminder that if and when peace is signed with the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), our next, and very big challenge, will be to dismantle illegal drug trafficking gangs.
Jorgan Andrews, head of the narcotics section at the U.S. embassy in Bogotá, believes the expansion of coca farming is directly linked to the success of the peace talks taking place in Havana, Cuba, where Colombian government and FARC representatives have been meeting for two years now.
Andrews says that coca farmers, whether connected to the FARC or independent, have concluded that those growing the most coca will benefit most from peace.
This perverse logic suggests two things: that the state has failed so far to control the drug trade; and that the FARC, given that they control the most heavily cultivated areas of the country, are complicit with coca producers. The Washington Post reported that cultivation expanded 44% between 2013 and 2014, and is expected to expand more this year.
Several observations should be made here. First, we should reject opportunist calls by people using this report to attack the recent ban on glyphosate (herbicide) fumigation, because the data are from a time when glyphosate was still being sprayed. And although recent reports have come out challenging World Health Organization (WHO) warnings that glyphosate may cause cancer, we should recall that the WHO's report never claimed to be definitive. Doubts persist, and reasonably so, about the dangers of glyphosate, but that is no reason to urge a renewal of spraying.
Instead we should be asking what happened to all the alternative eradication methods announced when spraying was suspended. If those options are not working, as seems to be the case, the government must explain why and propose solutions.
Cocaine is the chief source of money for some of the country's biggest lawbreakers and worst perpetrators of violence. As long as cultivation expands unchecked, Colombia won't really be able to turn the page.
But it is also of vital importance that a peace accord to be signed soon so that the state can gain access to the FARC's knowledge in this area and thus intervene against the structures sustaining the illegal trade. This is one of the biggest potential benefits of incorporating the guerrillas back into civilian life: They can be tasked with effectively curbing the expansion of coca farming.
Solutions must, in any case, come fast, because the world "coca crown" is hardly something Colombia can be proud to wear.