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Aug 31, 2016 | 16:58 GMT

Colombia Labors to Weed out Coca Crops

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Colombia Labors to Weed out Coca Crops

By the time Colombia's next president enters office, politically motivated violence in the country may have become a thing of the past, thanks to the government's recent peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). But even if voters approve the final deal with the FARC, the end of the insurgency will eliminate only one of Colombia's security concerns. The manufacture and trade of illegal drugs, a major driver of instability in some areas of the country, will continue unabated.

Last year, Colombia began phasing out aerial eradication of coca bushes, whose leaves are the main ingredient in the production of cocaine. In making the decision, the government cited the health risks of spraying glyphosate, the herbicide it had used to target coca crops for roughly two decades. The government switched to a program of manual eradication, employing teams of people to uproot the bushes, a lucrative crop in some regions of the country, by hand. This slower, more laborious process has brought with it the threat of greater resistance from local growers, which would hamper attempts to destroy illegal coca plantations. Statistics from the Colombian government appear to confirm that this is already happening: Eradication teams on the ground have been prevented from conducting their work nearly 400 times in so far 2016, compared with 163 times in 2015.

Because multiple criminal groups finance themselves through the production, taxation and sale of coca, destroying the bushes is an integral part of Colombia's public safety strategy. The criminals' practice is unlikely to soon change, and so despite the problems that manual eradication efforts could cause, they are likely to continue. The difficulty of destroying the illegal crops portend a rise in the production of coca and cocaine — something the United States will likely seek to counter. But at a regional level, the Colombian drug fight also poses a risk to local business activity. Despite the relative isolation of coca-growing areas from the country's population centers, the government's strategy for dealing with the crop could stoke social unrest capable of interfering with energy exploration and production in areas where coca growing and energy production overlap. 

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