Weekly InSight: Coca, Cocaine and Colombia

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In our June 15 Facebook Live session, Co-director Steven Dudley and Senior Investigator Héctor Silva Ávalos talk about InSight Crime’s special investigation of the criminal economy in Nariño, Colombia and the impact the country’s peace process is having on the regional cocaine trade.

The conversation opened with Dudley breaking down a recent back-and-forth between US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Senator Marco Rubio about the Colombia-FARC peace process and the country’s cocaine boom. During the congressional hearing, Tillerson hinted that Colombia should resume its aerial coca fumigation program, a strategy that arguably failed to effectively address coca cultivation in the long term. And some top US officials seemed to backtrack, a contradictory dynamic that both speakers agreed seemed commonplace in the Trump administration.

Silva then talked about the local illicit economy in the Colombian department of Nariño and how it shows the complexity of the country’s coca dilemma. Silva described the first phase of the cocaine trade, beginning with the cultivation of the coca leaves by small farmers who then process it into a coca paste, which is later sold to more sophisticated intermediary groups that move it to criminal organizations who process and export the final product: the powdered cocaine.

Circling back to Tillerson’s comment on aerial fumigation, Silva explained how that approach mostly affects “cocaleros,” the coca growers at the bottom of the cocaine chain.

“In the province of Nariño, coke is all that there is,” he said, “There is no other crop that will produce the same kind of profits.”

The absence of the FARC in coca-producing regions is strongly felt by these local communities, Silva said.

“Due to the lack of the Colombian state, the FARC, in practical terms, was the state. They were referees for a lot of things, including the economy,” he said. 

At the same time, armed actors like paramilitaries and FARC dissidents, are taking advantage of the guerrilla group’s demobilization, which has led to more violence in these areas, explained the field investigator.

Dudley and Silva also took a broader look at the global drug trade, where both cocaine production and consumption are increasing.

In the end, controversial strategies like aerial coca fumigation have proven to be unviable over the long term, and they ignore the role that poor economic conditions and corruption have on the growth of coca plantations in Colombia.

Watch the Facebook Live broadcast for the full conversation:

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