The area of land planted with coca leaf in Colombia has fallen by 25%, and is now about a third of that in 2001, according to the latest report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)'s Integrated Illicit Crops Monitoring System. The report finds that land planted with coca has dropped from 64,000 hectares in 2011 to 48,000 hectares in 2012, the lowest figure since monitoring started in Colombia more than a decade ago. Although the National Police actually eradicated less coca than in previous years, the force increased its presence in coca-growing regions, apparently preventing campesinos from planting coca in the first place. But while coca areas fell nationwide, they rose in three departments still especially wracked by armed conflict—Norte de Santander, Chocó and Caquetá.
Analysts also say the fall in coca production suggests illegal groups which have long financed themselves through drug trafficking are increasingly moving into illegal gold and emerald mining—both on the increase in Colombia. The strategy exploits the fact that, unlike coca or cocaine, gold and emeralds are legal to transport and sell.
According to UNODC figures released earlier this week, coca cultivation also decreased in Bolivia, dropping 7% between 2011 and 2012 to 25,300 hectares. The figures for Peru are expected to be released over the next weeks. (BBC News, Aug. 8)
Last year, Colombian prosecutors opened an investigation into a businessman who controls much of the country's emerald trade for suspected links with illegal paramilitaries. Victor Carranza, Colombia's so-called "Emerald Czar," was named by imprisoned paramilitary fighters as having funded their operations. Para commander Freddy Rendón Herrera AKA "El Alemán" called Carranza a "co-founder" of the outlawed United Colombian Self-Defense Forces (AUC). Carranza denied the claims, saying that the AUC had tried to extort money from him, and citing numerous attempts on his life, In the latest such attempt in 2010, a team reportedly dispatched by paramilitary leader Pedro Oliveiro Guerrero AKA "Cuchillo" drove a petrol truck into the convoy of armored cars taking Carranza and his son back from the emerald mines of Puerto López, Meta department, to his home in the city of Villavicencio. (BBC News, Feb. 3, 2012; El Tiempo, May 30, 2011)
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