WASHINGTON, DC — The ongoing implementation of the peace pact between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has helped to render the country the world’s top producer of cocaine again, fueling a historic number of overdose deaths in the United States, says the U.S. Department of State (DOS).
U.S. officials have designated the FARC a foreign terrorist organization. The narco-terrorist group is considered Colombia’s largest drug trafficking organization.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for brokering the peace deal in question.
During a Senate panel hearing Wednesday, Amb. William Brownfield, the assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, testified that Colombia has reduced forced manual coca plant eradication efforts in FARC-controlled territory to lower the risk of confrontation as the two sides implement their final peace accord, signed in November 2016.
“Coca growers had learned by the year 2015 how to avoid most of the eradication efforts. They consciously grew and cultivated in … areas where the FARC had a presence or at least some degree of influence,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere and Transnational Crime.
Moreover, he added, “Widespread reporting indicates FARC elements urged coca growers to plant more coca, purportedly motivated by the belief that the Colombian government’s post-peace accord investment and subsidies would focus on regions with the greatest quantities of illicit crops.”
Brownfield also attributed the surge in Colombia’s cocaine production to the country’s 2015 decision to end the U.S.-backed aerial coca eradication program; anti-eradication techniques implemented by coca growers; and a 90 percent reduction in the number of manual eradicators due to budget constraints.
Supporters claimed the peace agreement would reduce cocaine trafficking and production in Colombia.
Brownfield explained that the counternarcotics components of the accord were supposed to focus on crop substitution and alternative development in 44 Colombian municipalities where traffickers cultivate 60 percent of the coca.
Cocaine trafficking and production “was supposed to stop with the peace accord when the FARC committed … to become an active player in combating, resisting, and eliminating drug trafficking and cultivation, something that I call on them to do today,” proclaimed the State official.
Nevertheless, coca cultivation in Colombia more than doubled, from 80,500 hectares (ha) in 2013 to 188,000 ha (about 725 square miles) in 2016 with the help of the FARC.
The coca cultivation area last year was about ten times the size of Washington, DC.
“Perhaps more troubling, pure potential cocaine production surged by more than 200 percent in the same time period [2013-2016], from 235 metric tons produced in 2013 to 710 metric tons in 2016,” testified Brownfield.
As a result, cocaine availability in the United States has increased for the first time in nearly a decade, fueling a rise in drug abuse and fatal overdoses, points out DOS’s 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report issued this year.
Brownfield explained during the hearing:
After years of progress in combatting coca cultivation and cocaine production, Colombia is once again the world’s largest producer of cocaine and is the origin of approximately 90 percent of the cocaine seized in the United States, according to the DEA Cocaine Signature Program.
Cocaine use and overdose deaths in the United States also are on the rise. Following a dramatic decline in cocaine overdose-related deaths in the United States since 2006, this figure has steadily increased since 2012, reaching 6,784 overdose-related deaths in 2015, the highest on record since 2006.
In June 2015, officials from the U.S. Coast Guard told American lawmakers that the United States has only been able to interdict slightly more than 20 percent of the cocaine bound for the United States in recent years.
Though the U.S. Coast Guard has “80 percent awareness” of all illegal operations, “we can only act on about 20 percent of that because of the resource constraints we have. We’re giving 60 percent of what we know, literally, a free pass,” lamented Adm. Paul F. Zukunft, the commandant of the service, in 2014.
Venezuela, which refuses to cooperate with the United States on counternarcotics efforts in South America, is believed to facilitate the FARC’s drug trafficking operations willingly.
The socialist government of Venezuela’s dictator Nicolás Maduro refuses to take action against government and military officials with known links to FARC members involved in the illicit drug trade, points out the DOS report.
Colombian drug traffickers, including those linked to FARC, have “penetrated the highest levels” of the Maduro government, Brownfield told Senators.
Smugglers in Colombia route cocaine destined for the United States and Europe through Venezuela.
Joseph Humire, an expert on Iranian influence in Latin America and executive director of the Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS), told Breitbart News last year that Latin American drug traffickers pay Hezbollah a “tax” to move narcotics out of the Western Hemisphere.
Venezuela’s permissive environment has allowed the Shiite Hezbollah group to flourish in Latin America, according to the State Department.
U.S. officials have linked the Shiite narco-terrorist group to the lucrative cocaine trade in South America.