Record Colombian coca cultivation, cocaine output in 2017: US

A Colombian anti-narcotics soldier carries uprooted coca bushes in Barbacoas, in southern Narino, in a 2001 eradication operation -- in 2017, coca cultivation was at an all-time high in the country

Washington (AFP) – Coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia reached an all-time high in 2017, the office of the US “drug czar” said Monday, calling on the government in Bogota to do more to reverse the trend.

Colombian “potential pure cocaine production” soared to 921 metric tons — 19 percent higher than the previous year and nearly three times the 2008 figure, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) said in its annual estimate.

And the area in which coca — the source plant for cocaine — is grown in Colombia reached 209,000 hectares (516,450 acres) in 2017, a jump of 11 percent from the previous year, the ONDCP said.

“President Trump’s message to Colombia is clear: the record growth in cocaine production must be reversed,” said ONDCP deputy director Jim Carroll.

“The steep upward trajectory is unacceptable. Colombia is an important United States partner with a critical role. We will continue to work with them to reduce drastically the production of cocaine destined for the United States.”

The White House office linked the increase in production to “greater cocaine use in the United States, resulting in both an increase in overdose deaths and other crime and violence associated with the drug trade,” the statement said.

The number of new US cocaine users increased by 81 percent since 2013, while and cocaine-related overdose deaths more than doubled during that timeframe, it added.

The coca bush grows on the eastern jungle slopes of the South American Andes. Peru and Bolivia are the world’s two other major coca producers.

Washington and Bogota agreed in March on a plan to slash by half the coca cultivation area in five years.

US Vice President Mike Pence spoke by phone Friday with Colombian president-elect Ivan Duque to congratulate him on his recent electoral victory “and stress the necessity of moving decisively to cut drug production and trafficking,” according to a readout of the call released by Pence’s office.

Duque will take office on August 7, succeeding Juan Manuel Santos.