Colombia: No Longer Cocaine Central


June 23, 2010: According to UN surveys, Peru is now the main source of cocaine on the planet. This is because of eight years of successful military operations against the drug gangs and leftist rebels in Colombia. Thus, last year, Peru was believed to have harvested 119,000 tons of coca leaf (the source of cocaine), compared to 103,000 tons in Colombia. To get one ton of cocaine, you need to process 250 tons of coca leaf. That ton of cocaine sells for about $2.1 million in the country of origin. But get it to a major market, like the United States, it sells for about $35 million to distributors, and for $120 million to drug users. Bolivia is also becoming a major source of cocaine, with about half the acreage of  coca plants as Peru. Colombia has been aggressive in destroying coca crops, and providing farmers with economic assistance and the ability to survive with alternative (legal) crops. But the aid does not come fast enough, and many farmers become destitute during the transition period. This is especially true in areas where the drug gangs and FARC continue to resist, creating a war zone atmosphere. But the big money is in smuggling the cocaine to foreign markets, so the drug gangs don't care too much where the coca plants are grown. Colombia was, since the 1990s, the favorite place for the drug gangs, because of its proximity to major markets, like North America, and well developed transportation facilities. Moving the coca growing to Peru and Bolivia increases transportation costs. But given the success of Colombian military operations against the coca cultivation, cocaine processing and smuggling activities, moving to neighboring countries is seen as a wise choice.

Uribe, Santos and other military and police commanders developed new tactics for fighting the drug gangs and their leftist allies (mainly the FARC and ELN). This was done with the help of the United States (Special Forces and police advisors, plus six billion dollars of aid), but the key moves, and all of the fighting, was carried out by Colombians. The drug gangs and leftist rebels have been unable to counter the new tactics, and are being forced out of the country.

June 20, 2010: Former defense minister and general, Juan Manuel Santos, won the presidential runoff election, with 69 percent of the votes. He will take power on August 7th. He is expected to continue the policies of his predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, but with better relations with neighboring countries (which tend to be leftist).

June 13, 2010: Based on information from FARC informants, army special operations forces located and freed three police commanders (a general, colonel and lieutenant colonel) and an army sergeant, who had been held captive for up to twelve years.  The unidentified informants, who provided inside information on exactly where the captives were held,  received $1.2 million in rewards, and assurances that they would be protected from FARC retribution. Doing so is essential if there are to be more such informants. The leftist rebels, and their drug gang allies, make an effort to murder former members who have become informants, or simply left the organization. The rescue operation took six months to plan and involved 300 troops. FARC still holds 18 police and military personnel captive. But three of the four recently rescued were the highest ranking captives. The FARC wants to trade their security forces captives for 500 imprisoned FARC leaders, but the government refuses to do that.

June 10, 2010: In the northwest, a bomb went off, killing one person and wounding 17 others. FARC was believed to have been responsible.

June 7, 2010: In central Colombia, troops found and destroyed 775 FARC landmines. These mines are increasingly used by desperate FARC and drug gang personnel, to defend their bases and drug production operations. Colombia has the highest number of landmine casualties in the world.  

June 6, 2010: Police rescued two (of seven) civilians kidnapped by leftist ELN rebels last week. The security forces have special hostage rescue teams that try to rescue people who have recently been kidnapped, and are easier to locate (because they are moved for a while, as the kidnappers take them to remote hideouts.)





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