For the first time in a decade, the amount of coca grown in Colombia is falling sharply, largely the result of a U.S.-backed aerial fumigation campaign, the Los Angeles Times says. Repeated spraying by crop dusters plus government programs to encourage farmers to pull up coca plants have reduced Colombia’s coca, the source of cocaine, by 38 percent to 252,000 acres in three years, according to a United Nations study.
The program has not yet affected the street price of cocaine in the United States, and some congressional critics complain that it focuses too much on coca and not enough on Colombia’s growing crop of the poppies used to make heroin. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, elected last year on a promise to crack down on the drug business and the leftist guerrillas it helps fund, has pledged to continue fumigating until there are no coca bushes left in Colombia.
The success of the U.S. State Department’s effort to halve coca production here by 2005, which has cost $2 billion, has also ruined the lives of thousands of people in southern Colombia, where migrants and dirt-poor farmers seized on coca as a steady, if illegal, source of income.
The hope was that reduction of Colombian cocaine exports would drive up street prices so high that addicts would cease using the drug and seek treatment. Instead, the price in the U.S. remains steady at anywhere between $20 and $200 per gram, depending on location and market conditions.
U.S. officials believe the market is starting to change. They predict that prices will increase soon as cocaine in the pipeline between Colombia and the U.S. is used up. DEA officials say the program is cutting into an oversupply of cocaine at the street level, and that dealers are cutting the purity of the cocaine they sell. Critics say that cutting into cocaine production is simply forcing nimble drug traffickers to adjust. Users who cannot find cocaine are choosing other drugs, such as ecstasy, to satisfy their needs, reducing demand and therefore keeping the price stable.