- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2005

Coca cultivation in Colombia has declined for a third consecutive year, reducing production of the prime ingredient in cocaine by more than a third since 2001, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) reports.

The coca crop peaked in 2001 with more than 422,000 acres under cultivation, and this was reduced to 200,000 acres last year, the White House says.

Both the White House and a report by the United Nations in June said coca production in Colombia — the biggest cultivator of the narcotic substance in South America — fell 7 percent in 2004 compared with the year before.

ONDCP Director John Walters attributes the decline to efforts by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and the success of Plan Colombia, jointly undertaken by the United States and Colombia.

The United States has spent about $3 billion in the past five years on Plan Colombia, which involves aerial spraying of coca plants.

Mr. Uribe, who came to office in 2002, has increased the size and capabilities of the security forces that infiltrate narco-terrorist gangs and thwart their attempts to operate from the region.

“With the partnership between the two countries, security forces have interdicted record amounts of cocaine coming into the U.S.,” Mr. Walters told reporters on Wednesday.

Coca production was reduced to 473 tons last year from 770 tons in 2001, the ONDCP estimates.

Mr. Uribe’s war on the narcotics industry also led to a 52 percent decrease in opium cultivation from 2003 to 2004, the White House says.

Aerial spraying has forced coca growers to move to smaller areas that are more difficult to spray, said ONDCP analyst David Murray.

“The drug traffickers are fighting back. They are under pressure and have dispersed to inner regions, so although it makes it difficult for us to spray, it also makes it difficult for them to make cocaine,” he said.

The United Nations indicates that a rise in coca cultivation in the past three years in the other main coca-producing country in the region — Bolivia — has offset the decline in Colombia.

The White House assessment, however, is more upbeat.

“We believe that there has been a minimal increase in certain countries but a net decrease in overall production. It’s not a boom effect; there are other problems and instability in Bolivia leading to a slight increase,” Mr. Walters said.

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