WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration reported Wednesday that coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia dropped slightly in 2018 for the first time in six years, but it remained at historically high levels.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said that coca cultivation in Colombia dropped to 208,000 hectares in 2018 from 209,000 hectares in 2017, while the potential pure cocaine production went to 887 pure metric tons in 2018 from 900 pure metric tons in 2017.
ONDCP director Jim Carroll credited Colombian President Ivan Duque’s antinarcotics efforts for quadrupling the number of teams, leading them to eradicate 56% more coca per month than under the previous government.
“In working closely with President Duque, we are seeing Colombia make progress in accomplishing our shared goal of significantly reducing coca cultivation and cocaine production,” Carroll said.
The U.S. estimates that between 2014 and 2017, cocaine-involved overdose deaths rose nearly 160% and the number of cocaine users increased by 40%.
The South American country says the data released Wednesday shows progress toward a goal agreed upon with Washington to cut cultivation and drug production in half by 2023.
Colombia’s ambassador to the U.S., Francisco Santos, told The Associated Press the interruption of the sustained increase of both cultivation and production is important because it could mean the beginning of a trend reversal.
“We hope to see a 20% decrease in the data about 2019 when all the things we are doing show results,” Santos said. “And in 2020 we will see an even larger reduction.”
Santos said he will meet next week with Carroll with the goal of creating an interagency working group that identifies antinarcotic pilot programs in Colombia that use modern technology such as artificial intelligence and satellite images interpreted by algorithms.
The United States has supported antinarcotics efforts in Colombia, having spent about $10 billion over the last two decades in Plan Colombia. The program received $483 million in the last fiscal year.
Colombia is the world’s largest exporter of cocaine and the growth of its coca crop has tested relations with the United States.