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The unsuspected crisis of the cocaine business in Colombia

Since the drug dealers vanished, Carlos can’t find anyone to buy the lumps of coca paste that are piled up in his house at a good price. Before he would have received a lot of money for them, but an unsuspected drop in the economy of the drug has these peasants in crisis in Colombia.

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He cocalero The 36-year-old speaks quietly and uses an assumed name for fear of reprisals from armed groups operating near his farm.

In conversation with AFP, he explains that all the calculations show him losses: cultivate two hectares of the plant The cocaine base cost him about $660, but he estimates he can hopefully recoup $154 as part of an unprecedented phenomenon of low prices and few customers. It was the first of four harvests for the year.

With half-naked and scratched hands, gangs of “raspachines” or expert leaf removers advance in the middle of a green sea of ​​drug crops in cryinga municipality in the department of Narino (south).

Coca leaf sacks arrive at the hands of Carlos, who “cooks” them crushed with a mixture of chemicals, cement and gasoline in a small stove until he obtains white stones.

Before, he was flooded with buyers from drug trafficking, but for more than a month he has not found a market for eight kilograms of coca paste that he keeps in plastic bags under his bed.

The prices are re (very) bad”, he says from his small and improvised laboratory. “The only option is to save it”he adds, worried about the future of a 15-year-old daughter who wants to go to university and another 10-year-old.

The rise of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, the overproduction of coke and blows to the cartels are some of the hypotheses of experts, growers and authorities before the apparent collapse of the so-called “coca bonanza” of Colombiathe world’s leading producer of cocaine.

finances of at least 250,000 families They depend on that crop, that is, 1.5% of the 50 million Colombians, according to official figures.

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The crisis spreads through the Pacific coast Colombian. In this impoverished region dominated by guerrilla dissidents FARC that deviated from the 2016 peace agreement, 44% of the 204,000 hectares of drug crops of Colombiaaccording to the last balance of United Nations (2021).

In the Olaya Herrera municipality, the grower Nilson Solis feel the crisis: “Right now the coca economy is not giving much to survive, previously coca had a more or less good price (…) but from time to time it fell”he says in the middle of a plantation attached to his house.

The authorities try to find answers to a contradiction. Colombia He broke a record for hectares planted with coca two years ago, but at the beginning of 2023 the collectors are experiencing hardships.

Philip tascondirector of Voluntary Replacement Program of the government, assumes that “non-aggression pacts” previous to the disarmament of the FARC were broken and put an end to the order established by the cartels. He also thinks there is a “overproduction”.

For Julian Quinterodirector of the NGO on the consumption of psychoactive substances Échele Cabeza, coca has more and more “alkalinity and yield”, so fewer leaves are needed to produce cocaine.

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Change of “tastes”

On May 13, the president Gustavo Petro visited Olaya Herrerawhere the kilogram of pasta went from costing an average of 695 dollars to a maximum of 440 dollars.

Is “probably the low demand for coca paste” it has to do “with the fact that North Americans have changed their consumption, their tastes,” said the president.

In USAwhere 97% of cocaine is of Colombian origin, synthetic opioids such as pills proliferate fentanylmore addictive than white powder.

For Quintero, cocaine became a drug for consumers “high purchasing power”, executives who seek to support long working hours and older adults. Instead, stimulants like ecstasy are gaining ground in “younger populations” attracted to “sensations associated with affection, love, dancing”precise.

Petro He has even gone so far as to ensure that the devaluation of the local currency is partly due to the lack of circulation of dollars from drug trafficking. According to Global Commission on Drug Policythe money from the mafia represented 2 to 3% of GDP.

Hunger grows in coca-growing areas and store shelves are empty, with no clear answer to the enigma. Farmers on the border with Venezuela They assured AFP that the crisis coincided with the extradition to a US prison of “Othniel”, leader of the largest cartel known as gulf clan.

Solis is already beginning to look for alternatives such as the illegal logging. “When we take stock [de las cosechas] we have nothing left,” he says. He is barely enough “to buy a pound of rice and a little bit of oil”he concludes.

Source: Elcomercio

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