The long-awaited peace between the Colombian government and FARC rebels has led to an unprecedented boom in the cocaine industry, the Washington Post reports.
Incentives from the government to switch to legal crops have fallen short of achieving their intended effect, as farmers in Columbia’s rural areas are actually planting more coca crop in order to gain government investment and resources in their communities.
What’s more, FARC’s demobilization has removed Columbia’s military from the equation. Where once the military directly engaged FARC and its drug trade, which fueled their insurgency in part, now the fight is an economic and sociological one.
The net effect is booming cocaine production, up to 710 metric tons last year from just 235 metric tons in 2013. There is so much coca being grown in Columbia that the supply is in many cases exceeding demand, with plants left to wither and die in fields as farmers attempt to keep up.
Previous strategies of spraying coca fields with herbicide were subsidized by the U.S., who still would like to see the strategy expanded. The U.S. and the Columbian governments have worked closely over the last 17 years, with the U.S. providing over $10 billion to help dismantle the FARC and counter the drug trade through “Plan Columbia.” Additional American military assets and targeting technology likely helped tip the war in Columbia’s favor, leading to the historic peace deal signed last November between the government and the FARC.
But in addition to the monetary incentives to plant coca in the post-FARC Columbia, the demand for cocaine among U.S. drug users is skyrocketing, further incentivizing the drug economy in Columbia and Mexico, where powerful cartels work to push drugs to the enormous U.S. market, which remains the largest in the world.
Cocaine use is up for Americans, at its highest levels in over a decade. The rise is partly due to young Americans being more willing to use the drug; there were nearly 1 million new users of cocaine in 2015, a 61% increase in just two years from 2013. Many experts believe the rise is related to an unusual inversion of standard economic principles; skyrocketing demand is a result of the increase in supply and availability. Despite some attention on the American opioid epidemic, specifically in poor communities, the rise in cocaine use in the U.S. has largely been minimized.
Image courtesy of The New Yorker