Coronavirus travel restrictions have upended the cocaine trade, report says

Travel restrictions currently in place during the coronavirus pandemic have forced a collapse in the price of one of the building blocks of cocaine, a report says, with the coca leaf plunging as much as 73 percent in value in some parts of South America.

The worldwide lockdowns – which have resulted in a steep drop in domestic and international travel – are now leaving drug cartels scrambling to find ways to move around their product, according to the Washington Post.

“The [coca] economy has collapsed,” Rubén Leiva, a Peruvian farmer who grows the plant for traditional indigenous uses – told the newspaper. “We plant coca because it is a solution for our survival. But now, no one is buying it.”

In this 2012 photo, coca plants grow in a seedbed next to a cocaine lab in Puerto Concordia in Colombia's southern Meta state.

In this 2012 photo, coca plants grow in a seedbed next to a cocaine lab in Puerto Concordia in Colombia's southern Meta state. (AP)

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The Washington Post, citing the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, says border restrictions also are making it difficult for countries like Colombia to obtain cheap gasoline from Venezuela needed to refine the drug before it hits the streets.

“In short, the cartels are taking a beating,” Michael S. Vigil, former chief of international operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration, told the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, the street price of cocaine is rising in prominent American cities like Miami, New York, and San Francisco, as DEA offices across the U.S. are seeing supplies of illicit drugs starting to run low, the Washington Post adds.

U.S. officials tell the newspaper that cartels are now trying to transport fewer but larger shipments to get around the barriers. Drug seizures through the first four months of this year have fallen compared to the same period last year, signaling a possible decline in traffic, the report said.

The price of cocaine reportedly is rising in American cities as supplies of illicit drugs are starting to run low, The Washington Post reports. (iStock)

The price of cocaine reportedly is rising in American cities as supplies of illicit drugs are starting to run low, The Washington Post reports. (iStock)

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Analysts say they expect coca leaf prices and trafficking to ramp up again as the spread of the coronavirus wanes and the restrictions are eased – but the trade may never be the same.

“This will change the landscape of these cartels,” Vigil told the Washington Post. “The only ones that may survive are the supersized cartels. They’ll completely obliterate the smaller ones that don’t have the infrastructure or revenue streams to survive the supply chain disruption we’re seeing now.”