Colombia's Coca Crop Drops 25 Percent, Giving Peru Edge In Cocaine Production

The United Nations reported that Colombia reduced its area under coca cultivation by 25 percent last year, meaning Peru has likely surpassed it as the world's No. 1 cocaine-producing country.

The annual reduction was Colombia's biggest since the international body began monitoring it in 2001.

The U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime is not slated to release 2012 Peru coca crop numbers until next month.

Earlier this week, it announced that Bolivia's crop, the world's third-largest, dropped for a second straight year.

The UNODC said the Colombian coca crop fell to 185 square miles (48,000 hectares) last year from 247 square miles (64,000 hectares) in 2011. It placed Peru's crop at 240 square miles (62,500 hectares) in 2011.

Peru said it destroyed 54 square miles (14,000 hectares) of coca last year, all manually, while Colombia eradicated 505 square miles (131,000 hectares), most via U.S.-funded aerial spraying.

Neither UNODC officials in Peru's nor the country's drug czar, Carmen Masias, would comment on whether Peru has passed Colombia.

Former Peruvian drug czar Ricardo Soberón said there is little doubt that Peru's crop is now bigger, although he has little faith in either the U.N. or the U.S. measuring methods.

"There is more area (under cultivation), and more unrefined cocaine," he said. Much of it is being smuggled eastward via small planes to Bolivia for final processing, he said.

That cocaine almost exclusively serves the Brazilian, Argentine and European markets, while Colombian cocaine is primarily shipped to the United States.

Colombian and U.N. authorities attributed last year's big drop in Colombia to repeated eradication of land where coca growers have tried to replant, and also to a migration of a lot of coca growers to mining.

Coca bushes on such parcels are relatively immature and yield fewer leaves than more mature plants, explaining why Colombia's potential cocaine production only dropped 10 percent last year to 345 metric tons, by U.N count.

In neither Peru nor Bolivia does the U.N. make estimates of potential cocaine production.

The U.N. says Bolivia's coca crop is currently at 90 square miles (23,500 hectares).

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents are active in supporting local law enforcement in Colombia and Peru but were kicked out of leftist-led Bolivia in 2008 for allegedly inciting the political opposition.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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