Colombia: coca production down as narcos diversify

The area of land planted with coca leaf in Colombia has fallen by 25%, and is now about a third of that in 2001, according to the latest report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)'s Integrated Illicit Crops Monitoring System. The report finds that land planted with coca has dropped from 64,000 hectares in 2011 to 48,000 hectares in 2012, the lowest figure since monitoring started in Colombia more than a decade ago. Although the National Police actually eradicated less coca than in previous years, the force increased its presence in coca-growing regions, apparently preventing campesinos from planting coca in the first place. But while coca areas fell nationwide, they rose in three departments still especially wracked by armed conflict—Norte de Santander, Chocó and Caquetá.

Analysts also say the fall in coca production suggests illegal groups which have long financed themselves through drug trafficking are increasingly moving into illegal gold and emerald mining—both on the increase in Colombia. The strategy exploits the fact that, unlike coca or cocaine, gold and emeralds are legal to transport and sell.

According to UNODC figures released earlier this week, coca cultivation also decreased in Bolivia, dropping 7% between 2011 and 2012 to 25,300 hectares. The figures for Peru are expected to be released over the next weeks. (BBC News, Aug. 8)

Last year, Colombian prosecutors opened an investigation into a businessman who controls much of the country's emerald trade for suspected links with illegal paramilitaries. Victor Carranza, Colombia's so-called "Emerald Czar," was named by imprisoned paramilitary fighters as having funded their operations. Para commander Freddy Rendón Herrera AKA "El Alemán" called Carranza a "co-founder" of the outlawed United Colombian Self-Defense Forces (AUC). Carranza denied the claims, saying that the AUC had tried to extort money from him, and citing numerous attempts on his life,  In the latest such attempt in 2010, a team reportedly dispatched by paramilitary leader Pedro Oliveiro Guerrero AKA "Cuchillo" drove a petrol truck into the convoy of armored cars taking Carranza and his son back from the emerald mines of Puerto López, Meta department, to his home in the city of Villavicencio. (BBC News, Feb. 3, 2012; El Tiempo, May 30, 2011)

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FARC tungsten in your cell phone?

Bloomberg Aug. 8 runs a lengthy exposé on the contraband tungsten trade in Colombia, with a primary source being the FARC-run Cerro Tigre mine deep in the jungles of Guainia department (incorrectly identified by Bloomberg as a "province," an administrative division that doesn't exist in Colombia). "It's completely illegal, but we haven’t been able to stop it yet," said Col. Luis Montenegro, the National Police commander in Guainia. "We don’t control any territory out there; FARC controls it." Apple, Hewlett-Packard and Samsung are named as purchasing parts made of Colombian tungsten that probably originated at Cerro Tigre. Since 2008, there have been 40 shipments of tungsten ore from Colombia by 14 companies, according to government export documents. Although none of the records show the tungsten ore coming from Cerro Tigre, Colombian authorities "are convinced that it does."

The two principal Colombian tungsten exporters are Cali-based Geo Copper and Minerak, a supplier to Global Tungsten & Powders that was 50% owned by Geo Copper when it was launched in 2011. Geo Copper's CEO Edgar Rengifo says the tungsten ore the two companies export comes not from Cerro Tigre, but from a licensed mine that Geo Copper co-owns, called Caney de los Cristales, some 150 kilometers west of Cerro Tigre. "Caney is the only mine where you can export in this country," Rengifo said. "The only legal title."

But although Caney is licensed to produce tungsten ore, no exports are coming from the site, Colombian officials told Bloomber. The National Police, the army and the Environment Ministry say Geo Copper’s tungsten ore actually comes from the FARC's mine.