The equivalent of more than 57,000 soccer fields were devoted to cocaine production in Colombia in 2011. That’s 62,000 hectares — 620 million square meters — according to the International Narcotics Control Board’s 2011 report.
Though the area decreased by 15 percent, from 2009, Colombia is still South America’s largest cocaine grower. Peru and Bolivia followed. In 2011, South America produced 44 percent of the world’s total cocaine production.
According to another study released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime titled New Dimensions of the Colombia Drug Trade, coca cultivation and cocaine production represented just 0.3 percent of Colombia’s gross domestic product in 2009. That’s down from about 1.4 percent of GDP in 2001. It is believed that through the years the cocaine trade has acted as a cushion to the Colombian economy, and helped lift Colombia out of economic crisis in the 1980s and 1990s.
But tighter controls on money laundering and crop eradication have shifted drug routes, and the Mexican cartels are becoming key players. About 90 percent of the cocaine reaching the U.S. is shipped through Mexico. Yet, due to a crackdown by Mexican authorities, some drug cartels have moved their operations to Honduras, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
Venezuela has also become a key region for transporting drugs. Since coming to power, President Hugo Chavez ended Venezuela’s cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. In 2008, the U.S. alleged current Defense Minister Gen. Henry Rangel Silva provided support to the FARC with drug trafficking. The UN estimates over 50 percent of the drugs that depart the Americas by water leave from Venezuela.
The Chavez administration either took note that things are getting too sketchy even for Chavistas, or that they must present a diplomatic token. Venezuela deployed some 15,000 troops to its borders with Colombia, Brazil and Guyana to combat drug trafficking in what it’s calling Operation Sentinel.