WASHINGTON — Production of pure cocaine in Colombia declined by 25 percent in the last year, according to a U.S. government survey of drug production.
Drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said Monday that potential cocaine production in the South American country has dropped by 72 percent since 2001. Colombia now ranks third, behind Peru and Bolivia, in production of pure cocaine, he said.
"Potential production of pure cocaine in Colombia is down to 195 metric tons (in 2011) from 700 metric tons in 2001, the lowest production potential level since 1994 and the first time since 1995 that Colombia is producing less cocaine than either Peru of Bolivia," Kerlikowske said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime released an estimate last week that Colombia could produce 345 metric tons of cocaine in 2011.
Kerlikowske' s office said the drop in Colombia cocaine production has coincided with a decline in U.S. cocaine overdose deaths, positive workplace drug tests, the purity of cocaine available for street purchase and domestic cocaine seizures.
"Let me add some context to these results. They didn't happen overnight, there was a sustained effort requiring nearly a decade of steady, strategic pressure across more than one administration in both the United States and Colombia.
Kerlikowske said the decline in production is largely the result of Plan Colombia, a $7.5 billion U.S.-backed effort launched in 1999 to help the Colombian government crack down on a left-wing insurgency and drug organizations.
"The results are historic and have tremendous implications, not just for the United States and the Western Hemisphere, really globally," Kerlikowske said.
Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos said the decline is part of his country's overall strategy of cutting off funding sources for drug traffickers. Speaking in the town of Rio Negro, north of Bogota, Colombia, he said it was good news that Colombia is now third in cocaine production.
Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said the government is also making strides in seizing cocaine, pointing to the confiscation of about 300 tons of the drug in the last two years.
U.S. Ambassador Michael McKinley told El Tiempo newspaper that "the numbers demonstrate historic advances in ending the fight against drugs in Colombia."
Speaking Monday, Kerlikowske said while the decline in Colombian production is a positive development, it is not a sign that powerful and deadly drug cartels are going out of business. Instead, he said, these groups, including those waging a drug war against each other and the government in Mexico, will "turn to anything illegal that makes money."
Associated Press writers Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, and Libardo Cardona in Bogota, Colombia contributed to this report.