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In historic achievement, Colombian cocaine production plunges...or does it?

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But the US figures raise some questions, such as why the numbers diverge so wildly from United Nations estimates published last week.

A numbers game?

In its annual report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime – the only other body that measures cocaine production in the Andes Mountains – said Colombian cocaine production remained stable in 2011 and coca cultivation actually rose that same year, by 3 percent.

The UN estimate for 2011 cocaine production was 345 tons compared to the US estimate of 195 tons – a discrepancy of 77 percent. UN and US cocaine figures have always differed slightly, but have tended to track each other. No longer, it seems.

But beyond Colombia’s potential progress under the US numbers, perhaps even more surprising are Bolivia and Peru’s apparent leaps ahead of their neighbor in how much cocaine they are able to produce from the coca leaf.

The last time coca cultivation was measured by both the UN and the US, in 2010, Colombia and Peru had about the same number of coca fields, whereas Bolivia had less than half. According to the US, Colombian drug producers are now producing less than half the amount of cocaine from their coca leaves than their counterparts in Bolivia and Peru. Though Michael McKinley, the US ambassador to Colombia, told El Tiempo the White House figures have “95 percent” accuracy, the US has declined to make its methodology public.  

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