Inside Colombia’s efforts to stem cocaine production, one coca plant at a time

CBS NewsVice President Mike Pence told the president of Colombia last night that he is very concerned by the “dramatic increase” in cocaine production. Coca is the raw ingredient for cocaine, and it’s being grown in record amounts. Production has surged more than 130 percent since 2013.

Colombia is the main supplier of cocaine to the United States, where overdose deaths increased 25 percent between 2014 and 2015.

From the air, flying aboard armed helicopters with the national police, it is easy to spot the bright green plots of coca scattered below in the jungle territory of Nariño, the “cocaine capital” of Colombia.

Major Carlos Angarita, who is leading this eradication operation, landed at his team’s next target.

Here, the war on drugs is fought with shovels, pulling the coca plants up by the roots.

“It’s not an easy job,” Major Angarita told CBS News correspondent Manuel Bojorquez. “There’s no way around it. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. This is permanent.” …

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During the last several decades, the United States has invested billions of dollars in trying to help the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean deliver better lives for their citizens. This has meant helping them increase internal security by combating the illicit growing and trafficking in narcotics and the activities of terrorist groups, as well as helping them to shore up their democratic and free market institutions.

Unfortunately, in recent years, continued progress in these areas has been threatened, not least by the elections of radical populist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. These governments have instituted retrograde agendas that include the propagation of class warfare, state domination of the economy, assaults on private property, anti-Americanism, support for such international pariahs as Iran, and lackluster support for regional counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics initiatives.

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