HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html New Super Strain Of Coca Plant Stuns Anti-Drug Officials
Pubdate: Fri, 27 Aug 2004
Source: Scotsman (UK)
Copyright: The Scotsman Publications Ltd 2004
Author: Jeremy McDermott, in Bogota
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


Drug traffickers have created a new strain of coca plant that yields
up to four times more cocaine than existing plants and promises to
revolutionise Colombia's drugs industry.

The new variety of coca, the raw material for cocaine, was found in an
anti-drug operation on the Caribbean coast, on the mountainsides of
the Sierra Nevada, long known as a drug-growing region.

Samples of the plant were sent for laboratory analysis and experts
then pronounced drugs traffickers had developed a new breed.

"This is a very tall plant," said Colonel Diego Leon Caicedo of the
anti-narcotics police. "It has a lot more leaves and a lighter colour
than other varieties."

A toxicologist, Camilo Uribe, who studied the coca, said: "The quality
and percentage of hydrochloride from each leaf is much better, between
97 and 98 per cent. A normal plant does not get more than 25 per cent,
meaning that more drugs and of a higher purity can be extracted."

Experts estimate that the drugs traffickers spent ?60 million to
develop the new plant, using strains from Peru and crossbreeding them
with potent Colombian varieties, as well as engaging in genetic

The resulting plant has also been bred to resist the gliphosate
chemicals developed in the US that are sprayed on drugs crops across

While traditional coca plants are dark green and grow to some 5ft, the
new strain grows to more than 12ft.

"What we found were not bushes but trees," Col Caicedo said.

Such an investment by drugs traffickers is small compared to the
earnings from what is the most lucrative business on earth.
Traffickers can produce a kilogram of cocaine for less than ?1,500.
That kilogram will sell in Miami for ?14,000, in London for ?34,000
and in Tokyo would bring ?50,000.

The discovery threatens to undermine the successes the US-funded crop
eradication programme has enjoyed.

Over the last two years, thanks to an unprecedented aerial eradication
campaign, Colombian authorities have sprayed hundreds of thousands of
hectares of drug crops, reducing narcotics cultivation by more than a

Two years ago Colombia produced an estimated 800 tonnes of cocaine a
year. That figure is believed to have dropped below 600 tonnes.

On Monday, Mexican authorities signalled a major blow for the
drugs-smuggling gangs when they announced the arrest of the man
thought to be a leader of a crime organisation responsible for nearly
half the cocaine and marijuana entering the United States.

The US had offered a $2 million (?1.1 million) reward for Gilberto
Higuera Guerrero's capture.

However, such success could be immediately wiped out if the potent new
coca strain spreads across Colombia.

In the southern province of Putumayo, once the coca capital of
Colombia, drug farmers have changed the way they sow crops in the face
of repeated aerial fumigations.

"We know the spray planes need a target area of three hectares," said
Sebastian Umaya, standing in the middle of a tiny field of coca. "Now
we just have smaller fields, but with more intensive farming of the
coca bushes."

Should the new strain be introduced, these smaller fields could yield
up to four times more drugs and be immune to aerial eradication,
meaning anti-narcotic police would have to eradicate them manually, an
impossible task in the southern jungle provinces controlled by Marxist

The introduction of the new coca strain could undermine the efforts of
the Oxford-educated president Alvaro Uribe to win the 40-year civil

By destroying drugs crops, the president was hoping to weaken the
warring factions, both Marxist guerrillas and right-wing
paramilitaries, who between them earn more than ?500 million a year
from drugs.

The US, the primary destination for Colombian drugs, finances the war
effort with ?400 million a year and has hailed reduction in drug crops
as evidence that its war on drugs is finally bearing fruit.
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