By Mimi Yagoub

This series by InSight Crime takes a look at how the metrics used to measure cocaine production across Latin America do not always reflect the facts.

Challenging the Cocaine Figures, Part I: Bolivia

Cocaine seizures in Bolivia have shot up since 2013, reaching record figures this year. Between January and mid-August 2016, the police's antinarcotics unit (Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra el Narcotráfico - FELCN) registered 16.7 metric tons of cocaine hydrochloride (HCl) seized -- already nearly double the total figure for last year, when 8.6 metric tons were intercepted.

However, coca base seizures, which have historically been much more substantial than cocaine seizures, have in contrast been decreasing sharply since 2012. (Coca base is a paste that can be further refined into HCl, which is the crystalized form of the drug.) This year, less cocaine base was interdicted than HCl.

Seizure figures can illustrate shifting trends in Bolivian drug production or security strategy. For some critics, rising cocaine seizures have been taken as evidence that Bolivia's drug control situation is deteriorating as a result of President Evo Morales' alternative drug policies. A former coca grower, Morales has adopted a liberal policy that allows for coca to be grown legally and monitored through a "community coca control" system.

Whether or not these concerns are plausible very much depends on which set of statistics is analyzed.

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Challenging the Cocaine Figures, Part II: Colombia

Over the year 2016, Colombia has seized a record 300 metric tons of cocaine, Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas told reporters on October 21.

Villegas said the figure was "the highest cocaine seizure statistic in our history."

This total vastly outstrips seizures over the past few years. Authorities intercepted 219 metric tons of cocaine in 2015, 133 metric tons in 2010, and 92 metric tons in 2003, the defense minister stated.

The year's record numbers are likely linked to the recent boom in coca leaf plantations, which doubled in size between 2013 and 2015.

The record figures trumpeted by the Colombian government appear surprising when considering how much cocaine the country is believed to be producing. By US government estimates, Colombia has already seized nearly three-quarters of all the cocaine produced last year -- an estimated 420 metric tons.

By UNODC figures, Colombia has seized nearly half of its estimated pure cocaine production -- which the international body calculated to be far higher at 646 metric tons.

As countries are generally thought to seize about 10 percent of all their illegal drug flow, these figures may seem unrealistic. However, they have some possible explanations.

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Challenging the Cocaine Figures, Part III: Peru

At first glance, estimates of Peru's coca cultivation and eradication figures simply don't add up, which has led to claims of statistical manipulation. InSight Crime takes a closer look at the numbers to determine what's behind the discrepancies in the data. 

As a drug trafficking expert recently noted, in certain areas of Peru the amount of coca destroyed by the Interior Ministry's eradication program vastly exceeds the estimated number of hectares of coca actually under cultivation. These figures are published yearly by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and are the main source of data for the Peruvian government.

Jaime Antezana, a specialist in drug trafficking in Peru, recently told Diario UNO that this showed that the UNODC and the Peruvian government are publishing false coca crop figures.

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Thumbnail: CC Pierre Pouliquin

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