FARC peace may cut Colombia cocaine, but synthetic drugs new scourge

BOGOTA, (Reuters) – A peace deal between FARC rebels and the Colombian government would greatly help cut cocaine production in Colombia, but officials fear new crime gangs could fill the gap while anti-narcotics police fight a new scourge: synthetic drugs.

As government and FARC negotiators in Havana begin discussing illicit drugs – the third item on a five-point peace agenda – anti-narcotics police chief General Ricardo Restrepo said Colombia had warned the world about the growing risk.

“It will be our next battle,” the newly appointed Restrepo told Reuters at his office.

“They are easy to produce in any place; you don’t need big laboratories. You can produce synthetic drugs from your home. Certainly they will attract a lot of world attention.”

Over the last decade, the Colombian government has cracked down on cocaine labs hidden in the jungle and the small-scale farmers producing coca, the raw ingredient used to make cocaine.

Notorious drug cartels have been dismantled, and a U.S.-backed military offensive against the drug-funded FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and other insurgent groups has helped cut shipments of cocaine overseas.

But while a gram of cocaine is considerably cheaper on the streets of Bogota than an ecstasy tablet or hit of crystal meth, synthetic drugs are easier to produce and traffic than a kilo of cocaine, attracting a new type of drug producer and dealer.

A gram of cocaine costs about $10 in an upscale neighborhood of the capital, while an ecstasy tablet can go for more than $90, according to police officials.

Some of the narcotics are produced using pharmaceuticals imported legally from Europe, said Restrepo, who was appointed a month ago during a restructuring of the armed forces.

The synthetic drugs are then sold locally, he said, but also trafficked to Central America, Mexico and onward to the United States.

The shift toward non-conventional drugs could form part of talks with FARC commanders at the negotiating table in Cuba when they kick off again on Thursday. The two sides are set to discuss how to substitute coca farming for legal alternatives, how to prevent drug use, and improve public health.

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