updated 6/14/2005 8:37:14 AM ET 2005-06-14T12:37:14

South America’s cocaine output rose by 2 percent last year, bucking a five-year downward trend as increases in Peru and Bolivia outpaced Colombia’s clampdown on coca cultivation, a U.N. report showed Tuesday.

Cocaine production rose 35 percent in Bolivia and 23 percent in Peru from 2003 to 2004, while falling 11 percent in Colombia, according to the annual survey from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

The U.N.’s top counter-narcotics official blamed political unrest in Bolivia and lawlessness in two Peruvian regions for the increase in coca leaf cultivation and cocaine production there.

“We are very worried about the situation in Bolivia,” said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of UNODC.

“Narcotics is a byproduct of the crisis,” he told a news conference. “The weaker the government, the greater the amount of land cultivated (for narcotics).”

Not a ‘structural change’
Costa said the increase last year should not be seen as halting the general fall in cocaine production in recent years, which saw coca cultivation in the Andean region fall by almost a third since 2000. The three countries produce virtually all the world’s cocaine, around 757 tons last year.

“This small hike should not yet be construed as a structural change,” he wrote in the report. “Should cultivation continue to increase, of course, it would have to be perceived as a threat to the gains made in the last five years.”

Costa praised Colombia’s U.S.-backed efforts to fight coca production through aerial spraying and development of alternative livelihoods for farmers, noting that cultivation of coca — the raw material for cocaine — had been cut by half there since 2000.

Colombia remains the world’s major source of cocaine, producing 430 tons last year according to the U.N. report. However, Peru and Bolivia are catching up with a combined total of 327 tons.

Costa called for more international help to Peru and Bolivia to help them combat the problem.

The U.N. said its main source for data on coca production was satellite imagery of the production areas, backed by plane and helicopter observation and work on the ground with local authorities, including interviews with farmers and field studies.

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