VIENNA, 5 December (UNODC) - The Vice-President of Colombia, Francisco Santos Calderon, warned European countries on Monday about a boom in cocaine consumption and said the damaging effects on society should not be under-estimated.
Addressing a meeting of major donors to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), he urged European governments to be aggressive in combating growing demand for the drug, which was becoming increasingly socially acceptable in many countries.
"If you do nothing, this problem will get a lot worse. It will destroy communities and generate violence," the Vice-President said. "We in Colombia are spending hundreds of millions of dollars in fighting the drugs trade. The other side of the equation needs to be addressed vigorously in Europe."
Vice-President Santos Calderon announced a major international information campaign, using slogans such as "Coke is no joke," to bring home to drug users both the dangers to themselves and the fact that drug consumption fuelled crime and human rights violations in producing countries.
UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa welcomed the Colombian initiative.
"We have noted an alarming increase in cocaine use in Europe," he said. "Especially dangerous is the fact that well-established personalities from business, the media, the sports world and the arts have, with their behaviour, made cocaine use appear to be part of normal life."
Costa also complimented Colombia on its increasingly successful efforts to stamp out drug cultivation and the lawlessness it inspired.
"Colombia's efforts to control supply have to be balanced by greater efforts to control demand in Europe," he added. "The old continent is experiencing rates of cocaine abuse which the U.S. experienced 20 years ago. Will countries ever learn from one another? Demand reduction does help supply control and vice versa."
Vice-President Santos Calderon said the UNODC was a strong partner for the Colombian government and much of its success in the battle against cocaine could not have been achieved without the help of the Office.
Colombia has reduced its coca cultivation by 51 percent in the past five years - to 80,000 hectares in 2004 from 163,000 hectares in 2000 - through policies that include spraying and manual eradication of crops as well as support to farmers who voluntarily eradicate drug crops or refrain from planting coca.
Enforcement measures are also bearing fruit: this year, the authorities have reported the seizure of more than 73 metric tons of cocaine, as well as more than 4,000 tons of chemical precursors. More than 800 cocaine laboratories were destroyed, as well as nine heroin laboratories.
UNODC supports the Colombian Government through a $3.5 million technical assistance programme, much of which is invested in sustainable livelihood programmes or in promoting alternative development products. UNODC also monitors coca cultivation in Colombia and verifies eradication efforts by farmers.
Vice-President Santos Calderon, who was then a journalist, was kidnapped by Pablo Escobar, leader of the Medellin drugs cartel in 1990 and held for eight months in an effort to prevent the extradition of drug traffickers to the United States.
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