By Dialogo February 20, 2009 The level of violence related to drug trafficking and drug abuse has continued to rise in Latin America, despite all government efforts to combat it, According to an annual report published in Vienna by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), no countries in the region are free of drug problems, even though there are prominent differences related to production, commerce, and consumption. In this report, the Andean countries of Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru are still considered the main producers of coca crops and cocaine, which is sold mainly to the United States and Europe by land, air, and sea routes through Central America, and increasingly through Africa. The report states that, in the three Latin American countries, the total area used for illegal coca crops rose 16%, up to 181,600 hectares, in comparison to 2007. Only in Colombia, which is still the main cocaine supplier, the area used for illegal crops reached 99,000 hectares, up 27% from 2006. The INCB, an autonomous entity of the UN, emphasizes in this document the increasing professionalization of South America’s drug trafficking networks. These networks have established a system of cooperation between some operations, which “employ specialists” as chemists, ship captains, pilots, and financial analysts for the diverse activities that their criminal business requires. In Central American countries, which mainly serve as drug routes from south to north, the principal concern is the involvement of criminal organizations called “maras” or street gangs. “About 5,000 gangs from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras work in Mexico,” composed of young people recruited by drug dealers based in Mexico, the report states. The INCB also warns that “the increase in deportations from the United States during the last three years has forced many gang members to return to their countries.” Consequently, 75% of Central American gangs maintain relations with other criminal groups in the United States, which strengthens international criminal associations. “Corruption, a judicial system short on resources, a lack of public trust, and weak acts of the law” are factors that still hinder the struggle against drugs in the countries of this region. On the other hand, in Mexico “drug cartels have responded with unprecedented violence” to the authorities’ efforts in combating them, and the number of police officers assassinated has doubled in 2007 and 2008. As regards consumption, the first comparative study on the use of illegal drugs in six countries in South America named Argentina as the main cocaine consumer, followed by Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. Argentina also has the highest number of young consumers, since 25% of them are under 16 years old. Another concern is that posed by “date rape drugs,” substances that criminals give their victims to enable them to commit various offences.