Plan Colombia Fails To Cut Supply of Drugs

Plan Colombia Fails To Cut Supply of Drugs
Posted by FoM on January 01, 2002 at 22:35:27 PT
By James Wilson
Source: Financial Times 
Just over a year ago, the people of Putumayo province watched the launch of 'Plan Colombia', the US-supported anti-drug programme. For weeks, helicopters patrolled and crop-spraying aircraft deposited a fine mist of herbicide over Putumayo's huge fields of coca, the raw material for cocaine. In El Tigre, at the heart of the drug-growing area, there has been one big change since then: the village, which used to live under leftwing guerrilla control, is now dominated by illegal rightwing paramilitaries. 
On a recent visit, lined up on the village football pitch, a squad of about 50 paramilitary troops could be seen drilling. This is something that the Colombian army, despite its boasts to be combating paramilitary groups more forcefully than ever, has apparently not spotted. Enrique, the paramilitary chief in Putumayo, says his enemies - the rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) - have retreated towards the nearby border with Ecuador. "I support Plan Colombia 100 per cent," says Enrique, who claims to command about 800 troops. That professed support probably makes the US squeamish. After all, paramilitaries and guerrillas alike are considered terrorist enemies of the US. But Washington is likely to be just as concerned by what has not happened in El Tigre and elsewhere in Putumayo: so far, there are not many signs that Plan Colombia is succeeding in cutting the supply of illegal drugs. Local prices for semi-processed coca paste (a useful indicator of availability) have barely changed, and fields left brown by herbicide spraying are now once more sprouting with coca. Although the paramilitaries say they agree with eradication because it helps to reduce the guerrilla presence, coca still flourishes in areas they control: they charge less tax than the leftwing groups. Both guerrillas and paramilitaries depend heavily on drug money. The authorities began a new round of crop-spraying in Putumayo late last year. But this only rekindled local anger that legitimate crops are also being killed, before crop-substitution pacts, another key part of Plan Colombia, have had a chance to be properly financed and implemented. Some 35,000 families have signed crop-substitution agreements to rip up 37,000 hectares of coca. Aid is in most cases still to be handed out: tools and agricultural supplies up to a value of 2m pesos ($870) per family. That amount is far less than the value of a single harvest from one hectare of coca - and coca gives at least four harvests a year. Jamec Aguirre, whose two hectares of land was split between coca and new food crops of beans and yucca, saw cropdusters destroy everything last month. He says he had not planted new coca. No crop substitution aid has arrived. He still has pigs - but nothing to feed them with. "I will have to sell them," he says. "I have no cash." Gonzalo de Francisco, an adviser to President Andrés Pastrana with responsibility for security issues in Putumayo, admits there have been problems and delays that dent peasants' confidence. "All we can do is work harder," he says. An enthusiastic supporter of crop substitution, Mr de Francisco nevertheless also emphasises drug eradication efforts to convince peasants that the government is serious about ridding Putumayo of coca. If their coca is repeatedly destroyed, he thinks, they will eventually get the message. By Mr de Francisco's estimate, there were around 66,000 hectares of coca in Putumayo before the spraying offensive began a year ago. That offensive probably eradicated about 20,000 ha. But with new planting having taken place, there may still be 50,000-60,0000 ha of coca in Putumayo. Publicly, US officials say they always knew the drug eradication effort would be a long haul. Crop-spraying will be stepped up next year, while investment is continuing in Putumayo to try to make legitimate agriculture easier. However, some officials connected with drug eradication efforts say the US is depressed at the lack of progress so far. Members of the US Congress have been critical of lack of progress in spending social aid and creating alternative development. Aid approved for Colombia falls short of the Bush administration's request. Mr de Francisco knows patience is short. "I think we have to see results in the next three months in the social part," he says. "We can do a very good technical job, plan and invest the money, but if we do not stop the planting of coca . . . that is the only thing we can be measured by." Source: Financial Times (UK)Author: James WilsonPublished: January 2, 2002 Copyright: The Financial Times Limited 2002Website: letters.editor ft.comRelated Articles & Web Site:Colombia Drug War News Down South Displaced By Drug War Dogs U.S.-Funded Fumigation
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Comment #1 posted by Dark Star on January 02, 2002 at 05:36:22 PT
Yeah, We're Winning
Read the above article and ask how the ideologues can claim to be winning the War on Drugs.All the spraying represents is a form of ethnocide, and corporate welfare for the herbicide industry.
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