Despite Spraying, Colombia's Coca Thrives

Despite Spraying, Colombia's Coca Thrives
Posted by FoM on February 21, 2000 at 12:33:19 PT
By Frank Bajak, Associated Press
Source: Boston Globe
In nearly a decade of U.S. sponsored fumigation, planes have sprayed hundreds of thousands of gallons of herbicide on illicit drug crops in vast expanses of Colombia's highlands and rainforests. Yet drug cultivation in the world's No. 1 cocaine-producing nation is at a record high and climbing. Crop yields are also improving as traffickers plant more potent strains of coca and opium poppy, the sources of cocaine and heroin. 
The stubbornness of the plants seems matched only by the determination of U.S. and Colombian officials to continue the chemical counterattack. As President Andres Pastrana awaits action in the U.S. Congress on a $1.6 billion aid package that would fund an accelerated spraying effort, new estimates show coca cultivation up by 20 to 30 percent last year. Since 1995, it has more than doubled, according to the Colombian and U.S. figures. Pastrana, who expressed serious reservations about fumigation's effectiveness during his first months in office, has toned down the criticism and now welcomes the U.S. assistance. ''If anyone has been tough on drug trafficking it's me,'' he told The Associated Press earlier this month. Colombian and U.S. officials including White House drug czar Barry McCaffrey, who arrives Tuesday for a three-day visit, argue that drug crops would be expanding even more rapidly if there wasn't any attempt to halt their proliferation. But even a recent effort to showcase the spraying effort ended up highlighting the many questions surrounding it, including its distressing impact on this Andean nation's diverse and fragile ecosystem. Flying with anti-narcotics police to an opium poppy field in the southwestern state of Huila, the view out the Bell 212 helicopter window is one of huge scars in the forests, of valleys denuded by clear-cutting. ''That's the ecological crime of the narcos,'' national police spokesman Carlos Perdomo says, gesturing at the deforested ridges around Rio Negro. It is a crime that critics say is only aggravated by fumigation. Coca- and opium-growers who've had their crops destroyed rarely quit. Either they fell more trees elsewhere to plant or they wait until soil microbes have decomposed the herbicide typically a year and reseed the same plot. ''We've noted about a 40 to 50 percent replanting rate'' of opium poppy fields, admits Col. Edgar Orlando Barrero, the police eradication program director. Since the mid-1990s, coca growers have pushed ever deeper into the Amazon basin to evade the crop-dusters, clearing tens of thousands of acres of virgin rainforest. Every new acre planted requires that three be cleared. More than two-fifths of Colombia's coca, or about 210 square miles' worth, is grown in the rebel-dominated southern state of Putumayo. Pastrana plans a major eradication effort there this year spearheaded by a new U.S.-trained counternarcotics battalion. The effort is likely to be opposed by the leftist insurgents who guard drug crops and processing laboratories in Putumayo. Government officials also expect violent protests by poor coca-growers. The U.S. aid plan includes $145 million for alternative development programs to give peasants legal alternatives to making their living by growing drug plants. Nonetheless, skeptics expect most of the poor coca growers to simply continue their cat-and-mouse game with the spray planes. Field studies by Ricardo Vargas, a sociologist and eradication researcher, show that when coca areas are detected and sprayed, growers simply migrate to other regions where drug mafias can offer the chemicals, labs and clandestine air strips needed to process and transport cocaine. Government figures bear out this argument. An explosion in coca cultivation in Putumayo coincided with its near elimination in the eastern state of Guaviare, where nearly 245 square miles were sprayed with herbicide in 1997-98. ''Coca has a behavior completely independent of eradication,'' Vargas said. With tens of thousands of Colombian peasants making a living off coca, some analysts fear stepped-up spraying will only increase their support for the guerrillas who have been fighting the Colombian government for more than three decades. Because of rebel resistance, the eradication business has become increasingly militarized. Spray aircraft were hit by gunfire on 35 occasions last year alone and a key counterdrug base was overrun by rebels the week Pastrana took office in August 1998. The United States has already donated six Black Hawk UH-60 helicopters, equipped with miniguns that fire 1,200 rounds per minute, to the Colombian police to protect the eight spray planes now in action. The proposed U.S. aid package calls for 30 more Black Hawks, for the air force and army, and 15 more spray planes. ''I don't think we will ever solve this problem without an end to the armed conflict,'' says Klaus Nyholm, director for Colombia of the U.N. Drug Control Program. Rio Negro, Colombia (AP) Published: February 21, 2000 Copyright 2000 Boston Globe Electronic Publishing, Inc. Related Article:Fungus May be Used to Fight War on Cocaine
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on February 21, 2000 at 15:06:09 PT
This is how it starts
First, we send advisors. The advisors, to prove they are serious, covertly go out and often lead patrols. The patrols get shot at. The indig friendlies, many of whom are *draftees* and don't really want to be shot at, are generally shown to be less than reliable. The indig friendlie's military leadership is often shown to be either incompetent or corrupt. So the advisors wind up taking even more patrols out. Then one of them gets killed.Original injunctions against direct involvement (as if arming, supplying, and providing airborne intelligence from orbiting 'spook' aircraft like the one that crashed in the mountains down there last year isn't direct support) are forgotten as the nations' blood goes from it's brain to its' nether regions. Words of wisdom are replaced by shouts of "Our boys have been shot at! Let's go get the b*****ds!" And the bloodbath begins.Contrary to what some might think, this is *not* a reductio in absurdum; this is, shorn of all the rhetoric,exactly how our politicians commit our military forces to unwinnable wars. And the American people, bless their pointy little heads, trustingly follow these nincompoop pols as if they knew what they were doing. The blind leading the blind.
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