U.S. Led Fumigation Fails To Stop Cultivation 

U.S. Led Fumigation Fails To Stop Cultivation 
Posted by FoM on February 28, 2000 at 16:57:34 PT
By Frank Bajak, Associated Press
Source: Detroit News
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 rain forests. 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.   Estimates show coca cultivation up by 20 percent to 30 percent last year. Since 1995, it has more than doubled, according to the Colombian and U.S. figures.   President Andres 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. help.   Colombian and U.S. officials 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 said, 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 rain forest.   More than two-fifths of Colombia's 210 square miles of coca is grown in the rebel-dominated southern state of Putumayo. Pastrana plans a major eradication effort there this year spearheaded by a 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.   Some experts are skeptical the stepped-up efforts will make a dent in Colombia's cocaine production.   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.   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 increase their support for the guerrillas who have been fighting the Colombian government for more than three decades.   "I don't think we will ever solve this problem without an end to the armed conflict," said Klaus Nyholm, director for Colombia of the U.N. Drug Control Program.   Rio Negro, ColombiaPublished: February 27, 2000 Copyright 2000, The Detroit NewsRelated Articles:Natural Fungus Could be Tool Against Illegal Drugs May be Used to Fight War on Cocaine Colombia Cocaine Production Up
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