Fumigation Fighting Coca Farms 

Fumigation Fighting Coca Farms 
Posted by FoM on January 27, 2001 at 10:39:16 PT
By Sibylla Brodzinsky 
Source: USA Today 
To many coca farmers in this South American nation's Putumayo province, the government's warning of a massive U.S.-backed offensive to destroy their illegal crops seemed like a vague, distant threat. They had been growing cocaine's main ingredient virtually unchallenged for decades, and they saw little incentive to sign on to a volunteer program to rid themselves of the cash crop. 
However, when the fumigation planes swooped down Dec. 22 over this tiny farming community in the southern province of Putumayo, the herbicide they sprayed destroyed not only their target, the coca, but basic food crops as well. That was enough to persuade most farmers to accept a program that gives them financial incentives funded by the government's Plan Colombia to stop growing the plant that is the source of cocaine. The plan is financed by $ 1.2 billion in U.S. aid aimed at fighting the cocaine trade and undermining the main source of funding for guerrillas who have fought the government for more than three decades. Plan Colombia's goal is to use both the voluntary eradication programs and fumigation to cut the country's coca production by half within five years. Colombia is the world's top supplier of cocaine. And according to a United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention report released this week, the USA is the world's top market for the drug. Secretary of State Colin Powell said during his confirmation hearings last week that he supports the Colombian government in its efforts to deal with narco-traffickers and insurgents. Past counternarcotics efforts, however, have failed to make a dent in the coca trade. Though the Colombian government has fumigated hundreds of thousands of acres throughout the country since 1992, the total area planted with coca has skyrocketed as farmers move their crops deeper into the jungle. Despite the destruction of about 140,000 acres in 2000 -- nearly half of the estimated total acreage in 1999 -- officials say figures due to be released next month are expected to show that total coca acreage hit a record in 2000. The most explosive growth in recent years has been in Putumayo province, where fumigation has been sporadic because of the threat of ground fire from the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, who control the countryside and, according to officials, reap anywhere from $ 500 million to $ 1.8 billion a year from the drug trade. Peace talks with the FARC, which after two years have yet to bear fruit, are on hold as the government faces a Wednesday deadline to renew the guerrilla's lease on a Switzerland-sized safe haven set aside for the negotiations. But while the 17,000-strong FARC opposes fumigation and often shoots at the crop dusters, neither the rebels nor rightwing paramilitary forces that are vying for control of the coca trade has contested the voluntary eradication programs. Officials in Putumayo say the FARC hasn't opposed the program because of two reasons: The guerrillas are trying to shake their "narco-guerrilla" image, and they don't think the program will work. Under the plan, the government offers farmers who agree to eliminate their coca crops themselves: Exclusion of their lands from future fumigation plans. About $ 900 per family in food subsidies for a year while the farmers gradually wean themselves off coca income. Funds to finance community projects, such as cattle and chicken ranching, to generate a new source of income for the farmers. About $ 58 million of the U.S. aid is set aside to support such programs. Unless every coca farmer in the province signs on to the pact, fumigation and lab seizures will continue, funded by roughly $ 800 million of U.S. aid. Standing in his rustic "laboratory" where he transforms coca leaves into the paste that is the base for cocaine, Edmundo, 37, surveys the damage on his farm. He points to wilted plantain trees and browned corn stalks amid the now-leafless coca bushes. From the coca leaves, he made coca paste that brought in about $ 800 a month. As his wife, Nubia, and their four children harvest the few surviving coca leaves in a corner of his field untouched by the fumigation, Edmundo says he's ready to sign on to the alternative program. "We can't survive with fumigation. If the government is destroying our crops anyway, we'll go with the (voluntary eradication) pacts," says Edmundo, who said he preferred not to give his last name. Nearly every day since Edmundo's crops were sprayed, the fumigation planes have returned to different areas of the Putumayo valley where nearly one-quarter of Colombia's estimated 300,000 acres of coca are planted. They have been followed by ground troops, who torch coca-paste labs like Edmundo's. More than two-thirds of the villages in the Guamues Valley have signed a letter of intent to formalize their commitment, according to the mayor's office in nearby La Hormiga. "Fumigation has forced farmers to accept manual eradication because it is destroying everything, not just the coca," says Martin Marquez, a senior official in La Hormiga. Gonzalo de Francisco, President Andres Pastrana's point man on the alternative development programs in Putumayo, is pleased that the communities are joining the program. "They never believed in fumigation and now that it has arrived, they are willing to sign," he says. "That shows the carrot and stick (strategy) works," Bob Weiner, spokesman for the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, says from Washington. However, even as they sign their names to the pledges, farmers are wary of government promises. Coca growers in the village of Santa Ana, who were the first to sign a formal pact with the government in November, are still waiting to see the first dollar of the promised aid. They say they won't start replacing their crops until they do. De Francisco understands their concern. "It is completely valid for the farmers to not believe in the government," he says. The only way to convince them is through deeds, not words, he adds. The first money is expected to reach the farmers in February. "Despite everything, the farmers have not lost all faith in the government; they hope this time it will come through for them," Marquez says. La Isla, ColombiaNote: U.S.- Backed Plan's Aim: Cut Cocaine Source. Source: USA Today (US) Author: Sibylla Brodzinsky Published: Friday, 26 January 2001 Copyright: 2001 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc Address: 1000 Wilson Blvd., Arlington VA 22229 Fax: (703) 247-3108 Contact: editor Website: Articles:Troops Launch Blitz on Colombian Coca on Drug Crops a Failure for Centuries for Human Rights in Herbicide Mist CannabisNews Articles - Colombia
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Post Comment

Name: Optional Password: 
Comment: [Please refrain from using profanity in your message]
Link URL: 
Link Title: