Coca Crop Survives 1st Wave

  Coca Crop Survives 1st Wave

Posted by FoM on May 20, 2001 at 14:33:25 PT
By Laurie Goering, Tribune Foreign Correspondent 
Source: Chicago Tribune 

In January, U.S.-funded fumigation planes swept over Juan Saraza's 5 acres of coca bushes in the hills of southern Colombia, leaving three-quarters of them leafless and dying. The planes "will come back to fumigate again," he predicted calmly, as field workers harvested his remaining acre of healthy coca, stripping the alkaloid-rich leaves and heaping them onto plastic grain sacks. If Saraza, 40, doesn't seem worried, it's for good reason. Just down the hillside, protected beneath a canopy of black tarps, lies his future: A nursery of thousands of bright green young coca seedlings, grown from a new high-yield seed brought in from Bolivia.
Since December, Colombia's remote Putumayo province has been the focus of a $1.3 billion U.S.-funded effort to reverse the explosive growth of coca production in Colombia, stem the flow of cocaine to U.S. streets and, unofficially, cut the drug profits of the armed insurgents who have turned Colombia into one of the most violent places in the world.The U.S. effort, part of a larger $7.5 billion multinational program known as Plan Colombia, has shown some early successes.Along Putumayo's washboard gravel roads, camouflage-clad Colombian soldiers with M-16s slung over their shoulders now wave down passing cars to squeeze their seats and sniff at the air in their tires, looking for concealed cocaine base. Since December, the flow of drugs along the province's roads has fallen by at least half, soldiers say, and the Marxist guerrillas who once controlled the roads and the drug trade have been pushed back into the hills.But the fumigation effort has brought as many problems as it has solved. Large-scale coca growers are rapidly replanting in Putumayo and neighboring regions. Far-right militias, responsible for much of the country's runaway violence, are seizing control of the drug trade in the province. Near La Hormiga, residents say spraying has targeted more legitimate endeavors--banana trees, yucca fields, cattle pasture--than coca.Just as troubling, the explosive growth in coca production continues despite the spraying. Last year, as 143,000 acres of coca were fumigated in Colombia, farmers planted another 197,000 acres, nearly 40 percent more than the government could eradicate, officials admit.This year, if weather conditions are good and U.S.-supplied UH-60 Black Hawk attack helicopters arrive on time to provide air support, the government hopes to break even, eliminating old coca as fast as new fields are planted.Even then, at best, pilots could spray 220,000 acres, which would mean a fall in Colombian coca production of no more than 6 percent, according to Ministry of Defense figures."We need to dramatically increase our fumigation capacity to produce an impact," said Luis Fernando Ramirez, Colombia's defense minister. "We need more teams and planes than we will have."U.S. government officials say that kind of ramp-up is just what is planned. By May 2002, 10 new crop-dusting planes will arrive in Colombia, they say, doubling the nation's spraying capacity. In five years, they predict, most of Colombia's coca could be eliminated. "It's a matter of patience and a matter of will," one U.S. official said.Few Colombians think the solution to the nation's ugly decade-long descent into a coca-fueled hell of massacres, kidnappings, extortion and drug violence will be that simple. In the 10 years, 40,000 people have perished in political violence, and the death rate has doubled in the past four years.Colombia's problems seem endless: a stalled peace process with leftist rebels, rampant paramilitary violence, a 20 percent unemployment rate.But there are bright signs as well for Colombia, from a strengthening of the country's military to what is believed to be a vital slowdown in guerrilla drug revenues."We're writing the book as we go on this kind of war," said Gen. Fernando Tapias, the commander of Colombia's military. But, he added, "little by little we're getting results."U.S.-backed fumigation of illegal drug crops has a 20-year history in Colombia. In the 1980s, crop dusters eliminated much of Colombia's marijuana crop. Then, starting in 1991, the government attacked the growing heroin poppy industry, reducing but not eliminating the mountain fields, which still cover about 18,000 acres.Coca Proves Troublesome:Battling coca, however, has been an experience on an entirely different scale. Often compared to squeezing a water balloon--as you squeeze in one place, the balloon expands elsewhere--the largely U.S.-funded drug war in the Andes has been aimed at a moving target. As coca fields in Peru and Bolivia were eradicated in the past decade, production moved aggressively into Colombia, where traffickers once processed the leaves grown elsewhere.Today this Andean nation, riven by mountains and sprawling from the Atlantic Ocean to the Amazon basin, officially has 340,000 acres of coca bushes. Experts, however, believe the acreage may be as much as 40 percent higher, giving Colombia more than 80 percent of the world cocaine market.Control of Colombia's cocaine traffic, once in the hands of the felled Medellin and Cali cartels, has passed to left-wing guerrillas, who have become rich and well-armed. However, the rebels face unprecedented competition from the nation's brutal paramilitary "self-defense" force, originally created by kidnap- and extortion-weary landowners to combat guerrillas.In Putumayo, the paramilitaries moved in last September, invited by coca growers fed up with guerrilla roadblocks that had virtually shut down the region, part of a protest of the planned fumigation campaign. A bloodbath ensued, analysts say, and by the time the spraying campaign began, on Dec. 19, the paramilitaries controlled a majority of the region's coca fields.In a six-week fumigation campaign, crop dusting planes destroyed 58,000 acres of coca, most of it the Guamuez Valley, which includes La Hormiga, U.S. officials said. Today, the hillsides are covered with largely leafless brown bushes, and growers say the price for processed coca base--once a guerrilla-fixed $400 per pound--fluctuates wildly.That's the good news for U.S. and Colombian officials. The bad news is most of the brown hillsides already have been replanted with neat green rows of young coca, and a new round of harvests is less than a year away.Fumigation proponents say persuading growers to abandon coca for good will take repeated spraying."It's something of a war of attrition," one U.S. official said. "You spray a plantation, they replant, you spray again. Sooner or later they get the idea you're going to be back every time."Putumayo's farmers, however, say they have little choice but to stick with coca. For years, government development officials have promoted alternative crops and promised new roads to get them to market and new local processing factories. Little has materialized.Jose Cuaspud, 56, a peasant farmer whose 4-acre coca stand was fumigated in January, ticks off on his fingers the crops the government has asked him to grow instead of coca over the years: cardamom, rubber, rice, bananas, yucca and soybeans.The problem, he said, is none ever produced a profit. While coca buyers arrive at his door, cash in hand, markets for other crops are occasional at best."No one buys any of our other products," the La Hormiga farmer said. "That's why we'll go back to growing coca."Following Through:Colombian and U.S. officials, again promoting alternative development, say they hope to make it work this time by following through on promises to improve the region's dismal roads and open local processing factories for high-value products such as palm hearts.Alternative development is part of a two-prong approach to coca eradication. U.S. and Colombian officials say they have tried to focus fumigation efforts on large, so-called industrial plots of coca, while encouraging small-scale peasant producers to manually eradicate coca in exchange for payment for their labor and help getting started with new crops. Small farmers whose crops are fumigated also will get help, they say.The U.S. has pledged $42.5 million toward the project. Colombian President Andres Pastrana visited Putumayo on Thursday to deliver emergency aid and promote the effort.Local officials say they will wait to see whether the money really arrives this time."For a long time, campesinos have been foiled. They don't believe anymore," said Manuel Alzate, the mayor of Puerto Asis. "If the government doesn't come through, the campesinos won't either."Government entreaties to grow alternative crops have met particular cynicism in the Guamuez Valley, where farmers charge that the fumigation effort earlier this year killed more legal crops than it did coca.U.S. and Colombian pilots, flying high above the fields to avoid potential anti-aircraft fire, managed to spray nearly 3,000 acres of bananas, 9,000 acres of pasture and 1,300 acres of yucca, as well as kill 200,000 fish, local farmers say in a police report.A children's mural, painted near the La Hormiga city hall, shows a black fumigation plane raining chemicals down on a stream full of fish skeletons, a barren tree and a skeletonized mountain lion."Here they fumigated everything," said Leandro Romo, a human-rights ombudsman in La Hormiga. "The fumigation was very indiscriminate."While farmers who lost legitimate crops can petition for compensation, U.S. officials insist claims of massive spraying of legal crops are spurious. Glyphosate--known in the United States by its trade name, Roundup--does not kill fish, they insist, and pilots operate under rules that forbid spraying on windy days or from heights much above tree line. Violations have happened, and pilots have been disciplined, officials admit, but they say such instances have been rare.To the relief of officials on all sides, no pilots--U.S. contractors or Colombians--have been shot down as part of the Putumayo spraying effort, which critics had warned could turn Colombia into a 21st Century Vietnam for the United States.Another major worry in Putumayo--massive emigration by displaced coca workers--also has not materialized so far.Right now, the majority of coca farmers in Putumayo province are staying put, intent on replanting, local officials say. The spraying program, however, has pushed some migrant coca pickers and coca-growing families into neighboring Narino province and across the border to Ecuador.New Jobs Vital:Military officials say finding such displaced workers new jobs or work as legitimate farmers is key to the long-term success of eradication. Without alternatives, coca growers will deforest new swaths of jungle to set up new coca plantations--an environmental disaster--or join guerrilla or paramilitary groups to survive."No matter how successful fumigation is, if it doesn't come with real alternatives it won't work," said Ramirez, the defense minister.For most Colombians, the biggest question about the U.S.-funded coca eradication program is whether it will produce political results beyond simply reducing coca production--such as pushing the guerrillas toward peace talks.One of the most encouraging signs in Putumayo these days, analysts say, is the increased military presence on the roads, once controlled by guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.Colombia's military, long weak and in disarray, is undergoing reforms aimed at improving its fighting strength and effectiveness. Combat-ready professional soldiers are replacing teen draftees. Military guards are being hired to protect bridges, roads and communication towers, freeing combat troops for front-line duty.As part of its Plan Colombia commitment, the U.S. has trained three counternarcotics army battalions, the last of which will graduate this week. The 2,500 soldiers are using Vietnam-era UH-1H Huey helicopters, provided by the United States, to protect fumigation flights and will begin getting more advanced Black Hawk helicopters next month.The Bush administration so far has indicated it will stand by the Clinton administration's Plan Colombia commitments, though it said additional aid to the region would be more evenly split between military assistance and development aid.Slowly, Colombia's military is beginning to have greater success in combating the country's well-armed insurgent groups, though military analysts warn the beefed-up force still has only two soldiers per rebel, far short of the 10-1 ratio considered necessary to win a guerrilla war."You can't reach any conclusions too quickly but it seems the state is trying to regain some sense of control," said Michael Shifter, a Colombia analyst with Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue.U.S. and Colombian officials believe the fumigation effort is cutting into the FARC's drug profits, something they hope eventually could push the guerrillas toward the peace table. Alternatively, the rebels could turn to greater use of kidnapping and extortion to stem the loss of cash, they say.Everyone warns that progress toward dismantling Colombia's coca culture will be slow."It took 21 years for the coca economy to form here," said Carlos Palacios, a former priest in Putumayo province and now an organizer of a peace network in the region. "We won't eliminate it in one year."Note: Patience needed for eradication to work, U.S. says.La Hormiga, ColombiaSource: Chicago Tribune (IL)Author: Laurie Goering, Tribune Foreign CorrespondentPublished: May 20, 2001Copyright: 2001 Chicago Tribune CompanyContact: ctc-TribLetter Tribune.comWebsite: Articles & Web Site:Colombia Drug War News Misery - Economist, The (UK) War on Drugs in Colombia Ravages Farmers Crops Spared in Colombia's Coca War

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Comment #5 posted by Rambler on May 21, 2001 at 02:24:47 PT

Excellent comments MDG.  I was kinda bummed out though,that I havenever been to Chuck E. Cheese. I guess you must have kids.Ron Bennett brings up the subject of breeding RoundUp resistant strainsof coca,perhaps it would eventually make some kind of Paraquat typepoison cocaine.Cocaine users start coming down with strange maladys,and spawning infants with new apendages like fins,or musk glands,orsixth fingers.  If you remember Paraquat,then you might rememberthat toy called "Sixfinger".It was this stupid fake finger,that wouldshoot its ned off as a projectile,and has some sort of secret messagedecoder with it,and the theme song was;"Six finger six fingerMan aliveHow did I ever get along with five?"
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Comment #4 posted by MDG on May 21, 2001 at 01:51:01 PT:

Chuck E. Cheese game of gophers. U.S. official said. "You spray a plantation, they replant, you spray again. Sooner or later they get the idea you're going to be back every time."This official's "logic" is clearly missed by his own ears. It's obvious that they'll replant every time, dumb $$! But, we know he'll never get the idea.These government fools remind me of a person playing the gopher game at Chuck E. Cheese saying, "You whack 'em, they come back, you whack 'em again. Sooner or later, they'll get the idea that you'll whack 'em every time. Some day, they'll stop popping up." But, the game never ends, no matter how many innocent bystanders are "whacked", nor how many hundreds of billions of quarters are required to keep playing. After all, someone else is picking up the tab, and the player isn't responsible if he hits Grandma and Timmy in the head as they walk by. Legalization is the only thing that would pull the plug on this awful game, and end the atrocities which are direct result.But, the man doesn't want to stop playing this game, and there is a huge line behind him; each government player wanting a slice of gopher pie.The truly sad thing is that this isn't a game for the victims of the War on Some Drugs.But, we all know that.
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Comment #3 posted by lookinside on May 20, 2001 at 18:24:34 PT:

if i were a guerilla leader with coca to save...heat seekingmissiles would definitely be high on my shopping list...imight even try to recruit a couple experienced people fromafghanistan to do the shooting...this will be a war of attrition...the U.S. will not admitdefeat, and yet will be unable to wage this wareffectively...the columbians will probably not line up inneat rows in red uniforms...(hmmm...the vietnamese eschewedthat tactic too...)what MAY happen: the U.S. could alienate so much of thepopulation of columbia that the "legal" government folds forlack of support...several hundred thousand american soldiersin place there, killing columbians and dyingthemselves...coca production INCREASING as this allunfolds...(enterprising young soldiers bringing home seedsand learning to grow the stuff here?)will the army be able to recruit cannon fodder for a wareven more ill advised than viet nam? more likely anti-government sentiment will be greater than it ever was duringviet nam...maybe enough to allow the "shrub" to declaremartial law...the war on drugs must stop...this action in south americacould easily kill more young soldiers annually than illegaldrugs do at home...legalization and education would be far more effective atreducing acres under cultivation in columbia...get rid ofthe profit AND the demand at the same time... this approachmakes too much sense for bushII to even consider it... 
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Comment #2 posted by Ron Bennett on May 20, 2001 at 16:53:23 PT

Cartels have Plenty of Research Dollars to Spend
If the U.S. isn't careful, it may end up with more than it bargained for. The U.S. is engaging in biochemical warfare in the eyes of many observers (which of course is a violation of various international treaties) and at some point the cartels will fight chemicals with chemicals. Could get very nasty...* They breed the plants that survive the spraying - maybe only one in a million survives...but that's all it takes to breed more resistant plants.* Spraying their plants with chemicals beforehand to minimize the damage from fumigation chemicals.* Shooting down the damn planes. Anti-aircraft weapons are far more available and accurate than 20 years ago. Shooting down slow flying crop dusters is certainly not a problem nor shooting down the military support aircraft at low altitude.* More bribes and intimidation...most likely the approach cartels would choose over doing the above...shooting down planes creates much negative press to only save a few thousand acres...cartel leaders look at the larger picture...thus bribes make more business sense.It's going to be the end it's pointless, since there are so many other substances that users and dealers alike can choose from.The drug war is a waste and hopefully Congress and the States recognize this at some point...The 50+ Billion Dollars spent yearly could be used for much things like working to cure diseases, cancer, tax cuts, research, etc...
Marihemp Network
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on May 20, 2001 at 15:09:17 PT:

How many times does it have to be said?
"Jose Cuaspud, 56, a peasant farmer whose 4-acre coca stand was fumigated in January, ticks off on his fingers the crops the government has asked him to grow instead of coca over the years: cardamom, rubber, rice, bananas, yucca and soybeans. The problem, he said, is none ever produced a profit. While coca buyers arrive at his door, cash in hand, markets for other crops are occasional at best. "No one buys any of our other products," the La Hormiga farmer said. "That's why we'll go back to growing coca."There it is. Right there. From the 'horse's mouth'. The single most damning statement that can be made about the whole sordid matter.CROP SUBSTITUTIONS DON'T WORK! When a handfull of beans gets you a couple pesos, and coca gets you hundreds of dollars, what do you think is going to get planted?Stupid, stupid, stupid. Stupid Federal government thinks it can poison it's way out of a mess that it made. In turn, creating more of a mess. And people down there will hate Yanqui guts for generations to come.
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