Deals with farmers produce little change in coca production

Saturday, October 5, 2002

BOGOTA, Colombia -- A U.S.-funded aid program under which farmers were to have destroyed their own cocaine-producing crops has fallen fall short of its goals, U.S. officials said.

The bleak assessment of the results of the initiative to provide coca farmers with an alternative to growing drug crops comes as the United States and the Colombian government embark on an all-out blitz to eradicate coca crops in the southern region.

Tens of thousands of peasant farmers in Putumayo state were to have received development aid under the $1.3 billion Plan Colombia, an initiative of the Clinton administration that was approved by Congress and is still active under the Bush administration. Colombia was also to have provided funds for the aid.

But the government managed to get the aid delivered to only about half the families in Colombia's cocaine heartland, a U.S. official said Thursday at a briefing with journalists.

"I believe the magnitude of the problem was way above their ability to actually get out and meet every family that supposedly signed the ... voluntary eradication pacts," the U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.

Risks alienating farmers

Adam Isacson, an analyst with the Center for International Policy in Washington, put the figure much lower -- saying only 20 percent received development aid. He said the failure of the aid plan risks alienating the farmers even more.

"The whole point of Plan Colombia was to strengthen the Colombian government and make it able to actually govern in these conflictive territories," he said. "Part of governing of course is to use force, but part of it is also winning the trust of the people who live in these areas."

The U.S. official indicated the Colombian government and the coca farmers had made hollow promises.

"This is a game that the government and the coca growers in Putumayo have played for over a decade," he said. "Each one of them promises something and neither of them actually complies."

6,000 families complied

Many coca farmers in Putumayo said they doubted the government really planned to deliver aid and they would destroy their coca plants only when it arrived.

Only about 6,000 of the 26,000 families who signed the so-called voluntary eradication pacts carried through on their promise to destroy their coca plants, according to a Colombian government official involved in the program. Those who did destroyed about 20,000 of the roughly 335,000 acres of coca in Colombia, the official said in a telephone interview.

But the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, insisted that some form of aid had reached 90 percent of those who signed the pacts.

The deadline for the farmers to get rid of their coca fields expired on July 28. Since then, U.S. spray planes protected by U.S.-trained Colombian troops have begun widespread aerial fumigation of the coca crops in Putumayo. The spraying resumed after an almost yearlong hiatus to give the voluntary eradication pacts a chance to work.

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