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Archive for Sunday, August 6, 2006

Coca growers try to evade eradication program

August 6, 2006

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— Julian, a peasant farmer in this mountainous region of Colombia, wants to stop growing coca but says leftist guerrillas won't let him. If they catch you pulling up any coca plants, he says, they give you 12 hours to leave your land or they kill you.

Under Washington's multibillion-dollar "Plan Colombia," much of the drug-fighting money has gone to pay for the eradication of 1.8 million acres of coca, which is used in the production of cocaine.

But the pressure faced by Julian, who was afraid to give his last name, is just one factor making Colombia's coca industry difficult to combat with a single-minded focus on aerial spraying.

Other key factors are the lack of economic alternatives for poor farmers such as Julian; the Colombian government's weak presence in rural areas; and the lethal networks that control the coca market, many of them run by guerrillas or right-wing paramilitary militias that use drug profits to finance their mayhem.

The stubbornness of the problem was made clear in June when the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released its annual survey of Colombian coca cultivation. It showed that coca acreage last year increased 8 percent from 2004 despite record levels of aerial fumigation and manual eradication, largely financed by the United States.

In fact, ever-increasing levels of fumigation are pushing coca farming to more remote areas inhabited by farmers such as Julian. In the U.N.'s latest satellite-based survey, 44 percent of the coca fields detected did not register in the 2004 study.

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