Pubdate: Thu, 05 Sep 2002
Source: International Herald-Tribune (France)
Copyright: International Herald Tribune 2002
Author: Juan Forero The New York Times
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


ROSAL, Colombia - With the full support of the Colombian president, the 
United States has begun what American officials say will be the biggest and 
most aggressive effort yet to wipe out coca growing.

A round of aerial spraying to kill Colombia's mammoth drug crops, which 
resumed here a month ago, is part of a new phase in the war on drugs. U.S. 
officials said that it was bigger and more aggressive than before and that 
if sustained, it could at last make substantial inroads against coca 
growing in Colombia.

With the approval of Colombia's new president, Alvaro Uribe, the U.S. plan 
calls for more crop dusters operating more hours and with none of the 
restrictions that officials say hampered spraying programs in the past. 
Here in the Guamuez Valley, the effects are clear. The crop dusters have 
returned, flying low and leaving a fine mist of gray spray in Colombia's 
coca-growing heartland. Fields of brown, withering coca bushes, whose 
leaves are used to make cocaine, remain in their wake.

"Look at all this - it was all fumigated," groused a farmer, Diomar 
Montenegro, 49, as he stood in a field of wilting coca bushes in this 
hamlet in southern Colombia. "I cannot do this anymore. They have put me 
out in the street." It is a refrain U.S. officials are happy to hear. In 
the last large-scale spraying of this region, a two-month onslaught that 
ended in February of last year, the United States said it would concentrate 
on "industrial size" plots. Officials of Colombia and the United States 
pledged that small farmers would be spared as long as they had agreed to 
stop growing coca voluntarily in exchange for modest government benefits. 
In reality, many small farms were sprayed. But the spraying ended earlier 
than U.S. officials had hoped, because Andres Pastrana, then the president, 
forbade some missions for fear of further alienating peasants in the midst 
of delicate peace negotiations with leftist rebels. The result was that 80 
percent of the crops sprayed in this province, Putumayo, were replanted, 
and cocaine trafficking to the United States continued unabated. Now, Uribe 
is allowing U.S. officials to plan missions wherever and whenever they see 
fit, and there is no pretext that small farmers will not be hit. American 
planners say they intend to cover as much acreage with defoliant as 
possible to stop the replanting of coca.

"What keeps them from going back to growing coca is the spray plane, and 
only the spray plane," said an official at the U.S. Embassy who works on 
the anti-drug programs. "The coca fields are enormous and there are a lot 
of different owners, and you just have to rub it all out. That is the only 
way you are going to make this work."

The goal, U.S. officials say, is to kill up to 300,000 acres, or 120,00 
hectares, of coca this year, 30 percent more than was sprayed last year. 
U.S. officials say the crop duster fleet will increase from 12 to 22 by 
next spring, and the State Department hopes to double the acreage sprayed 
next year, killing so much coca that replanting cannot keep up.

"Unless you can operate against the cultivation with sufficient magnitude 
and sustained operational tempo," said John Walters, the White House drug 
policy director, "then you're simply going to cause the planting and 
replanting to overwhelm the spraying."

But despite the rosy predictions, drug policy analysts and some lawmakers 
in Washington warn that the intensified program could just cause coca 
planting to spread to a wider area. That phenomenon has already taken hold 
after a decade of U.S.-backed spraying.
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager