Pubdate: Fri, 16 Aug 2002
Source: Miami Herald (FL)
Copyright: 2002 The Miami Herald
Author: Frances Robles

Colombia's Cocaine Crop Fell Last Year, U.N. Says

By Frances Robles

BOGOTA - The amount of land under coca cultivation in Colombia dropped 
substantially last year, the first time in a decade that reflected any 
progress in the nation's drug war, according to United Nations figures 
released Thursday.

U.N. surveillance photos taken Nov. 2001 show 355,824 acres committed to 
the growth of coca -- the plant that is used to manufacture cocaine. The 
year before, it was 11 percent higher at 402,773 acres.

"There's no reason to be euphoric," said Klaus Nyholm, head of the UN's 
Drug Control office in Bogota. "Colombia remains the world's No. 1 cocaine 
producer -- 80 percent of the cocaine in the world."

While the U.N. figures show some progress in a daunting and generally 
failing attempt to stop the flow of drugs to American streets, officials 
are sober. U.S. government estimates show coca growth increasing, and even 
U.N. officials say American and Colombian drug policies have largely 
flopped. Despite large-scale anti-narcotics programs, 700 tons of cocaine 
is leaving Colombia each year.

The U.N. and Colombia have been at odds with Washington this year over how 
much coca is grown here. Washington released figures based on CIA 
surveillance that show despite the $2 billion in U.S. spending to curtail 
the drug traffic, coca growth is actually increasing. But even U.S. 
officials do not seem persuaded by its government's own statistics -- to 
arrive at its figures, the CIA sampled some parts of the nation and then 

"We don't have to trust estimates," Nyholm said.

The U.N. numbers show Colombia's coca growth steadily rising over the past 
decade, more than tripling since 1990. Colombia's cocaine crop soared in 
the late 1990s, when both leftist guerrilla groups and right-wing 
paramilitaries turned to the drug trade to finance their warfare.

The U.S. government has spent a year spraying coca crops in southern 
Colombia, but experts say farmers simply relocate after fumigations. It's 
unclear whether the controversial spraying was the key to the 11 percent 
drop, Nyholm said.

U.S. officials in Washington familiar with the statistics seem equally 
unconvinced that the American plan is working.

"We've had improvements, but not as dramatic as we'd like," one Bush 
administration official said. '

The official acknowledged that American data showing an increase in coca 
growth "aren't as solid as we think."

"We're still learning how to count coca," the official said.

Another State Department official involved in the anti-narcotics program 
said frankly: "The question is whether it decreased, stabilized or 
increased. I'm not sure."

The Colombian National Police's anti-narcotics unit said it does not keep 
such statistics.

The United Nations cautions that the decrease in coca crop has had mediocre 
payoffs: remaining crops are high-strain plants that yield more cocaine. 
That, coupled with modest increases in Peru and Bolivia, means the 
world-wide decrease was perhaps 5 percent, Nyholm said.

"It's always a lot of heartburn," said retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, drug 
czar during the Clinton administration.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom