Pubdate: Fri, 11 Mar 2005
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2005 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Rudolph Bush
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


A U.S. Agency Threatens To Cut Funding That Supports A National Park 
Program In Peru

WASHINGTON -- The United States Agency for International Development has 
intervened in an experimental conservation program in Peru run by Chicago's 
Field Museum, cutting aid to three communities involved in the project and 
calling into question the program's compliance with U.S. drug policy.

USAID, which funds much of the Field Museum's work in the vast, remote and 
ecologically rich Cordillera Azul region, has labeled three communities in 
the program "major producers" of coca leaf and coca paste, the raw material 
for cocaine, and demanded the museum not provide financial aid in those areas.

The Field's program "must be consistent with [the U.S. Andean Counterdrug 
Initiative]," USAID's assistant administrator, Edward Fox, wrote in a 
letter last week to U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), who has come to the 
museum's defense. "This point has been discussed with the Field Museum a 
number of times."

Field Museum has been deeply involved in the preservation of Cordillera 
Azul since 2000, when museum scientists first explored the uncharted rain 
forest in central Peru. Since 2001, when the region was declared a national 
park, the museum has been a key administrator of a complex and innovative 
program to involve surrounding communities in the long-term conservation of 
the 5,225-square-mile area.

While coca production has spiked and waned around Cordillera Azul for 
decades, Field Museum staff members have encouraged local residents to 
reject drug cultivation as damaging to the long-term health of the region 
and have promoted growth of legal crops. The museum has never been involved 
in the U.S. government's drug interdiction efforts, however.

USAID, meanwhile, has authorized $30 million in economic and development 
aid for the region, including more than $5 million for the Field Museum 
program that comes directly from funds earmarked for anti-drug efforts.

That money, which is key to the Field Museum's ongoing work around 
Cordillera Azul, is tied to compliance with U.S. drug policy, which states 
no aid can go to communities known to produce coca, according to a USAID 

The agency's discovery of coca paste production in 3 of the 66 communities 
around Cordillera Azul that receive aid from the Field Museum prompted the 
crackdown in late February.

Initially, the agency insisted the museum withdraw altogether from the 
three communities but backed off that demand in a meeting Thursday with 
senior staff members on the House International Relations Committee, which 
Hyde chairs.

The museum can continue its preservation work in all of the communities 
around Cordillera Azul, but no funds can go directly to the three coca 
producing areas, according to a senior International Relations Committee 
staff member.

Museum officials were hesitant to comment on the crackdown but say they are 
cooperating with USAID and hope to find a solution.

"There are obviously nuances to U.S. government policy the museum wasn't 
fully aware of before, and we are looking forward to working this through 
with our partners in Peru and our friends in the Congress," said Anne 
Metcalf, a Washington representative for the museum.

Field Museum has many supporters in Congress, and word of USAID's demands 
immediately drew the attention of Hyde, who is closely involved in the 
writing of U.S. drug policy.

In a sharply worded letter to USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios, Hyde 
wrote Feb. 24 that he had learned the agency had ordered the Field Museum 
to stop working in communities that are either involved in coca production 
or that have refused to sign an anti-coca growth pledge. Of the surrounding 
communities, only 10 have signed the pledge.

"The Field Museum project has never been considered part of the U.S. 
government's formal anti-coca programs in Peru, nor should it ever be" Hyde 
wrote. "Instead, by fostering alternative means of income to coca 
cultivation in the Huallaga Valley and by promoting active citizen 
stewardship of the new Cordillera Azul National Park, the museum's efforts 
can prevent the incursion of coca cultivation."

A USAID spokeswoman confirmed that as long as the other communities avoid 
coca production, their funding won't be threatened.

Hyde's staff was encouraged by Thursday's meeting because they feared the 
consequences of the museum withdrawing completely from any of the communities.

When the museum first came into the area, communities agreed to work with 
its scientists and staff only after receiving assurances the program would 
be a long-term effort, said the International Relations Committee staff member.

Many other U.S.-based programs have made, and broken, similar pledges in 
the region, the staff member said.

"These are poor rural areas. The Field Museum is terrified and so is the 
committee that we are going to break that promise to them," the staff 
member said.
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