Pubdate: Sun, 15 May 2005
Source: Independent  (UK)
Copyright: 2005 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Author: Hugh O'Shaughnessy


Washington's "war on drugs" in Colombia is collapsing in chaos and
corruption, and the drug producers are winning. The so-called Plan
Colombia, which has cost the US more than $3bn (UKP 1.6bn) in the past
five years, is being abandoned, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
has announced.

Last year, the hugely expensive effort to poison coca bushes - whose
leaves are the source of cocaine - by aerial spraying ended in
failure. More bushes were flourishing in January this year than in
January 2004.

Meanwhile, complaints have multiplied about the damage done by the
chemical poisons to the health of humans, especially children, as well
as to livestock, fish and the environment.

Plan Colombia was designed to eradicate narcotics, control powerful
left-wing guerrillas and strengthen the position of the US military in
South America. The scheme was eventually expected to cost $7.5bn.

The government of Colombia, the world's principal source of cocaine,
has sent out an emergency appeal to the Bush administration for an
extra $130m to supplement the $600m it expects to receive in 2006
under Plan Colombia.

The extra money, the Colombians insist, is needed for more aircraft to
increase the government's capacity to spray poison on the jungle
patches where coca bushes grow.

They also want more helicopters to protect the spray planes and stop
any more of them being shot down by growers and guerrillas.

The appeal for emergency cash comes in the wake of the details quietly
put out by the White House during the Easter holiday about last year's
spraying debacle. On 1 January 2004 US satellite pictures showed that
281,323 acres in Colombia were under coca. The target was to reduce
that area by half, so nearly 340,000 acres were sprayed with poison.
But in vain.

In January, the acreage of coca bushes had increased slightly to
281,694 acres. Consequently, as Congressman Bob Menendez, leader of
the Democratic caucus in the US lower house and a critic of Plan
Colombia, remarked last week, the international price of cocaine has
stubbornly refused to rise - as it would have if the anti-drugs effort
had dented its availability worldwide.

Corruption in Colombian government service is said by the Home Office
in London to cost $4bn a year.

Drug profits have also corrupted US troops stationed in Colombia. This
month a US Green Beret lieutenant-colonel and a sergeant were caught
selling 32,900 rounds of ammunition to the right-wing death squads who
are flush with drug profits.

In March, five US soldiers - supposedly training local troops in
anti-guerrilla and anti-narcotics techniques - were arrested after 16
kilos of cocaine were found in the aircraft taking them from a
military base in southern Colombia back to the US.
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