COLOMBIAN DRUG WAR FAILING
BOGOTA, Colombia - President Alvaro Uribe vowed to press ahead with US-financed fumigation of cocaine-producing crops, even as a new White House report showed that a massive aerial spraying offensive last year failed to dent the area of coca under cultivation in Colombia.
Critics say the report indicates the Colombian and US governments are losing the war on drugs, which has cost more than $3bn in US aid here since 2000.
"The US government's own data provides stark evidence that the drug war is failing to achieve its most basic objectives," John Walsh, of the Washington Office on Latin America, a think tank critical of US drug policies in Colombia, said on Friday.
The report by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said that despite a record-setting aerial eradication offensive, 114 000 hectares of coca remained in Colombia at the end of 2004 - slightly more than the 113 850 hectares that were left over in 2003 after spraying.
Walsh also pointed out that prices of cocaine and heroin have been steadily dropping over the years on US streets.
Peasant farmers grow most of the coca - the bushy green plant that provides the main ingredient of cocaine - in Colombia, convert it to coca paste and sell it to groups who purify it into cocaine and export it.
Adam Isacson, a Colombia expert with the Centre for International Policy in Washington, said the White House report released on March 25 demonstrates that the peasants are constantly replanting coca after their crops are sprayed by the crop dusters.
"The inescapable conclusion we can draw from this data is that our fumigation programme is not discouraging Colombian peasants from growing coca," Isacson said.
The Associated Press reported last month that large-scale coca production was moving for the first time into the extensive jungles of Choco state, in northwest Colombia, with peasant farmers felling chunks of virgin rainforest in order to plant millions of coca seedlings.
David Murray, a top official in the White House drug office, pointed out that coca cultivation peaked in 2001 at 169 800 hectares, up from
1999 levels of 122 500 hectares.
"What you have now is hard-core cultivators ... who are faced with extinction of their business, and they're staying put and replanting as rapidly as they can and we're coming back and hitting them with eradication," Murray said.
Uribe, in an interview with local RCN radio, said he was undeterred by the report.
The White House drug office said that while the area under coca cultivation remained "statistically unchanged", the fumigation diminished the potential production of cocaine because newly planted fields produce less cocaine than mature coca.
Uribe added that he was waiting for the United Nations to release its own report on coca production in coming months.
Sometimes the reports, using different systems to estimate the area under cultivation, contradict each other.