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Latin America: Colombian Vice-President Says Aerial Eradication is Failing
Colombia's vice president said Sunday that the US-backed efforts to wipe out Colombia's coca fields through aerial spraying have not stopped cocaine trafficking. He called for a change of emphasis in anti-drug efforts.
"After a five-year frontal attack against drug trafficking, the results aren't the most successful or the ones we hoped for," Vice President Franciso Santos told a Bogota news conference. "While Colombia is committed to waging war on drug traffickers," he said, "at the end of the day, the benchmark is whether the street price of cocaine in New York, London or Madrid rises or the quality falls. So far, we haven't found any statistics that bear this out." Despite years of aerial eradication using the herbicide glyphosate, the US drug czar's office conceded in June that Colombia is producing more coca now than when Washington enacted the $5 billion Plan Colombia five years ago. Coca production is estimated to be up 9% this year over last, despite massive spraying efforts both years.
Santos said Colombia would concentrate on manual eradication of coca crops, which is more dangerous and labor-intensive, but allows the plants to be pulled out by the roots. Manual eradication would require the presence of Colombian military or law enforcement to protect eradicators.
Colombia has historically been loathe to criticize any aspect of Washington's anti-drug strategy, but with both the House and the Senate voting this year to make hefty cuts in the annual anti-drug aid package to Colombia, Bogota may feel that the era of aerial eradication is about to come to an end. The Senate voted last week to cut almost $100 million in military aid, while the House earlier this year passed even deeper cuts. The two bills must be reconciled before going to President Bush, who opposes any reduction in military aid to Colombia, the largest US aid recipient outside of Afghanistan and the Middle East.