- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 5, 2002

BOGOTA, Colombia A U.S.-funded aid program under which farmers were to have destroyed their own cocaine-producing crops has fallen far short of its goals, U.S. officials said.

The bleak assessment of the results of the initiative to provide coca farmers with an alternative to growing drug crops comes as the United States and the Colombian government embark on an all-out effort to eradicate coca crops in the southern region.

Tens of thousands of peasant farmers in Putumayo state were to have received development aid under the $1.3 billion Plan Colombia, an initiative of the Clinton administration that was approved by Congress and is still active under the Bush administration.

But only about half the families in Colombia's cocaine heartland ever received the aid, a U.S. official said Thursday at a briefing with journalists.

"I believe the magnitude of the problem was way above their ability to actually get out and meet every family that supposedly signed the voluntary eradication pacts," the U.S. official said on the condition of anonymity.

Adam Isacson, an analyst with the Center for International Policy in Washington, put the figure much lower saying only 20 percent received development aid.

Only a small fraction of the aid package was for alternative development. There have been no figures released on how much aid was actually released to farmers but in many cases it was just enough for seeds and tools.

The U.S. official indicated the Colombian government and the coca farmers had made hollow promises.

"This is a game that the government and the coca growers in Putumayo have played for over a decade," he said. "Each one of them promises something and neither of them actually complies."

Many coca farmers in Putumayo said they doubted the government really planned to deliver aid and they would destroy their coca plants only when it arrived.

Only about 6,000 of the 26,000 families who signed the so-called voluntary eradication pacts followed through on their promise to destroy their coca plants, according to a Colombian government official involved in the program.

Those who did comply only destroyed about 20,000 of the roughly 335,000 acres of coca in Colombia.

But the official, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity, insisted that some form of aid had reached 90 percent of those who signed the pacts.

The deadline for the farmers to get rid of their coca fields expired on July 28. Since then, U.S. spray planes protected by U.S.-trained Colombian troops have begun widespread aerial fumigation of the coca crops in Putumayo. The spraying resumed after an almost yearlong hiatus to give the voluntary eradication pacts a chance to work.

"We began early this calendar year telling people that when the pacts terminated, anybody who had coca would be subject to spraying," the U.S. official said.

The voluntary eradication pacts had been promoted by former President Andres Pastrana's government as the soft side of Plan Colombia, which is largely a military-style offensive against drug crops that finance leftist rebels and their right-wing paramilitary foes.

President Alvaro Uribe, who took office on Aug. 7, has expressed support for the widespread fumigation of coca crops.

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