- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2003

For the first time since the United States began an intensive multibillion-dollar program in 2000 to eradicate Colombia's coca crops, tallies show cultivation of the precursor to cocaine has actually decreased in the world's leading exporter of the drug.
At the same time, total coca cultivation has increased slightly for Colombia's neighbors, Bolivia and Peru, and in regions of Colombia that were not targeted in a U.S.-funded spraying campaign. Yet total coca cultivation for the Andean region decreased by 8 percent for 2002.
"Our anti-drug efforts in Colombia are now paying off, and we believe that this represents a turning point," said John Walters, Director of National Drug Control Policy, in a statement released yesterday.
An annual U.S. estimate of coca cultivation in the Andean region found that Colombia as a whole decreased the area of cocaine cultivation by 15 percent to 360,000 acres in 2002.
This figure is down from just under 425,000 acres in 2001, an increase from 2000 levels. Colombia accounts for over 90 percent of the world's cocaine exports, according to the State Department's annual report on drug exports.
Spraying under Plan Colombia started in December 2000. The plan gave $1.3 billion in modern equipment, armored crop dusters and military transport helicopters to the Colombian national police and armed forces.
Under a 1999 commitment from Bogota, Colombian national authorities began intensively spraying Glyphosate a herbicide sold in America under the brand name Round Up in Putamayo and Caqueta, the country's premier coca-growing regions.
These efforts have appeared to pay off. In the last four months of 2002, Colombian authorities sprayed 100,000 acres of Putumayo. And in the last year, coca cultivation in that region decreased from 105,000 acres to 20,000.
A senior State Department official pointed to estimates that many Putamayo farmers left their plots in the last year as further evidence that the spray campaign was having an effect.
But the departing coca growers, large and small, may just have gone to other parts of the country.
"Satellite imagery and other data has shown that we and the Colombian government are squeezing coca growth and production into ever-more remote areas of the country," Tom Riley, spokesman for the White House drug-policy office, told United Press International.
State Department officials confirmed that more coca is likely growing in the eastern part of Colombia not yet targeted by the spray campaign.
The decrease in coca cultivation has so far not affected the street price of cocaine in the United States, according to figures from the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Still, the purity of most street cocaine is declining. According to DEA, from 2000 to 2001 cocaine purity decreased from 82 percent to 78 percent.


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