The US government reported Monday that the amount of land under coca cultivation in Colombia had increased for the third straight year. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), cultivation increased 9% last year to some 388,500 acres despite a massive aerial herbicide spraying campaign.
"Yesterday [last Thursday] they told me they were worried about revealing this number because of my upcoming trip to the United States, that the Americans should reveal it," he said. "But that's why I'm revealing it. We're not trying to put makeup on what is a serious matter. We've unleashed a battle with all our will and all our determination," Uribe said. "Could it be we've worked in vain? That all our work hasn't produced the desired results?"
The US has spent more than $5 billion and sprayed more than 2.1 million acres of Colombian farmland since 2000 in a failed effort to eradicate Colombian cocaine production. More precisely, Plan Colombia called for coca production to be halved within five years, but according to the latest estimates, Colombia is producing 27% more coca than in 1999, the year before the plan went into effect. The long-term trends toward decreasing cocaine price and increasing purity also suggest that all the billions have little impact on cocaine availability.
In its Monday press release, ONDCP did its best to spin the disappointing results. "Statistically, there was no change" in coca production, ONDCP claimed two sentences before noting a 33,000-acre increase in the area under cultivation. Coca growers' creative responses to eradication efforts -- moving to smaller plots, moving to areas off limits to the spraying program, rapidly reconstituting sprayed crops -- created "major challenges" for arriving at a reliable estimate, ONDCP explained.
"Rather than weaken farmers' reliance on coca, fumigation serves to reinforce it," said Washington Office on Latin America Senior Associate John Walsh. "To insist at this point that more spraying will somehow deter farmers from replanting is not just unrealistic, it's delusional."
That's a sentiment that is also being heard in the halls of Congress these days. On Tuesday, the House subcommittee that oversees foreign aid proposed major changes in US anti-drug policy in Colombia. Under that proposal, funding to the Colombian military would be cut by $150 million and an additional $100 million would be redirected to boost economic development and boost the judicial system.
If the proposal championed by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) succeeds, the military's share of US assistance would drop from 80% to 55%. But Colombia would still remain the third largest recipient of US foreign aid behind the Middle East and Afghanistan.
"I have long felt that our policies in Colombia were ineffective and misguided," Lowey told the Associated Press Wednesday. "My proposal would realign the funding to more of an even split."