Colombia, guerillas cooperate to help farmers stop growing coca

By JIM WYSS | Miami Herald | Published: June 11, 2016

HAVANA (Tribune News Service) — The Colombian government and the country’s largest guerrilla group agreed Friday to introduce out a crop-substitution program aimed at weaning tens of thousands of farmers from coca — the raw ingredient of cocaine.

The Andean nation has spent more than two decades and hundreds of millions of dollars on alternative development and crop substitution programs, but remains the world’s top cocaine producer.

This, however, is the first time that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, will be partners in the process.

The deal comes as government and guerrilla negotiators have been meeting in Havana for more than three years in hopes of reaching a peace deal that would allow them to end Latin America’s longest-running and most violent civil conflict.

FARC’s chief negotiator, Ivan Marquez, called the pilot project “transcendental” and “new.”

The pilot project will be near El Orejon, a community where the army and guerrillas have been working together for months removing land mines.

Eduardo Diaz, Colombia’s top anti-drug official, said the mine-removal project laid the groundwork for the government and the guerrillas to work together on the drug issue.

Asked what made this effort different from those that have failed in the past, Daaz said this time the pilot project would be in the heart of Colombia’s coca country.

Almost 70 percent of the areas most affected by coca-growing have never had access to alternative-development projects, he said.

“This is the beginning of the end of this tragedy,” he said.

Colombia is the world’s largest cocaine producer, and about 60,000 families are thought to make their living off the trade. Daaz said 120,000 to 150,000 people depend economically on coca.

But most are subsistence farmers who are open to alternatives, he said.

“Introduce me to a farmer who has gotten rich growing coca and it will be the first one I’ve ever met,” he said.

The FARC has long been accused of using the drug trade to finance its war. As part of the peace talks, the group agreed to be part of the solution in eradicating the trade, but details have been scarce.

Marquez Friday blamed past administrations for treating coca farmers like criminals. “Their solution was repression, jail and the criminal use” of aerial eradication, he said. “We ask the international community to help as much as possible. “That way they can add their valuable grain of sand in helping make this anti-drug policy a success.”


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