ROSAL, COLOMBIA --
With the full support of the new Colombian president, the United States has
begun what officials say will be the biggest and most aggressive effort yet to
wipe out coca growing.
round of aerial spraying to kill Colombia's mammoth drug crops, which resumed
here a month ago, is part of a new phase in the war on drugs. U.S. officials said
that it was bigger and more aggressive than before and that if sustained, it could
at last make substantial inroads against Colombia's coca growing.
With the approval of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, the U.S. plan calls
for more crop dusters operating more hours and with none of the restrictions
that officials say hampered spraying programs in the past.
Here in the Guamuez Valley, the world's richest coca-producing region, the
effects are clear. The crop dusters have returned, flying low and leaving a
fine mist of gray spray in Colombia's coca-growing heartland. Fields of brown,
withering coca bushes, whose leaves are used to make cocaine, remain in their
"Look at all this -- it was all fumigated," groused one farmer, Diomar
Montenegro, 49, as he stood in a field of wilting coca bushes in the southern
Colombia hamlet of Rosal. "I cannot do this anymore. They have put me out in
It is a refrain that U.S. officials are happy to hear. In the last large-
scale spraying of this region, a two-month onslaught that ended in February
2001, the United States said it would concentrate on "industrial-size" plots.
U.S. and Colombian officials pledged that small farmers would be spared as
long as they agreed to stop growing coca voluntarily in exchange for modest
government benefits. But in reality, many small farms were sprayed.
Uribe is allowing U.S. officials to plan missions wherever and whenever
they see fit, and there is no pretext that small farmers will not be hit. U.S.
planners say they intend to cover as much acreage with defoliant as possible
to stop the replanting of coca.
The goal, U.S. officials say, is to kill up to 300,000 acres of coca this
year, 30 percent more than was sprayed last year. With more crop dusters
arriving -- U.S. officials say the fleet will increase from 12 to 22 by next
spring -- the State Department hopes to double the acreage sprayed next year,
killing so much coca that replanting cannot keep up.
Despite the rosy predictions, drug policy analysts and some lawmakers in
Washington warn that the intensified program could just cause coca planting to
spread to a wider area.
"Fumigation has an effect, but we would argue it's an effect of
displacement," said Klaus Nyholm, who oversees the U.N. Drug Control Program's
office in Colombia. "The next question is where will the coca go from here?"
Although the United States has spent $1.7 billion since 1999 in Colombia to
stamp out drugs, the amount of coca in Colombia has increased 25 percent from
2000 to 2001, according to U.S. estimates based on images from satellites and
projections by analysts.
"After nearly $2 billion, our policy in Colombia has accomplished little,"
said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who has criticized U.S. policy toward Colombia
and who heads the Senate Appropriations Committee's foreign operations
Copyright 2002 New York Times Company