BOGOTA, Colombia - Governors from key
cocaine-producing regions in Colombia on Monday condemned a
U.S.-backed plan for aerial spraying of drug crops, saying the
operation would imperil the livelihood of thousands of poor
With U.S. funding, the Colombian army is set to launch a
massive military push in the country's south to combat the
Andean nation's booming drug industry.
The almost $1 billion in mostly military aid for President
Andres Pastrana's ``Plan Colombia,'' approved by the U.S.
Congress last July, is aimed at eradicating illicit fields of
coca and cutting the funding of leftist guerrillas who protect
and profit from the trade.
But a group of governors on the frontline on the war
against drugs said they would present in an upcoming meeting an
alternative plan urging Pastrana's government to stop aerial
spraying of herbicides and instead fund crop-substitution
programs to wean peasants from their dependence on drug crops.
``The real problem is the terrible situation in which
thousands of peasants live in Colombia,'' said Guillermo Alfonso
Jaramillo, governor of the southwestern province of Huila. ``We
can't run over their livelihoods without giving them
opportunities to grow other crops,'' he told Reuters.
Human Rights Groups Say Block Aid
On Friday, major human rights groups called on President
Clinton to block what remained of the Washington aid package,
accusing Colombia's army of not severing ties with right-wing
Right-wing paramilitaries, who often target civilians
suspected of collaborating with leftist rebels, were blamed for
the execution-style killings of at least 20 peasants in
separate attacks throughout Colombia over the weekend, police
and local media said.
The governor's plan, which is to be made public at a
national meeting of governors scheduled for Feb. 15-16, is
backed by at least six governors, including the governor of
Putumayo, which grows 50 percent of the country's coca leaf --
the raw material for cocaine.
On the lawless southern border with Ecuador, jungle-covered
Putumayo is seen as ground zero for the offensive, which would
employ Black Hawk helicopters to transport anti-narcotics
Colombia, the world's No. 1 producer of cocaine, is in the
grip of a four-decade conflict that has left 35,000 civilians
dead in the last 10 years. The war pits leftist guerrillas
against right-wing paramilitaries and the armed forces.
U.S. and Colombia drug officials say the country's main
guerrilla force, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(FARC), takes in millions of dollars a year from the drug
The United States has insisted it wants to target drug
traffickers and not be drawn into an expeditionary guerrilla
In neighboring Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez on Monday
urged Clinton's successor, President-elect George W. Bush, to
think again about supporting Plan Colombia. ``I hope that the
new (U.S.) government will reconsider Plan Colombia,'' Chavez
said in a televised address to Congress.