BOGOTA, Colombia While a U.S.-backed offensive against drug crops speeds ahead, alternative development aid for farmers will take years to fully succeed and will require much more money from Washington, a top U.S. official said.
George Wachtenheim, who heads the U.S. Agency for International Development in Colombia, acknowledged that the development aid was going slowly while crop dusters escorted by U.S.-trained troops and U.S.-provided combat helicopters are wiping out drug crops in Colombia at a record pace.
Fumigation obviously is something that happens much faster than alternative development.
George Wachtenheim, U.S.A.I.D.
But he said it was "not fair" to expect instant results from the aid programs, which are designed to help wean farmers off profitable drug crops to other, legal plants.
With no economic alternative, many of the coca farmers in southern Colombia who have been hit by aerial fumigation earlier this year are already replanting the drug crops.
"Fumigation obviously is something that happens much faster than alternative development," Wachtenheim told foreign journalists on Tuesday.
Under a $1.3 billion aid program approved last year, nearly 100 square miles of coca have been fumigated since late December, mostly in Putumayo province. The campaign is ostensibly targeting large-scaled plantations.
A group of Americans hold signs as they protest in front of the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, March 22, 2001. More than 60 American citizens from 28 states are here to examine how "Plan Colombia, in which the U.S. is pouring $1 billion in mainly military aid into Colombia to fund a helicopter-borne drive against cocaine producers in the south of the country, is affecting Colombian people. Sign in foreground reads "No to Arms" "Yes to public works." REUTERS/Eliana Aponte
However, small farmers who have also been hit are complaining that food crops were killed alongside the coca, and that pledged alternative development aid has not arrived.
Wachtenheim said several thousand small-time farmers who have signed pacts with the government to manually eradicate their coca crops will begin receiving seeds for growing subsistence food crops such as bananas and corn, and aid to raise livestock.
However, there is no infrastructure development for the farmers to bring their crops to markets.
Wachtenheim said longer-term development projects will require at least $220 million in additional U.S. aid over the next five years to ensure the farmers do not revert to growing coca.
© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press