Drug Crops Eradicated in Colombia

Drug Crops Eradicated in Colombia
Posted by FoM on July 28, 2000 at 08:50:40 PT
By The Associated Press
Source: New York Times
Facing a U.S.-backed offensive to eradicate illegal drug crops by force, some Colombian Indians are voluntarily tearing up the red and violet plants blossoming on their reservation. Crouching on steep Andean hillsides in traditional skirts, black ponchos and bowler hats, men and women from the Guambiano Indian tribe hacked with machetes last week at the heroin-producing plants that are the group's main source of income. 
In a decision worrying many in the tight-knit community, a tribal assembly decided in June to eradicate all the poppy on the rugged reservation near this quiet western town. ``Now how are we going to live?'' asked farmer Augustin Calambas, surveying his upturned plot, where a work crew had just lifted away eight rows of poppies. Guambiano leaders, who are expecting the government to compensate them with generous economic aid, say the campaign is gradually winning over the skeptical farmers. ``At first they threw rocks at us,'' said Maria Rosa Tombe, a teacher getting her hands dirty ripping up plants farmers typically sow amid rows of onions and potatoes. ``But we've been educating them about the problem, and lately the people are coming out and serving us coffee,'' she added. This is the second time the 17,000-member Indian tribe has vowed to break its connection to heroin, a fast-growing business in Colombia. The South American country has become a top heroin exporter in addition to its world-leading production of cocaine. A voluntary eradication program in 1997 failed when only about one-fourth of the farmers participated. A handful of Guambianos used government loans to start trout hatcheries and garlic farms, but the majority continued to grow poppy. The latest eradication drive was prompted partly by fears that a $1.3 billion U.S. aid plan for fighting illegal narcotics in Colombia will intensify a police program already under way to spray poppy and coca crops with herbicides that also kill food crops. ``It's better to eradicate now before the fumigation planes come,'' said Floro Tunubala, the governor of the tribe. The U.S. aid will provide Colombia with military helicopters to ferry troops into drug-producing regions and protect crop-dusting planes from ground fire by leftist rebels and drug traffickers. If there's so much money for ``war,'' Tunubala said, there also should be funding for rural development. Tunubala plans to invite government officials to the reservation soon to show that it's poppy-free. Volunteers have ripped up about 150 acres so far, he said, with 50 acres to go. The plants destroyed here represent only a small fraction of Colombia's total poppy crop, estimated by the government at nearly 7,500 acres. Although farmers are respecting the new eradication policy, many worry about the future. ``With just a few plants we were able to send our kids to school,'' said Maria Velasco. She said her family poppy plot is too small to successfully grow potatoes or other marketable crops. Poppies are comparatively easy to grow and sell. Men working for the drug traffickers go farmhouse to farmhouse on motorcycles, buying the gray syrup farmers extract from the plant's green bulbs. But the heroin trade also has brought violence and alcoholism to the peaceful Guambiano. Guerrillas have threatened the reservation and young Indians lured by fast cash are eschewing traditional customs. Tribal leaders will be under great pressure to deliver on promises of aid for alternative crops or businesses. ``We're don't believe the people are going to die of hunger,'' said Tunubala, leaning on a silver-handled wooden staff that symbolizes his power. ``But if help doesn't arrive soon the months ahead will be difficult.'' Silvia, Colombia (AP) Published: July 27, 2000Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company Related Articles:Yikes! Attack Of The Killer Fungus Is A Moldy Plan Control or Bio Warfare? Fusarium Infections - July 1995 CannabisNews Search - Colombia
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