Original story at: sg.news.yahoo.com
David Sadler For Congress 12th CD/Illinois

Congress questions efficiency of Colombian anti-drug program
sg.news.yahoo.com
Tuesday February 26, 3:04 PM US

The investigative arm of the US Congress has called for a halt in US funding for Colombian coca and poppy eradication programs, unless " measurable progress " is achieved in reducing drug-generating crops. The General Accounting Office said in a report issued Monday, the US government " faces serious obstacles to achieving progress in Colombia, and the experiences in Bolivia and Peru strongly suggest that alternative development in Colombia will not succeed unless the obstacles are overcome. "

The program is being implemented under Colombian President Andres Pastrana's 7.5-billion-dollar Plan Colombia that aims to curb drug trafficking and boost the economy of the war-ravaged South American nation. It calls for persuading local peasants to voluntarily stop planting coca and poppy, the raw material for producing cocaine and opium, and switch to legal crops. Those who sign on can count on generous financial assistance and are spared aerial chemical spraying used by the Colombian government to eradicate coca plantations. But so far, only some 33 communities cultivating coca on more than 37, 000 hectares (91, 400 acres) in southern Putumayo department have signed on to the program, the report said. One of the major reasons for the low response, the GAO said, is that the Colombian government does not control large parts of the coca-growing area where leftist rebels have traditionally held sway. A terror campaign unleashed by the rebels has also played a role. Last September, the rebels kidnapped four Colombian workers involved in promoting the alternative crop program and killed two of them. The program suffered another setback in 2000, when Colombian security forces accidentally sprayed between 600 and 700 hectares (1, 480-1, 730 acres) of land belonging to communities that had been negotiating their voluntary participation in the program, according to congressional investigators.

As a result, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) was able to spend only 11 percent of 52.5 million dollars allocated for alternative crops in Colombia in fiscal 2001, the GAO stated. " Because of the serious obstacles impeding alternative development in Colombia, the Congress should consider requiring that USAID demonstrate measurable progress in its current effort to reduce coca cultivation in Colombia before any additional funding is provided for alternative development, " the agency recommended.