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COLOMBIA
Coca-growers move to protected areas
Susan Abad
8/25/2011
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Despite drop in coca acreage, new illicit fields found in indigenous reserves and national parks.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, or UNODC, has warned that while the area of coca grown in Colombia last year dropped, some new areas have sprung up in protected areas, such as indigenous reserves and national parks.

According to the UNODC’s annual report, released June 22, the area cultivated with coca illicitly, including small fields, fell to 62,000 hectares in 2010 from 68,000 hectares in 2009, and 57 percent lower from a peak 10 years ago.

But the news wasn’t all positive.

“Even though significant reductions were reported in departments that had traditionally been affected by illicit [coca] crops … the phenomenon has moved to other areas farther away and tougher to access,” said Aldo Lale-Demoz, the UNODC’s representative for Colombia.

According to the report, based on the Colombian government’s Integrated Illicit Crops Monitoring System, 35 percent of the illicit crops grown last year were in forests.

“It’s very worrying the high amount of growing in specially protected areas, like national parks, border zones — especially with Ecuador — and indigenous reserves, Interior Minister Germán Vargas told Latinamerica Press.

The UN report said the area of deforested land where coca is grown is the highest since 2001.

Last year, 22,000 hectares of Amazon forest was chopped down for coca cultivation, the reported added.

During the study, coca cultivation was found in 19 of the 56 country’s national parks, including Yaigoje Apaporis in the Amazonia department, Sierra de la Macarena in Meta, Munchique in Cali, and La Paya and Alto Fragua-Indiwasi in Putumayo.

Indigenous victim to drug-trafficking
For Colombian authorities, one of the most alarming issues is the 21-percent increase in the area of coca grown within indigenous reserves.

The government crop monitoring agency found that 2,740 hectares were detected in the Pacífico department, 1,237 hectares in Guaviare-Meta, 1,185 hectares in Amazonia, 332 hectares in the country’s central area, 240 hectares in Putumayo-Caquetá, and 72 hectares in the Sierra Nevada.

“The indigenous lands are remote territories; they’re jungle areas, distant and wild and because of the persecution against armed groups, pressure from the military, drug-traffickers looking for new sites,penetrating our lands and putting their crops there, like the case of the Nukak Maku in the Guaviare [department],” said Luis Andrade, president of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia.

“Without seeking it out or accepting it, we indigenous are immersed in the drug-trafficking conflict,” he added. “The indigenous are not the owners of these businesses. Our compañeros are exploited as coca-pickers. If they don’t submit to the drug-traffickers, they are displaced or killed.”

Hernando Hernández, a lawmaker in Congress with Social Indigenous Alliance party, said that the indigenous are sucked into the conflict “because they have no other option.”

“Indigenous peoples have traditionally had [coca] crops for medicinal or nutritional needs,” he said. “Their living conditions are very precarious and they’ve seen that illicit crops could be a possibility to live off, due to the absence of agricultural programs from the government.”

“The indigenous, along with Afro-descendents, have presented plans to the government to gradually eradicate the crops and develop a widespread social assistance program that addresses health care, housing, transportation, agricultural projects, and educational shortfalls”, Hernández added.

But as of now, he said the government’s only action has been eradicating the plants with herbicides like glyhposate and sending some aid.

The UN recommended that the government strengthen its judiciary and improve long-term opportunities for Colombia’s rural population.

Vargas said that one hurdle to eradicating the crops is that a previous consultation is required to destroy the coca found in indigenous reserves.

“This would diminish the effectiveness of the authorities’ fight against drug-trafficking,” he said.
But Andrade argued that the Colombian government only wants to “turn our lands into a scene of war, with all of the consequential violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.”
—Latinamerica Press.


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Coca crops up in protected areas. (Photo: UNODC)
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