Last Updated:6/10/02
Letter to Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Arizona) from five U.S. NGOs regarding alternative development, June 7, 2002
Representative Jim Kolbe
Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee
US House of Representatives
H-150 Capitol Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Kolbe,

In the debate over the FY2002 foreign operations appropriations bill, you strongly supported maintaining a balanced aid package for Colombia. In particular, you called for improved delivery of the alternative development aid to help small farmers make the transition from coca and poppy production to legal crops.

As the House considers the FY2003 appropriations bill, we are writing to ask for your continued strong support for alternative development programs. We firmly believe that the most effective as well as humane drug policy includes assistance to small farmers to switch to legal crops. The United States promised such assistance as part of Plan Colombia. We ask you to ensure that the United States keep its promises to Colombian small farmers who are committed to eradicating illicit crops.

Colombia's small farmers have repeatedly signaled their willingness to eradicate illegal crops in exchange for development assistance. While it may be true that no legal crop offers the same level of profit, farmers themselves assert another compelling reason to change crops: security. Many farmers recognize that coca and poppy "bring violence" - the guerrillas and paramilitaries who fight to control and tax the lucrative drug trade.

In a clear demonstration of their will to eradicate, between December 2000 and July 2001 more than 37,000 families in the province of Putumayo signed one-year agreements to manually eradicate illegal coca crops in exchange for the promise of food and development assistance. Signing the pacts was a major accomplishment. The families came from all nine of the coca-producing municipalities in Putumayo, accounted for nearly half the province's population, and agreed to eradicate more than half of the estimated 66,000 hectares of coca planted there. Peasant leaders, local authorities and the governor of Putumayo put their lives at risk to promote the social pact concept.

Yet as of February 2002, months after the last pact was signed, only some 30 percent of the families had received any portion of what they were promised. The delivery of aid has been both incredibly slow and fraught with spectacular failures, such as the provision of "industrial" chickens whose beaks had been clipped. When delivered without the special feed required to keep them alive, the chickens promptly died.

Given the failure to deliver the promised assistance, it should come as no surprise that the eradication of illegal crops has also lagged. Some farmers have broken the agreements and planted new coca. But most have waited to receive aid before starting eradication, in keeping with their understanding of the social pacts. Farmers interpreted the pacts to mean that they would have one year to eradicate from the date they received the assistance they had been promised. As a result many farmers think they have kept their part of the bargain so far by not planting new coca, rather than by eradicating.

But Colombian and U.S. officials are claiming that the year began when the pacts were signed. Their position is that the farmers must eradicate, whether or not the U.S. and Colombian governments honor their commitments to provide food and development assistance. Based on this argument, U.S. officials have told us they are preparing for an extensive fumigation campaign to begin around July 28th, the anniversary of the signing of the last pact.

We recognize that from the point of view of illegal crop eradication, the results of the social pacts to date are disappointing. But our research suggests this is due in great measure to the failure to deliver the aid that was promised. Without that aid, efforts to shift to legal economic activities that could provide an acceptable livelihood for small farmers and their families have little chance of getting off the ground.

Indeed, even as U.S. and Colombian officials appear to be backing away from their commitment to Putumayo, we are struck by the continuing efforts of farm leaders and local and regional governments to design new development projects that could help lead their communities away from producing illegal crops. For example, four southern governors and ANUC, the National Small Farmers Association, have presented detailed proposals for crop diversification and social and economic infrastructure, but have received neither political nor economic support from Bogota.

And these leaders remain committed to the eradication of illegal crops. Since March ANUC leaders in Putumayo have been proposing to eradicate on their own, as soon as they can secure international verification. The verification is critical. Without it, farmers believe that even if they do eradicate, their legal crops will be fumigated.

We recognize that the situation in Putumayo is difficult, and that any program of aid delivery may experience implementation problems. But such problems should not be used as an excuse to abandon commitments made to Putumayo's small farmers. While USAID, various Colombian government agencies, the Colombian NGOs and the US contractors involved in aid delivery respond to last year's poor results by pointing fingers at each other, no one appears to be ensuring that the US and Colombian governments are held accountable for their part of the bargain. Time is running out on the social pacts because the same government agencies that failed to provide the aid as promised have decided that the pacts are a failure. This situation is politically explosive.

We strongly believe that the social pacts signed by 37,000 families in Putumayo represent a tremendous opportunity. Conversely, if a massive fumigation is ordered in Putumayo without the promised aid having been delivered, the political impact will spread throughout southern Colombia. Once again the Colombian government will have failed to meet its commitments, and the widely-publicized US initiative in southern Colombia will be seen as purely military. Therefore, we urge you to ask the State Department and USAID to make a renewed effort to provide alternative development assistance to the families and communities of Putumayo, in keeping with the commitments made through the social pacts, and to take advantage of their willingness to eradicate before and after July 28th.

We also ask that you support alternative development in the FY2003 foreign operations bill, building on the lessons learned during the last year. At the same time, we ask you to urge USAID to design and implement development assistance programs in consultation with local and regional governmental authorities and with farmers' representatives. We ask you to insist that these programs cover Putumayo as well as other provinces.

While the security situation is extremely difficult in Putumayo, with active guerrilla and paramilitary forces, we believe this is no excuse for the United States to abandon providing adequate development assistance to an area featured as the showplace for "Plan Colombia." The best way to address security concerns is to involve regional and local government and small farmers associations -- who are both knowledgeable about the area and committed to staying despite risks -- in the planning and delivery of aid.

On a different note, we urge your continued support for aid to help internally displaced persons. This program, which has been efficiently implemented, provides essential aid in Colombia's ongoing humanitarian disaster, in which an estimated 340,000 persons were newly displaced in 2001 alone.

We greatly appreciate your attention to our concerns.


Lisa Haugaard
Latin America Working Group

Kimberly Stanton
Program Director
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights

Jason Hagen
Associate for Colombia
Washington Office on Latin America

Patricia Forner
Public Policy Adviser, Latin America and the Caribbean
Office of Public Policy and Advocacy
World Vision

Adam Isacson
Senior Associate
Center for International Policy

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