to Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Arizona) from five U.S. NGOs regarding alternative
development, June 7, 2002
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.
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
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
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.
Latin America Working Group
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights
Associate for Colombia
Washington Office on Latin America
Public Policy Adviser, Latin America and the Caribbean
Office of Public Policy and Advocacy
Center for International Policy