War on coca farmers continues

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War on coca farmers continues

Bram Ebus writes about cocaine production in Colombia and how it might effect Colombia’s peace.

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(c) Bram Ebus

The US is encouraging the conflict between coca-growing farmers in Colombia and the state. And there is the possibility it will put at risk Colombia’s recent peace agreement with Marxist guerrillas, FARC.

The agreement between President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leaders ended over 50 years of civil war. The agreement required the state to invest money in rural communities.

The agreement included alternatives to coca-growing for the farmers. The United Nations supports this.

But President Trump can’t wait and he is putting at risk a voluntary programme of growing new crops. He wants Colombia to stop coca farming or there will be ‘political problems’.

The government is now forcing the destruction of crops – with deadly results. In October 2017, security forces fired their guns at coca farmers in southwest Nariño province as they protested. They killed at least seven people and injured 30.

In the green hills of Danubio, in Colombia’s Meta province, rural communities do not trust the state. Arnulfo Perdomo, 63, started a small farm after he moved because of the war. It is very difficult for him to make enough money to live by growing coca. It makes less than $56 per month. But the high production costs of growing food make it impossible.

Hundreds of police went to Danubio in June 2017 to destroy coca fields. The farmers resisted. The people drove them away with bats and machetes and for a short time held one officer as a hostage. ‘If they take away our coca, what are we going to live from’ asks Perdomo.

Cocaine production is a big part of the economy. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime supports growing new crops voluntarily. But it needs time to work, says Pedro Arenas. He is the director of the Observatory of Crops Declared Illicit.

Pedro Arenas warns of the dangers of the actions by the US. They will lead to more crop destruction in rural communities. The communities are expecting new crop growing programmes. ‘As people lose their trust in these agreements, the peace agreements will not work,’ he says. If farmers see no way of stopping growing coca, peace for the people of Colombia will not be possible.