Date: Mon, 25 Oct 1999 21:21:59 -0500 (CDT)
From: Colombian Labor Monitor <email@example.com>
Subject: The FARC and the Illicit Drug Trade
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The FARC and the Illicit Drug Trade
By Ricardo Vargas Meza, excerpts, June 1999
... peasants began colonizing the Colombian Amazon in the 1950s following the violent displacement of peasants by large landholders. Completely neglected by the government, peasant settlers attempted to establish agricultural production in inhospitable jungle ecosystems. However, they soon found coca to be the only product that was both profitable and easy to market. The potential profit of coca cultivation, the relative ease of transport and marketing, and its comparative advantages relative to legal crops fueled a wave of immigration to the region. From then on, the Amazon was faced with unsustainable population growth, leading to environmental degradation.
Since the 1990s, Colombian coca plantations have covered an expanse that, according to residents of the affected areas, could be as large as 150,000 hectares. An estimated 300,000 people are directly dependent on the coca economy. These zones are, at the same time, controlled by guerrillas who derive significant revenues by levying taxes on medium- and large-scale farmers, intermediate coca products (base, further refined into cocaine), merchants, and, most importantly, processing laboratories and clandestine air strips for cocaine shipments. These funds are employed to strengthen the guerrillas' logistical and communications capacity for the war effort.
The army, therefore, perceives the settler-coca farmer as a direct guerrilla collaborator. The army's decision to engage in counternarcotics operations targeting illicit crop cultivation, justified by the "narco- guerrilla" theory, has led to the repression of peasants in those areas.
This set the stage for massive protests, beginning in 1996, of over 200,000 settlers and peasant farmers. These protests were organized in response to the mistreatment of rural workers and the lack of economically viable alternatives to coca.
In 1997, the Amazon region where the protests took place witnessed increases in massacres, violent deaths of agrarian leaders, and the formation of private paramilitary groups. As armed groups struggled for control, conflict escalated at a tremendous cost in terms of human life and the basic rights of the population.
The government's failure to adequately address illicit crop cultivation contributes to civilian support of the guerrillas. Settlers in the area view the guerrillas as the only response to the attack on their lives and livelihood through aerial fumigation of coca and poppy fields and judicial proceedings. The government's perception of illicit cultivation as solely a source of funding for the guerrillas, and not also as the only means of support for large sectors of the peasant population, contributes to social conflict and polarization. ...
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