Colombia’s government ran out of money to fund the manual eradication of coca crops, leading to a 48% fall in the elimination of the illicit crop compared to last year.
Victoria Eugenia Restrepo, program director for a group of civilian coca eradicators, told Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper that the budget fell short this year and, due to the lack of resources, many workers suspended activities for 102 days.
With nobody destroying coca plants for over three months, the program fell short of its goal for this year to clear 173,000 acres of coca fields. In 2008 they destroyed 236,000 acres, while this year only about 134,000 acres were cleared.
“We had difficulties in meeting the budget goal. We were late to start and we had to stop for fifteen days in November,” Restrepo said.
The program of mobile eradication groups costs about US$65 million each year, according to the government’s Social Action program, which manages the eradication efforts.
However the program only received US$15 million at the beginning of the year, and the wait for more funding influenced this year’s poor results. This year the program received about US$49 million, compared with US$59 million last year.
The poor results worry the agencies responsible for fighting drug trafficking in Colombia.
Experts of the Integrated System for Illicit Crop Monitoring, known by its Spanish acronym SIMCI, expressed concern that the failure to uproot the illegal plants results means better harvests for drug traffickers. Manual eradication is considered more effective than spraying the crops and it also minimizes environmental impacts, they say.
The situation also caused job loss among the rural poor who are often hired to do the work. In 2008, about 6,000 were employed as eradicators while only about 4,000 have been this year.
For them the work is also often dangerous, as the FARC and other armed groups who fund their wars through the drug trade target public and civilian eradicators alike. In September the FARC strapped bombs to two donkeys and killed two workers clearing a field near the Venezuelan border.
Civilian eradicators were not the only ones to have problems. Public forces of eradicators, comprised of the army and police, did not fare well either. Their efforts saw a decline from 24,000 acres to 13,800 acres cleared.
The poor results led to the government, led by the Interior Ministry to urge the Ministry of Defense and Social Action to design an emergency plan to overcome difficulties. Much of the money from the program depends on that portfolio.
“The National Drug Council requests the national government make the necessary efforts to overcome financial difficulties facing the manual eradication,” Interior Minister and Justice Minister Fabio Valencia Cossio said in an official document.