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Category: News - Features (Archived) Created: 04/01/2005 12:00 AM
Updated: 06/05/2006 11:15 PM
State Dept. Drug-Spraying Efforts - Working or Not?
Report on aerial eradication of drug crops poses questions
By Mike Whaley
U.S. State Dept. OV-10D with Spray Gear
U.S. State Dept. OV-10D with Spray Gear
According to a March 25, 2005 report from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the massive efforts of the US and Colombian governments to eradicate coca plant production using aerial spraying is failing to put a large dent in cocaine production, though the total production is dropping some. The anti-drug efforts in Colombia have cost upwards of $3 Billion (US) since 2000, and a main component of the coca eradication effort is the U.S. State Department's fleet of OV-10D Broncos which have been converted into spray aircraft and have had additional armor and mission-specific equipment installed. The State Dept. also uses Ayres single-engine crop sprayers. While these efforts are known to be quite effective at destroying the coca crop in those areas that can be sprayed, there is a high damage and attrition rate for aircraft and crews invovled in these missions. The peasant farmers whose coca fields get sprayed quickly re-plant, often slashing down new sections of the ecologically diverse, old-growth rainforest.

According to the report, over 500 square miles of coca fields were sprayed in Colombia during 2004, while about 440 square miles of coca were cultivated - about the same as last year. However, since much of this acreage consisted of lower-yield, newly-planted fields, the total production was less.

While the White House and Colombian officials painted the results in a positive light, others weren't as convinced. Colombian president Alvaro Uribe said in a radio interview that "Our will is to continue seizing the drugs and to continue with the fumigation." David Murray of the Office of National Drug Control Policy said "What you have now is hard-core cultivators... they're staying put and replanting as rapidly as they can. And we're coming back and hitting them with eradication." However, Colombia expert Adam Isacson of the Center for International Policy in Washington told the AP, "The inescapable conclusion we can draw from this data is that our fumigation program is not discouraging Colombian peasants from growing coca" and he added that many peasants simply re-plant their fields after aerial spraying. In addition, there is growing evidence of the development and spread of glyphosate (Roundup)-resistant strains of coca, which actually benefit from the spraying due to the elimination of competing weeds and non-resistant coca strains.

This report is unlikely to have much of an immediate effect upon the State Dept.'s OV-10 and Turbo-Thrush spraying programs, unless there is a tangible shift in U.S. policy towards the drug eradication efforts. It has long been discussed internally that even more survivable aircraft are needed to counter sophisticated and deadly countermeasures emplyed by coca growers, including small arms and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. Retired A-10 Warthogs with spray equipment installed (and guns removed) have been brought forth as the prime candidate for the program. However, to our knowledge, no actual testing or aircraft acquisitions have taken place along these lines.

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