Governor of Putumayo: AI=ve learned about the Plan Colombia through the media@

The central emphasis of the Plan Colombia is fumigating and gaining military control over the department of Putumayo to eradicate the illicit crops. Second, and representing a much smaller part of the Plan, the Government proposes to invest in alternative development. It is noteworthy that President Pastrana has visited the U.S. more than 10 times to discuss Plan Colombia, yet has never met with the local authorities in Putumayo nor with the local population.

Jorge Devia Murcia, Governor of Putumayo elected by popular vote, visited the United States in late May to inform members of Congress, government authorities, the media, and U.S. public opinion in general as to the situation in Putumayo. Governor Devia was invited to Washington by the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, accompanying Gloria Flórez, director of MINGA and one of four Colombians to be awarded the Center=s annual human rights prize in 1998. (For more information on the RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights, call 202-463-7575.) We spoke with him to hear his opinions and proposals with respect to Plan Colombia and the reality of Putumayo.

Colombia Human Rights Committee: What do you think of Plan Colombia?

Jorge Devia Murcia: Plan Colombia has not been developed in conjunction with the region. The governor has not been taken into account, nor the mayors or the communities themselves. The President has not heard the proposals from Putumayo. Though we have sought an audience with President Pastrana on several occasions, he has yet to receive us. I myself, the governor of Putumayo, have learned what I know about Plan Colombia through the media, from the declarations of Colombian authorities, and from the debates on the Plan in the United States Congress.

CHRC: What is the impact of coca leaf cultivation on Putumayo?

JDM: Putumayo has a population of 314,000 permanent inhabitants, some 135,000 of whom live directly from the coca crop. Therefore the figure of 10,000 inhabitants which according to Plan Colombia will be displaced by the fumigation campaigns is gratuitous. Coca is the main factor giving rise to violence in the department of Putumayo. To achieve peace in Putumayo, it is necessary to bring an end to the coca crops. The coca first took the people of Putumayo into prostitution and uprootedness, a short-lived boom and then guerrilla and paramilitary forces. Of course we want to end the coca crops, but we want a Plan Colombia for peace and development, not for war.

CHRC: Yet ending the coca crops, in general, is not at issue; rather, the differences lie in the method. Plan Colombia proposes military control and fumigation. What do you think?

JDM: What we need in Putumayo is social investment to eradicate the coca crops and the coca CULTURE. Violent eradication doesn=t work. With just the test fumigations done in late 1999, the growers= response was not to abandon their way of life, but instead to lay waste to more jungle, to push further into the jungle to grow their crops. The figures show this. In 1976, there were 17,000 hectares of coca crops, in 1999, 40,000, and this year, 2000, approximately 52,000 hectares are planted in coca. In addition are the harmful effects of the fumigations. With the test fumigations alone, the consequences have been disastrous. While these tests have eradicated some hectares of coca, they have also displaced people who go on to grow in new areas, they have damaged the basic food crops, animals, and endangered the lives of the people of Putumayo: 13 deaths have been reported due to the fumigations. If they could see Puerto Guzmán after the test spraying, they=d think twice about fumigation. It=s as though there=s been a fire. Everything was burned. So much harm is caused, yet the coca culture continues intact. We believe that instead of fumigating, the important thing for controlling the cultivation and transport of coca is investment for alternative development, and interdiction and control of the inputs.

CHRC: What do you propose with respect to Plan Colombia?

JDM: To end the coca crops it is more economical, effective, democratic, and respectful of the life of the people of Putumayo if the aid money were invested in the road network, rural electrification, health, and education, and on re-orienting the market, both national and international, for products that can be grown in Putumayo. The failures of previous government efforts to eradicate the illicit crops is based on several factors. Both the alternative development plan and later Plante [the government crop substitution program] were organized with no consultation whatsoever with the people of the region, there was neither professionalism nor knowledge of the basics of Putumayo, there was corruption on the part of some government officials, and promises made to the peasants and settlers were broken. The proposal to change the resources from military aid and indiscriminate fumigation of the small growers to support for replacing coca through alternative development and social investment, is that with the latter approach there is consultation with the population, they are offered real economic alternatives, and they can be won over. The use of force will not only impose a war without quarter, it will also kill people of hunger. The growers are being surrounded. The reality they face at this time is: fumigation, annihilation of their few hectares of coca and of basic food crops, hunger, and pressure from the armed groups. The reality they face is that they have no option other than to flee further into the jungle, clear land, grow coca, and try to make sure they get a good price to be able to survive, or join the ranks of the guerrillas or the paramilitary groups.

This is an urgent call for life from an entire department of Colombia. We don=t want more war.

CHRC: After the meetings you=ve had in Washington, what opinion will you take back to Colombia?

JDM: I think the most important thing I=m taking back is one copy of the Plan Colombia in Spanish, and another in English.


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