Colombia's coca growers facing stark choices over crops | 3/24/2019 | Staff
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Decades into the US-led war on drugs, coca plantations continue to surge like a green tide across ally Colombia's Catatumbo region.

Their spread has left former coca growers like Alex Molina embittered, having convinced others to rip up their illicit crops—seduced, he says, by promises the state has failed to keep.

Community - Leader - Molina - Others - Coca

For community leader Molina and others, choosing to forsake coca for traditional crops has been a costly choice and one they warn they may be forced to reverse.

"The substitution program has ruined me and left me in total insecurity."

Situation - Debate - Coca - Communities - Odds

His situation is emblematic of a debate sweeping rural coca growing communities, at odds over the implementation of Colombia's 2016 peace agreement with FARC guerrillas.

Under the agreement, coca growers, or "cocaleros" in former FARC-controlled areas would voluntarily replace their plantations with other cash crops like bananas, coffee or cocoa—in exchange for cash incentives.

Component - Colombia - War - Drugs - Countries

It's a vital component of Colombia's US-backed war on drugs, both countries having a shared stake in the drive. Colombia remains the world's largest producer of cocaine, the US the largest consumer.

But more than two years later, many cocaleros here are furious over repeated failures to implement the program, under which each household was to receive aid equivalent to $10,330 in cash and equipment over two years.

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Payments have been intermittent or non-existent and the anger is palpable in the hamlet of Puerto Las Palmas, in the middle of the coca-growing region on the Venezuelan border.

"There are hungry children, and families that are desperate because they have no income," Molina told AFP.

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Meanwhile, neighbors who rejected the state's offer continue to cultivate coca, making hay while the sun shines—knowing the time will come when the army will rip up their crop.

The result is that Molina—who harvested his first coca leaves as a 12-year old—has gone from an enthusiastic supporter of substituting coca to...
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