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Idea Of Air Attack On Coca Upsets South Americans

Sun., March 24, 1996

A U.S. congressman alarmed South Americans by suggesting U.S. Navy carrier planes be used to destroy the coca crops of Colombia, Bolivia and Peru “once and for all.”

Rep. Dan Burton’s proposal in early March highlighted frustrations in Washington with the limited successes of the Andean nations’ efforts to eradicate the bushes whose leaves yield cocaine.

“Now, they don’t have surface-to-air missles down there, and they’re sure as hell not going to start a war with the United States if we go in there and eradicate it,” Burton, R-Ind., said during a hearing.

Colombia’s president, Ernesto Samper, responded in amazement: “That would be like us sending commandos into the heart of New York City to go after drug addicts.”

Accusations that Samper won election with millions of dollars in drug money were the main reason the U.S. decertified his country on March 1 as an ally in the war on drugs.

He contends no nation has done so much in combating narcotics, saying Colombia destroyed 56 percent of existing coca plants last year. According to the government, after taking into account newly planted fields, coca cultivation dropped 30 percent from 111,500 acres to 77,800 acres.

But U.S. officials dispute those statistics. They say the coca crop actually increased by 13 percent - to 125,800 acres, moving Colombia past Bolivia as the world’s No. 2 coca grower behind Peru.

While most of the world’s cocaine is processed in Colombia, most of its coca is harvested in Peru.

The State Department says Peru had 285,000 acres of coca at the end of 1995, a 6 percent increase from 1994. Fearing a peasant uprising, it made no effort to destroy mature coca plants.

Bolivia had 120,000 acres at year’s end, up slightly from 119,000 acres.


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