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Colombian Coca Output Up For 3rd Straight Year

Associated Press, June 3, 2007

by Joshua Goodman, Associated Press

BOGOTA, Colombia Despite record drug eradication efforts, a White House survey found production of coca in Colombia rose for the third consecutive year in 2006, President Alvaro Uribe said.

Uribe, who travels to Washington on Wednesday to secure the continued flow of U.S. anti-drug aid, revealed the findings of the still-unreleased report at the end of a long speech Friday. A transcript was posted today on the president's Web site.

Uribe said the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy survey, which is based on satellite imagery, found that production rose 8 percent last year, to 385,484 acres an area twice the size of New York City.

"Yesterday (for Thursday) they told me they were worried about revealing this number because of my upcoming trip to the United States, that the Americans should reveal it," Uribe said. "But that's why I'm revealing it. We're not trying to put makeup on what is a serious matter."

The much-awaited estimate, if confirmed, could revive debate about the effectiveness of Plan Colombia, the U.S.-backed anti-narcotics and counterinsurgency program that has cost American taxpayers more than $5 billion since 2000.

One of Plan Colombia's main goals was to halve production of coca within five years, but the latest estimate indicates 27 percent more coca is being produced than in 1999, the year before the anti-drug effort went into effect. A recent dip in the U.S. street price of cocaine, and rise in purity, also points to abundant supply

Last year, Colombia's drug police used U.S.-supplied planes to spray glyphosate herbicide on 424,000 acres of coca and opium poppies, and they manually eradicated an additional 42,100 acres of coca.

In 2005, authorities fumigated almost 345,900 acres, but the United States found the amount of coca surged 26 percent, to 355,831 acres. White House drug czar John Walters argued the unexpected rise was a statistical aberration owing to a near doubling of the area surveyed.

Rafael Lemaitre, a spokesman for the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, said in an e-mail message today he had not yet seen the coca estimates, whose release was originally expected in April.

Uribe noted Friday that estimates of production varied, calling them "disorienting."

"We've unleashed a battle with all our will and all our determination," Uribe said. "Could it be we've worked in vain? That all our work hasn't produced the desired results?"

He suggested earlier estimates had not included all of Colombia's territory.

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