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Colombian Farm Sector Slams Uribe Coca-Buying Idea

Reuters, July 25, 2005

BOGOTA, Colombia, July 25 (Reuters) - A top Colombian farmers' group on Monday said the president's offer to buy peasants out of the coca business could backfire by prompting them to grow more of the illicit crop.

President Alvaro Uribe on Saturday said his government would pay peasant farmers to surrender their coca, the leafy bush used to make cocaine.

"This would create confusion and provide an incentive to plant coca for the government to buy," said Rafael Mejia, chief of the Farmers' Society of Colombia, the Andean country's biggest agricultural lobbying group.

Lower House Congressman Gustavo Petro of the left-wing Polo Democratico Party said the effort would threaten to increase the price of coca if drug smugglers are forced to compete against the government for crops.

Uribe did not say how much the government would offer. Farmers can get about $800 for 2.2 pounds (1 kg) of coca paste from drug traffickers. The government would only pay for coca if growers signed an agreement promising not to plant any more.

The offer came after U.S.-backed efforts at reducing coca through aerial spraying appeared to be making slow progress.

U.S. satellite data earlier this year showed the size of the area planted with coca stayed stable throughout 2004, although it was still down a third from 2001 at the beginning of a $3 billion-plus anti-drug campaign funded by Washington.

Uribe is trying to end a 41-year guerrilla war involving Marxist rebels and far-right paramilitaries, both of which fund their operations by exploiting the cocaine trade.

Colombia is the world's biggest exporter of cocaine, popular among users for the sensation of euphoria it produces.


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