Colombia says coca crop eradication down in 2009

AP News
Posted: Dec 29, 2009 3:30 PM

Colombia said Tuesday it has fallen short of its goal for eradicating coca crops this year, blaming it on violent reactions from drug traffickers and budget problems despite having received billions of dollars in U.S. aid.

This year nearly 60,000 hectares (232 square miles) were eradicated manually in Colombia, about 10,000 hectares (39 square miles) short of the government's goal, national police director Gen. Oscar Naranjo said.

That was a decline from last year's record manual eradication of nearly 96,000 hectares (371 square miles).

Naranjo cited budget issues and also said 17 police and four workers were killed while destroying crops. Authorities cleared land mines from 53 coca fields, and dozens of people were injured in clashes that broke out during crop destruction efforts, he said.

Colombia is the world's top producer of cocaine, and eradication teams regularly sweep through growing areas accompanied by police and U.S.-made Blackhawk helicopters.

The nation is also the largest recipient of U.S. aid in the region, getting about $6 billion from Washington since 2000 in mostly military aid meant for combating drugs.

Destruction of coca crops by aerial herbicide spraying also was down in 2009, with 103,000 hectares (398 square miles) eradicated as compared to 133,000 hectares (515 square miles) last year, according to police figures.

Still, Naranjo said, the government believes "Colombia surpassed expectations in the anti-drug fight in 2009."

He said authorities seized more than 125 tons of cocaine, and credited cooperation with U.S. and Mexican authorities.