BRICEÑO, Colombia – The time has come for peasants here in what was once reputed to be the most heavily mined municipality in Colombia to abandon coca cultivation and put behind them the era of living in fear of stepping on an explosive device, a community elder told EFE.
Gerardo Antonio Vera Jaramillo, 86, and wife Maria live along with their nine children and more than 30 grandkids in Pueblo Nuevo, one of the 43 hamlets that make up Briceño, tucked into the mountains of the northwestern province of Antioquia.
Colombia is a leading producer of coca, the raw material of cocaine, and the various factions involved in the drug trade – including criminal gangs, Marxist rebels and fascist paramilitaries – often use landmines to protect coca plantations.
“I own a farm where I have plots of yucca, plantain, beans and corn, but what has really put food on the table are the 2 hectares (5 acres) we planted with coca,” Vera said.
Acknowledging that he doesn’t “know much math,” Vera pointed out that while a plantain tree, like the one President Juan Manuel Santos planted here Monday to launch a crop-substitution program, takes 14 month to bear fruit, coca is ready for harvest in half the time.
“And don’t even talk about the prices. The difference is very great. What we cultivate legally brings in very little money,” he said. “Until not so long ago, there wasn’t even a road for a vehicle to come in, and we were forced to lose or to give away corn, beans and coffee. Nobody would pay us a peso.”
The Santos administration is implementing a National Comprehensive Program for the Voluntary Substitution of Illegal Crops that aims in its first year to eradicate roughly 50,000 hectares (123,400 acres) of coca while assisting roughly 100,000 families currently subsisting from the coca trade.