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Last Updated:1/13/05
Letter to Cambio magazine by U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William Wood, January 3, 2005

Bogotá, D.C.
January 3, 2005

Mr. Mauricio Vargas
Cambio Magazine
Bogota, Colombia

Dear Mr. Vargas:

I read with interest the commentary entitled "Fumigación?" by Senator Navarro Wolf in your edition of December 27. With respect, I believe that several points need clarification. In Putumayo, as in the rest of Colombia, the hectares of illicit crops have diminished dramatically under Plan Colombia In Putumayo more than elsewhere.

Both the U.S. and UN methodologies, supported by quite exact satellite measuring equipment, on which Colombia bases its estimates for residual hectarage, show exactly the same trend: a dramatic reduction in the area planted with coca or amapola. We of course know how many hectares have been eradicated in each of the last several years because the spray pilots, the Colombian police protecting the missions, and the post-spray Colombian and U.S. verifiers have seen it with their own eyes. This year the spray program will break another record: over 136,000 hectares sprayed, or the equivalent of 160 tons of drugs destroyed. Over the last three years, the program has eradicateded more than 400,000 hectares. Yes, drug traffickers continue to plant coca, but the fact that coca hectarage in Colombia is dropping is irrefutable. Whoever told Senator Navarro Wolf that there is as much coca in Colombia as when Plan Colombia began is simply wrong.

Senator Navarro Wolf is right that drug seizures (inside Colombia, on the high seas, and at transit points outside Colombia) set new records in 2004. There was a more than 50% increase in seizures from 2003. The combination of seizures and eradication, including several thousand hectares eradicated by hand, prevented more than 475 metric tons of Colombian drugs from reaching their destinations in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere in Latin America this year. The narcotraffickers are losing, and they know it, even if some others do not.

Senator Navarro Wolf is also right that we have not seen a change in the price or purity of drugs on the streets in the U.S. For those of us in the embassy and those who work on the problem in the U.S., this is a source of frustration, but not of doubt. There is much we do not know about the drug trade, and our adversaries are ruthless and cunning. I believe, for instance, that they are reducing their profits in order to keep price and purity stable in the U.S. They know that once there is a change on the streets of the U.S., the debate will end. We will have proved to even the greatest doubters that we can defeat the narcotraffickers in Colombia by taking them head-on.

That is the real enemy: the doubt that we can't win. The doubt that whispers that there is a mythical "super coca" that cannot be killed by spray. The doubt that warns that glyphosate is dangerous, when 85% of the glyphosate in Colombia is used in commercial agriculture: just ask your own farmers. The doubt that blocks fumigation in the national parks so that Colombians and foreign tourists are afraid to visit them, park directors can't preserve them, and the traffickers are free to pollute them with 500 kilograms of chemicals for each hectare of coca production (compared to five kilograms of glyphosate spray, which enters the soil in completely safe form). The doubt that says that the cynicism, brutality, corruption, and soul-killing addiction of drugs cannot be defeated, and implies that we are wrong to try.

Stay tuned. Colombia and the U.S. are going to win this argument by winning the war against drugs. And the doubters won't doubt any more.


William B. Wood
U.S. Ambassador to Colombia

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