Ecuador seeks aid to keep out coca farming
Spillover from Colombia feared
JUAN O. TAMAYO
Fearing that U.S. counter-narcotics aid to Colombia will force
coca farmers to
relocate to neighboring Ecuador, the Quito government is preparing to ask
Washington for $250 million to $300 million in aid.
Foreign Minister Heinz Moeller is expected to present the broad
outlines of the
aid proposal when he visits Washington today to meet with the State Department,
Agency for International Development and National Security Council.
``If U.S. aid to Colombia is successful there will be a temptation
to plant coca
here,'' Deputy Foreign Minister Gonzalo Salvador Holguín said. ``Our armed forces
are determined to control that, but we need support.''
Although Washington is unlikely to approve that much aid, Ecuador's
underlined the rising concern among neighbors that Colombia's drug industry and
guerrilla war could spill outside its borders.
``It is better to spend $250-$300 million now and not wait until
it becomes a fire,
than have to spend $2-$3 billion putting out the blaze,'' Salvador Holguín told The
The $1.3 billion U.S. counter-drug aid package approved this summer
is aimed at
helping Colombia eradicate coca, the bush from which cocaine is made, in the
southern state of Putumayo, bordering Ecuador.
Putumayo, a jungled Amazon basin region largely dominated by leftist
from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, accounts for
nearly half the 300,000 acres of coca planted around that nation.
The U.S. aid includes $20 million for Ecuador -- $12 million in
aid and $8 million for development projects along Ecuador's equally jungled and
poor northern border with Colombia.
``But that's insignificant in our ocean of problems,'' Salvador
Holguín added. ``We
would need help. By themselves our military would have difficulties controlling an
industry with so many resources.''
SPARED IN '90S
Narcotics experts say Ecuador in fact was lucky that it was spared
becoming a coca-producing center in the mid-1990s, when Peru and Bolivia,
traditionally the main growers of coca, cracked down on their illicit crops.
Although Ecuador has the same kind of soils as Peru and Bolivia
to the south,
coca growing skipped Ecuador and settled in Colombia, where leftist rebels
compounded the problem by protecting the crops in exchange for payoffs.
Colombia is now the world's single largest grower of coca, accounting
90 percent of the cocaine and much of the heroin, obtained from opium poppies,
sold on American streets.
Salvador Holguín said Ecuadoran experts have not yet completed
``wish list'' of the assistance it seeks from Washington, but indicated it would
probably include mostly matériel rather than U.S. military trainers.
Ecuador's police have one helicopter for the entire nation of
more than 12 million
people, he said, and need boats to patrol the Amazon basin rivers that traffickers
use to smuggle cocaine and the chemicals needed to refine it.
The country's armed forces, kept well-armed and trained because
of a now-settled
border dispute with Peru that sparked several wars this century, requires ``not so
much training as resources,'' the deputy foreign minister said.
Ecuador does not have a major guerrilla movement, although security
there say the FARC has been trying to establish contacts with leftist political,
indigenous and labor organizations.
Northern Ecuador is the poorest and least developed part of the
perfect cultivation dish for the virus of insurgency,'' Salvador Holguín said.
He also pointed out, subtly but emphatically, that the Ecuadoran
allowing U.S. armed forces to run a controversial counter-narcotics base at the
Pacific port of Manta.
``Manta underlines our commitment to the U.S. drug interdiction
effort,'' he said.
``We feel that we deserve U.S. help and support.''
Opposition politicians have filed a constitutional challenge to
agreement on Manta, and leftist critics allege that U.S. warplanes will use the
base to launch counter-drug and anti-guerrilla operations into Colombia.
Manta is officially used only by U.S. aircraft flying narcotics
around the northwestern shoulder of South America.
Two other similar ``forward operating locations'' now operate
in Aruba and
Curaçao, and a fourth is planned in El Salvador.