The Miami Herald
October 19, 2000

Ecuador seeks aid to keep out coca farming

Spillover from Colombia feared


 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 request
 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 guerrillas
 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 counter-narcotics
 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.''


 Narcotics experts say Ecuador in fact was lucky that it was spared from
 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 for almost
 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 the detailed
 ``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 officials
 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 country, ``a
 perfect cultivation dish for the virus of insurgency,'' Salvador Holguín said.

 He also pointed out, subtly but emphatically, that the Ecuadoran government is
 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 the Ecuadoran-U.S.
 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 interdiction missions
 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.