Be back tomorrow Coca cultivation in historical perspective
May 092007

The governor of Nariño department, Eduardo Zúñiga, is in Washington this week to talk about the humanitarian situation in his home region. His message badly needs to be heard right now.

Nariño is in Colombia’s far southwest, along the border with Ecuador. Its eastern half is high Andes; its western half is a Pacific coastal plain with a high Afro-Colombian population.

Nariño’s eastern neighbor is Putumayo, where more than half of Colombia’s coca was concentrated when Plan Colombia got underway in 1999-2000. Massive aerial fumigation reduced coca-growing in Putumayo, only to see it increase sharply to the west in Nariño.

Today, Nariño is one of the most violent places in Colombia. It has a high FARC and ELN presence, and is a center of re-armed paramilitaries. The worst violence is in the Pacific coast region, including the displacement of over 7,000 people in a 2-week period in El Charco in March.

Nariño is also one of Colombia’s most heavily fumigated departments, with more than 50,000 hectares per year sprayed by U.S.-funded aircraft (out of a total of 160,000 per year nationwide). Yet coca-growing has stubbornly refused to decrease.

Coca and Spraying in Nariño

Nariño is one of two Colombian departments (out of 32) that Álvaro Uribe did not win in the May 2006 elections. Governor Zúñiga, like his predecessor Parmenio Cuéllar, comes from an independent opposition political movement that is often aligned with, but is not formally a part of, the Polo Democrático party.

Governor Zúñiga is here all week, along with Father Maurizio Pointin of Pastoral Social Caritas Colombia, and Marco Romero, the director of the Colombian human-rights group CODHES.

Here are some video excerpts from his remarks at a forum held yesterday (May 8) on Capitol Hill. Apologies for the amateur video quality, we’re still figuring out how to do this well.

“Fumigation hasn’t worked at all”
Governor Zúñiga talks about the failure of massive U.S.-funded coca fumigation in his department.

A call for alternative development aid
Governor Zúñiga proposes U.S. aid to expand a rubber-cultivation project to help farmers transition away from illicit crops.

“The free trade agreement will not help us”
Governor Zúñiga talks about how the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement will affect his department.

“Nothing much had changed”
At the same forum, comments from U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts) about the continuing crisis of internal displacement in Colombia.

One Response to “Nariño’s governor sends a message”

  1. rainercale Says:

    I would like to hear what Governor Zuniga thinks of the USAID presence in his department, and suspect that his silence on the issue has to do with political chafe between his office and the Uribe-created Accion Social Office, which is USAID’s counterpart in the National Government.

    A visit to the ADAM website ( that USAID has established a significant presence in Narino over the past year and a half: 2,113 hectares of coconut and cacao planted, plus dairy farm infrastructure improvement projects, which the webpage claims to benefit some 22,000 families altogether in four municipalities.

    Googling a little further one runs into a two year old UNODC project (with USAID and FAO as partners) that claims to have brought some 22,600 hectares of natural forests in the Monte Bravo sub-region of Narino under a “forest management plan.” “Forest Management Plan” is not just an arbitrary phrase. It is a forest engineering term that means that the timber and non-timber potential of the forest has been inventoried, and that a *sustainable* harvesting plan has been developed based on social, environmental, and economic criteria, and submitted to and approved by the regional environmental authority (and by the UNODC technical staff, who offset the corruption in the regional environmental authorities).

    Anyways, I am not familiar with Governor Zuniga’s earlier statements on the matter, but his comments on alternative development in this post suggest there is a major disconnect between his office and the large-scale alternative development initiatives that have gotten underway in his department and in neighboring departments in the past few years. If the claims of USAID and UNODC are true, then both Zuliga and USAID, and of course the bproject eneficiaries, have everything to gain by bridging that divide.

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