BRICEÑO, Colombia – Less than three weeks after signing a cease-fire agreement, the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, have launched a pilot program in the northwestern province of Antioquia to replace coca with legal crops.
In the city of Briceño’s Pueblo Nuevo, one of 10 villages where the plan will be implemented, officials provided details of the first test of joint post-conflict activities aimed at building confidence between the two sides, with the goal of reducing the violence from an armed conflict that dates back more than half a century.
The meeting was presided over by Rafael Pardo, the government’s point man for post-conflict activities, and Felix Antonio Muñoz, also known as “Pastor Alape,” one of the FARC peace negotiators at the talks in Havana.
About 400 families who currently earn a living by growing coca attended the meeting, which, according to Pardo, signals a first step on the path where peasants, the FARC and the government must commit themselves to finding and developing a different model for earning livelihoods.
“In two months, we hope to have a roadmap and clear commitments to begin the (crop) substitution. That is a measure of confidence,” Pardo said.
In Briceño, where illicit crops have been pervasive, the “transformation” will be launched in the villages of Orejon, Pueblo Nuevo, La Calera, La America, El Pescado, La Mina, Buena Vista, Altos De Chiri, Roblal and Palmichal.
Peasants are expected to make a commitment to eradicating coca plants, not planting coca again, not selling coca and not becoming involved in illegal activities, while the government is supposed to make sure that the programs are implemented according to the agreements.
A United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, or UNODC, report released last Friday in Bogota said Colombia’s coca plantations have expanded to 96,000 hectares (237,000 acres).
Prado called this fact “worrisome” and warned that the government would conduct “strict monitoring” to prevent coca harvests.
The FARC’s role in the pilot project will be to “support the communities” in voicing their expectations and to define the roadmap, Pastor Alape said.
The process should be focused on “substitution rather than eradication,” the FARC leader said, adding that the alternative to illegal crops would be developed gradually as peasants “establish their own initiatives so that, as they cultivate other crops they reduce coca production.”
In joining the alternative crops initiative, the FARC “moves from a fighting approach to the search for solutions along with the peasants, the guerrilla leader said.