Peace Dividends



Millions around the world will soon learn that the failure of lost friends and flames to call or write was cruelly deliberate.
Five years ago today in Suck.

Delays in implementing the social side of Plan Colombia underline another key issue to any of these plans or moneys — the time frame. And the time frame is connected to the plans themselves, and they're both connected to the political climate. For example, how long does it take to figure out what other crops might grow and sell in a place like Putumayo, ground zero for Plan Colombia's spraying campaign, and a region with "bad soil, climate, and market access," according to the USAID official. A recent Washington Post story detailed how a Bolivian family in a similar program went hungry after losing 3,000 pineapples to a jungle fungus.

When asked about all this, the official assented: "Of course development doesn't take place overnight. Everywhere I've been, we're talking about five to 10 years of commitment at least." But political pressure exists to get rid of coca and poppy sooner. "Of course," he says, "you have to think short-term, too. There need to be results within a year on the illegal crops."

This is a sort of Catch 22 for several veterans of Southern Hemisphere research and development work. Mark Lundy is an American researcher who has worked in community development in southwestern Colombia for years, currently under the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, or CIAT, based near Cali.

"These processes work best when they're organic and grow out of existing projects," he said. "Now we're talking about people who have come to places like Putumayo from afar, looking to escape poverty through coca or poppy. This is a situation of flux, even anarchy. When you add in the political climate, with its agenda for quick results, it could be a recipe for disaster."

To Lundy, even a decade is just a beginning. He suggested putting the money into fiduciary accounts spread out over 20, 30 years. "The worst thing you can do is rain money down. Everyone will ask, What's my take?" said the sociologist. More than one columnist has advanced the thesis that corruption damages the country more than the war involving guerrillas, paramilitaries and the State, now in its fourth decade. This is a country where 1999's Congressional budget included $49,000 toilet seats and Y2K repairs signed off on December 31.

The USAID official also recognized this hurdle, and referred to an "anti-corruption component" of Plan Colombia, including the country's comptroller and general auditor, and "local training." The US aid also includes $119 million partially aimed at reforming the legal system here, including moving from what's called an inquisitorial judicial process to a more open, accusatorial one — similar to the US system. "But the culture of corruption will take a long time to change, many years," said the official.

In the end, fighting back guerrillas in a jungle with helicopters and ground troops is relatively straightforward, thought not necessarily easy — as Vietnam showed. But trying to tackle issues like hunger, rural development and sustainable agriculture definitely ain't easy — as 30 years of trying to improve on the Green Revolution have taught CIAT And other research centers and aid programs in the developing world. And if the Black Hawks serve to make a decades-old conflict worse in the short term, and pressure is on to wipe out coca and poppies, then you can bet the social part of the deal, the supposed carrot, will be still harder to come by.

Fuel the culture of corruption at Plastic
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courtesy of Tim Pratt
pictures Terry Colon

Tim Pratt