The Sierra de la Macarena

Drugs and armed conflict in Colombia
19 September 2006
Policy briefing

Re-establishing fumigation is not going to legitimise or win acceptance of the State's activities in the territory of the Park. It is not going to protect the Park from the environmental deterioration generated by the critical interventions of social and military actors in the war. It is also not going to really affect the FARC's "bankroll". What it will do is create well-fertilised territory for the prolonging of the armed conflict.

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The recent history of armed conflict and the drug economy in Colombia's Sierra de la Macarena National Park and surrounding areas can be summarised by two central government decisions. The first was Operación Emperador, begun in early 2005 as part of the Patriot Plan (Plan Patriota) in this area. The second was the onset of the aerial spraying of coca crops grown in the park and its surrounding buffer zones.

The government opted for forced manual eradication in the first instance, following domestic opposition to fumigation and, above all, international pressure spraying over national parks. It saw this policy as a means to mount a strategic attack on the economic structures of the FARC in this area. These operations against illicit crops began on 19 January 2006 - in the course of which 28 casualties were sustained, according to Ministry of Defence figures: 13 police, 10 members of the Mobile Eradication Groups (MEG), and 5 soldiers. They culminated on 3 August 2006 following the deaths of five members of the MEG, killed by a high power land mine camouflaged amongst the coca bushes. President Uribe then announced the resumption of aerial spraying of the remaining coca crops in the park.

At the beginning of 2005, a combination of military offensives and aerial fumigations pushed into various parts of the Bajo Ariari and the edges of the Güejar river in the southeast of the Meta province, the municipalities of Puerto Rico (Puerto Toledo sector), Puerto Lleras (Villa la Paz), and Vistahermosa (Mata de Bambú). Foreseeing the grave consequences these operations would have for the region's inhabitants, the departmental government organised a meeting for 28 March 2005, with the (failed) intention of creating the conditions for forming agreements with the communities, to arrange alternatives to growing illicit crops. However, the imbalance of power faced by regional leaders wishing to intervene in decisions deemed questions of national security became a new matter for frustration in the region.

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