By Joshua Goodman
The Associated Press
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Aerial spraying of illegal, drug-producing crops in Colombia — an expensive linchpin of the U.S.-backed war on drugs — is failing, key members of Congress and drug-policy experts said Tuesday.
Despite a record fumigation last year of almost 550 square miles of coca, the latest U.S. government survey found 26 percent more land dedicated to the plant used to make cocaine.
The White House attributed the meteoric rise from 2004 to an 81 percent increase in the satellite sampling area, which skewed an otherwise 8 percent drop in coca production in areas previously surveyed.
The U.S.-backed anti-drug effort known as Plan Colombia has cost U.S. taxpayers $4 billion since 2000. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who chairs the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, called on President Bush last week to fire drug czar John Walters.
In a letter to Walters, Grassley questioned Walters' November claims that Plan Colombia had helped reap a 19 percent increase in price and 15 percent decrease in the purity of cocaine found on U.S. streets, data Grassley called misleading and based on a six-month snapshot.
In the report Grassley questioned, the Office of National Drug Control Policy estimated that Colombia, the world's largest cocaine producer, had just over 550 square miles under cultivation in 2005 — an area 25 times the size of Manhattan.
The amount exceeds by 17 percent the coca measured in 1999, the year before Congress funded Plan Colombia to stamp out the drug trade, which has fueled Colombia's civil bloodletting.
Moreover, 2005 estimates show that, for the first time in a decade, coca production is on the rise in all three coca-producing, Andean nations — Colombia, Bolivia and Peru.