Colombian rebels urge regulated drug farms

2014-01-14 21:42
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Havana - Colombia's FARC rebels on Tuesday called for the regulated cultivation and sale of illegal crops like coca leaf, opium poppies and marijuana as a fresh round of peace talks with government negotiators got under way.

Rebel negotiator Pablo Catatumbo unveiled the proposal before the start of a negotiating session dealing with drug trafficking, the industry that has long fuelled Colombia's brutal civil war.

He said the proposal would "regulate the production and marketing of coca leaf, poppies and marijuana, in recognition of their nutritional, medicinal, therapeutic and cultural qualities... as well as their artisanal and industrial possibilities".

He called for the de-militarisation of areas where small farmers would be allowed to grow the crops under UN supervision, and an end to the crop eradication programmes that have been a central feature of US-financed counter-drug programmes in Colombia.

Catatumbo said the latest proposal was based on a pilot project advanced during a previous unsuccessful set of peace talks in 2000 by FARC founder Manuel Marulanda.

"The amounts produced would be based on studies of the potential domestic as well as international demand," said Catatumbo.

"That involves creating a legal market for coca leaf, poppies and marijuana, controlled by the state through a system of price supports and state purchases," he said.

Under the FARC's proposal, the programme would be funded by the government with the savings that come from eliminating the military presence in those areas, he said.

Funding should also come from international sources, including the countries that are the biggest consumers of illicit drugs, he said.

Catatumbo denounced what he said were "criminal state policies based on the persecution, stigmatisation and criminalisation of peasant farmers".

There was no immediate reaction to the proposal from the government of President Juan Manuel Santos.

But the FARC initiative echoed a recent move by Uruguay to legalise and regulate the cultivation and sale of marijuana, as well as drug legalisation proposals elsewhere in the Americas.

Last November, the FARC's top leader, Timoleon Jimenez, alias "Timochenko", said he was in favour of drug legalisation in Colombia, arguing that eradication programmes had created social problems by depriving poor farmers of a source of income.

The government, meanwhile, accuses the FARC of financing its operations through the drug trade in areas where it holds sway.

Founded in 1964, the FARC is Latin America's longest insurgency and biggest guerrilla army, with an estimated 7 000 to 8 000 fighters.

Colombia is one of the world's top producers of cocaine.

The Santos government and the FARC opened peace talks in November 2012, taking up the issue of drug trafficking in the past two months.

Negotiators have so far reached consensus on just two agenda topics - rural development, and the rebels' participation in the country's political life once a comprehensive peace agreement is reached.

But two other agenda items have yet to be discussed: compensation for victims of the conflict and the disarmament of the rebel forces.

Read more on:    colombia  |  narcotics
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