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After Decades of War, Colombian Farmers Face a New Test: Peace

He and other members of a farmers cooperative all plant the crop now, and bargained with the local government to bring them electricity in exchange for their uprooting coca plants. The legal crops stretch out for 200 acres of flatlands that include a mass grave site where paramilitary fighters buried scores of victims.

A tall cross marks the site, now overgrown with a new crop of palm trees. When Mr. Cuaran was a child and coca grew in the fields, a man in a white coat could be seen sometimes at a bend in the road, dismembering bodies with a machete, he recalled.

“You had a lot of money then, but you were never calm,” Mr. Cuaran said.

A few hours’ drive away, 500 families have signed up for the new government crop substitution program in La Carmelita, a region with a dozen villages next to a rebel demobilization camp. Last month, they began pulling up their coca plants, said Aldemar Yandar, the local coordinator of the program.

“People will soon see what their neighbor is doing, and they will want to copy it,” Mr. Yandar said.

But the draw of the coca leaf is always near. Near La Carmelita, a government-sponsored sugar cane processing plant had dropped to a dozen workers, from more than 30 a year ago. Most of the employees had left to harvest coca leaf and the processing plant could not find anyone to take their places, workers said.

“We are surrounded by coca fields,” said Alirio Hernández, a leader in the local processors’ association. “They pay double.”

General Naranjo, the vice president, remained upbeat. Because the government was no longer focused on war with the rebels, he said, it could finally build the roads and infrastructure to create markets for legal crops, while delivering a finishing blow to the remaining drug traffickers.

Source: NYT > World

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