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Ecuador Giving U.S. Air Base the Boot

From 1998 to 2003, Bolivian farmers could receive USAID funding for help planting other crops only if they eliminated all their coca, according to the Andean Information Network, a research group based in Bolivia. Other rules, such as the requirement that participating communities declare themselves "terrorist-free zones," simply irritated people, said Kathryn Ledebur, director of the Andean Information Network.

"Eradicate all your coca and then you grow an orange tree that will get fruit in eight years but you don't have anything to eat in the meantime? A bad idea," she said. "The thing about kicking out USAID, I don't think it's an anti-American sentiment overall" but rather a rejection of bad programs.

Another factor cited by Bolivian officials is that the European Union and Venezuela have stepped in as major sources of development funding without so many strings attached. The E.U. has earmarked about $350 million for Bolivia for the period from 2007 to 2013. "Most importantly and in line with the Bolivian authorities, activities have not been made conditional on the eradication of coca," said an E.U. strategy paper on Bolivia from late last year.

Meanwhile, U.S. aid for Bolivia's drug fight has been steadily dropping, Cáceres said, from more than $100 million a year during the 1990s to $26 million this year. This government has done the best job of fighting drugs, he said, "but each year we are getting less."

To U.S. anti-drug officials, the impending loss of the base in Ecuador and the halt of USAID projects in the Chapare do not portend disaster but suggest a lack of commitment to halt the flow of cocaine.

"I think it's a setback in the interests of the American people and the people of Ecuador and Bolivia," said John P. Walters, the White House drug policy chief. "But again, we respect the sovereign authority of the leadership of those countries, and we'll try to make the partnership work the best we can."

Correspondent Juan Forero contributed to this report.


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