In this essay, we wish to highlight two aspects to be taken into consideration when projecting crop-substitution alternatives in the Putumayo: on the one hand, the makeup of the local population, its organizational tradition and its alternative proposals to coca-crop cultivation; and on the other hand, the need to consolidate spaces for citizen participation as an alternative to the country's armed conflict. The signing of the voluntary-eradication "Social Pacts" in Puerto Asís (Putumayo) can only be understood by taking into account the history of Putumayo peasant organizations throughout the past three decades.
It is now commonplace to assume that coca growing, processing and trade generates violence, that it promotes individualism, the search for easy money (a narco-mentality), the loss of values, etc. What ensues from this standpoint is a simplistic homogenizing reading of the effect of the coca economy on the inhabitants of the regions which produce the shrub. They are thus described as fortune-seekers, people without any ties, and, what's more, as violent individuals who infringe the law and impose their own rules of the game. By so doing, no heed is paid to a long history of colonization in the Amazonia and, as a result, large sectors of the population —who were there before the coca arrived— are left out.
Distinctions between the different generations of settlers should also be taken into consideration when reflecting on the conservation of the Amazon rain forest and the subsequent relocation of the peasant communities. It is of outmost importance to pay attention to the differences that exists between old-time settlers and recent settlers when promoting productive alternative projects. We wish to point out, on the basis of past experiences of the region's communal organizations, some of the factors to be kept in mind when discussing alternative projects in the Putumayo. Local official, for their part, insist on the need —with the aim of increasing the probabilities of successfully implementing productive projects— to distinguish, not only between two generations of settlers (old and young), but also between individual and communal modes of production. If these distinctions among population strata are taken into consideration when designing productive projects, it is highly likely that the projects might correspond to the expectations of the groups to be worked with.
We believe that it is the organized communities in Puerto Asís which should have the last say regarding the means by which coca-crop substitution should be carried out, and that it is necessary not to disregard neither their proposals nor their former experiences in illicit crop substitution.
[complete article: Spanish | French]
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