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Since the 1980s, the USA has fought cocaine in the Andes with carrots and sticks: interdiction and crop eradication wield the sticks, while Alternative Development (AD), which offers economic assistance to farmers who voluntarily abandon illicit cultivation, provides the carrots. Yet cocaine continues to permeate US streets, and rural Andean communities remain isolated from the legitimate economy. Many critics blame US belligerence for compounding the Andean drug war. The underlying problem with the existing strategy, however, might not be the aggressiveness of its military sticks, but the flimsiness of its development carrots. The inability of AD to persuade farmers to abandon coca cultivation may be causing US policy makers to over-apply military solutions – often inflaming rural communities and exacerbating regional instability in so doing. Few legal crops can match the earning power of coca. The article therefore suggests that the US carrot could be made more attractive by adopting a Venture Development model which helps rural farmers to process their legal produce into high-quality finished goods that command premium prices. Such a strategy could conceivably choke the cocaine engine by applying market-based forces to address market-based realities.

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