Spotlight On: Colombia Fumigation

The expensive U.S. military adventure named "Plan Colombia" and renamed (in a rare moment of candor by those who want to expand Colombia's civil war beyond its borders) the "Andean Regional Initiative," has so many things wrong with it (massive human rights violations, strengthening of paramilitary death squads, massacres, assassinations of hundreds of union and social leaders, and the delivery of the Colombian state and military to control by the narco) that critics have had to play defense, constantly reacting to every new horror, and have thus lost much focus.

Now is the time for those members of Congress and activist groups concerned about this atrocity to bring new players onto the field and to begin playing offense: Specifically, against the plan's weakest link and one that, by itself, causes great harm: the widespread aerial spraying of herbicides over vast tracts of farmland, including in the Amazon basin. (See Narco News' report from May 2003 for more background, plus some more recent links below.)

Everybody, it seems, from corporate America on down, claims to want to "save the rainforest." It's often a feel-good cause that even includes ice cream and other consumer products named for it. But the spear has not been sufficiently raised and pointed, or emerged beyond the kind of "humanrightsspeak" inside-the-beltway language that tends to overwhelm and blunt public outrage. Frankly, environmentalists have always been much better at sounding alarms… Background:

According to a recent U.S. government report, close to 120,000 hectares of Colombian land - that's 463 SQUARE MILES - were sprayed over the past year with the herbicide named Glyphosate (whereas only 4,000 hectares - or 15 square miles - were eradicated manually: It's been an orgy of toxins pouring down from the skies).

Interestingly, from the same report in the Colombian daily El Tiempo, U.S. Undersecretary for International Narco-Trafficking Affairs Robert Charles claimed that "the progress in Colombia has not generated an increase in illicit crops in other countries like Peru and Bolivia. The report says that, in total, the area cultivated in those two countries last year amounted to 59,000 hectares, or 2,000 less than in 2002."

In other words, spraying poisons from the air is not necessary - even by Washington's ever shifting numbers game - to reduce the number of coca plants harvested in countries that don't allow aerial spraying, like Peru and Bolivia.

However, according to a report by a United Nations anti-drug bureaucracy, "the success of coca eradication activities in Colombia could cause a change in the illicit cultivation of coca, not only in countries where it is traditionally grown, like Bolivia and Peru, but also in other countries like Ecuador and Venezuela."

And this is the game: the more they spray, the more they displace the coca crops to other parts of Colombia, deeper into the Amazon jungle region, and into other countries, which then provides the State, its private contractors like Dyncorp and Monsanto (which manufactures the herbicide glyphosate under the brand name of RoundUp), and the mercenary soldiers of fortune who pilot the fumigating airplanes for big bucks, their collective pretext to make more money (yours and mine) by expanding herbicide spraying into bigger and bigger areas.

That the displacement effect tends to push coca cultivation deeper into the jungle makes this fumigation campaign more and more damaging to the Amazon ecosystem each year.

A case in point: the administration of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has launched a plan to start spraying now over important nature reserves, claiming that it has found 6,500 hectares of coca in national parks, and eagerly estimates it could be as high as 10,000 hectares: That's 38 square miles inside jungle reserves that are next up to be burned from above.

Even the daily El Tiempo, an Oligarch's Daily, has editorialized against what it calls "Parkicide."

"We have to lead a national and international crusade, to mobilize the country," says Edilberto Guerrero, a reader, to the newspaper. "I offer hours of my work. For whatever it takes I'll be there."

If there's any doubt that this herbicide causes profound damage to regular food crops, to the health of people (especially the very young, the very old, and the already infirm), and to the natural environment, one need only peek over the Colombian border into Ecuador (where farmers speak more loudly in part because they're still alive to speak), where, according to this recent report, the mere spillover of Colombian aerial fumigations into Ecuador has caused an exodus:

Since July of 2003, eighty Ecuadorian families have abandoned their farms located in Puerto Mestanza, on the banks of the San Miguel River, as a consequence of the fumigations conducted in the Amazon jungle regions of Colombia to eradicate coca plantations on the other side of the river.

Victor Mestanza, the founder of the town, is one of the members of the only five families that stayed. "With the fumigations, that began in January 2000 as part of Plan Colombia," comments Mestanza, "the situation is desperate. We can't work. They have taken away our economy and our crops."

In the days before the last herbicide spraying done "by small Colombian airplanes that flew over our territory," the farmer lost "various hectares of sugarcane, banana, 170,000 fishes in aquaculture pools, 400 ducks and 70 pigs," in other words, he lost the fruit of 23 years of work in the area...

There is more, so much more, to be said and to be done about this ecological disaster underway. From our end at Narco News, we've published a lot about the lawsuit by Ecuador's farmers against these fumigations, and the overall herbicide spraying problems caused by Plan Colombia, but I want to do more.

I want to see, specifically, more reporting from the ecological standpoint, with tech support from readers knowledgeable in Amazon rainforest ecological issues, that will tie into and move existing environmental and pro-Amazon rainforest organizations (they're very influential) to enter the fray more directly against the fumigations and by using the kind of environmentalist language that has great potential for entering this year's political contests in the United States, with two of the three national candidates, and the wife of one of them, being longtime environmentalists themselves.

And so, fellow and sister citizens of The Narcosphere, I turn to you: What more can we do? An average Colombian citizen, Edilberto Guerrero, told his local newspaper. "I offer hours of my work. For whatever it takes I'll be there." If he can do that, I bet that many of us can as well.

The floor is open to suggestions and proposals.

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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.