Role of U.S. in Colombia Continues To Challenge

  Role of U.S. in Colombia Continues To Challenge

Posted by FoM on June 17, 2001 at 07:55:53 PT
By Paul De La Garza and David Adams 
Source: St. Petersburg Times 

For the drug war in Colombia, these are signs of trouble: Angry coca farmers. An irritated environmental minister. An influential study calling for deeper U.S. involvement in that nation's civil war. Last month, the minister of the environment in Bogota issued a resolution castigating the country's drug policy office for failing to provide adequate data on the environmental impact of a U.S.-sponsored aerial spraying program. 
Over the past several days, about 3,000 farmers in northeastern Colombia have protested the spraying of their coca crop. And on Wednesday, an Air Force-backed study by the Rand Corp. said that Plan Colombia, a $7.5-billion internationally funded program designed to pluck the Andean nation from the abyss, was inherently flawed. Last month, the St. Petersburg Times reported on the impasse between Washington and Bogota over President Andres Pastrana's refusal to allow further aerial spraying in the coca-rich states of Putumayo and Caqueta in the south. Now, U.S. officials worry that Pastrana, a lame-duck president with an eye on his legacy, will cave in to domestic and international pressure and scrap the aerial program entirely. Aerial spraying is key to U.S. anti-drug strategy in Colombia, a nation at war with Marxist rebels. American law enforcement officials think it is the most effective way of fighting the proliferation of coca and poppy, the sources of cocaine and heroin. The lucrative drug trade helps fuel a decades-old war that pits the government against the rebels and right-wing paramilitaries. The United States is contributing $1.3-billion in aid to Bogota under Plan Colombia, the majority of it in military aid. In December, Colombia extended a controversial aerial eradication program with $115-million in U.S. money. The spraying program, however, which is administered by the U.S. State Department, is on shaky ground. On May 4, a resolution sponsored by Colombia's Minister of the Environment Juan Mayr opened aerial eradication to legal challenge. In the resolution, Mayr took the drug policy office to task for failing to provide adequate data on the program's environmental impact. The resolution sounded a tone of exasperation. "It can be concluded," the resolution said, "that the documents delivered until now by the drug policy office to define an adequate environmental management plan for the spraying of illicit crops . . . have not responded to the scopes and objectives requested in repeated opportunities by this Ministry." Among other things, the six-page resolution asked that the drug policy office, or DNE, find immediate alternatives to spraying in populated and watershed areas, as well as in areas with established infrastructure. Although the resolution did not call for a halt in spraying, Mayr said in an interview that, theoretically, any Colombian citizen armed with the resolution could take the drug policy office to court to try to stop the program. It would be up to a judge, he said, to decide if the resolution is enough to support a lawsuit. "We have received many complaints claiming damage to forests and wildlife" from the spraying, Mayr said, adding that measures laid out in the resolution will ensure "that there won't be fumigation in (protected) areas by accident." He said, "I think it is very positive for everyone. It will improve the quality of the program." Astrid Puentes of the public interest group Fundepublico said environmental activists are studying the resolution. "We haven't decided yet whether to sue or not," she said. What was clear, she said, was that the government was not enforcing environmental law. A number of Colombia experts who have reviewed the resolution said that it spelled trouble for the future of aerial spraying in Colombia. "It's not the end of the fumigation process," said Myles Frechette, a former American ambassador to Colombia, "but it's a real monkey wrench." Frechette said the resolution could slow down the program, which, to U.S. officials, would prove disastrous because of the wasted time. In southern Colombia, for example, coca farmers already are replanting coca seed beds just weeks after the crop dusters barreled through. Steve Johnson, a Colombia analyst with the Heritage Foundation in Washington, agreed with Frechette. He pointed out that the resolution sets a timetable of six months for the drug policy office to meet the ministry's environmental impact requirements. According to the resolution, he said, "DNE did not do its homework." U.S. officials argue that the resolution is not intended to stop spraying in Colombia, or, for that matter, to enable or promote it. It is intended, they say, to "fill gaps" in the DNE's environmental management plan. To meet environmental concerns for greater transparency, Britain has proposed the creation of an international commission to monitor the spraying. London has offered $150,000 to initiate the program. Frechette and Johnson and some Western diplomats in Colombia, meanwhile, insist that the herbicide used in the spraying, glyphosate, has been proven safe in scientific tests. Frechette characterized peasant tales of deformities in children as a result of spraying as "folk stories." The peasants disagree. In some cases, they have provided investigators with pictures of children with chemical burns they say are linked to spraying. Environmental groups in Colombia also reject the scientific studies. They say the problem is that glyphosate, or RoundUp, is being used in higher concentrations than officially recognized with complementary chemicals to make it stick better. The immediate problem for Pastrana is not in the courts, but in the fields. In the village of Tibu in the Catatumbo region, he must figure a way to appease thousands of coca farmers angered by a 3-week-old spraying campaign. The protesters, who destroyed a refueling depot for crop dusters, have offered to eradicate the coca crop by hand if the government promises to step in with alternative crop programs. A major obstacle for the government, analysts say, is that it doesn't have the money to meet their demands. With all its woes, Colombia increasingly is under the microscope. On Wednesday, the Rand Corp. released a study sure to spark debate. It argued for a larger U.S. role in Colombia's civil war, including better counter-insurgency training of Colombian troops. "The threat of political and military deterioration in Colombia could soon confront the United States with its most serious security crisis in the hemisphere since the Central American wars of the 1980s," the study said. "Yet U.S. policy continues to focus almost exclusively on bolstering Colombia's anti-drug efforts and misses the point that the political and military control that the guerrillas exercise over an ever-larger part of Colombia's territory and population is at the heart of their challenge to the Bogota government's authority." Note: Coca crop spraying still evokes ire, while a new study supports a greater U.S. role in the country's civil war. -- Sibylla Brodzinsky reported from Bogota. Source: St. Petersburg Times (FL)Author: Paul De La Garza and David AdamsPublished: June 17, 2001 Copyright: 2001 St. Petersburg TimesContact: letters sptimes.comWebsite: Articles & Web Sites:Colombia Drug War News Workers and Colombia To Negotiate Eradication Farmers' Riots Fuel U.S.-Colombia Spraying Workers Riot Against U.S. Spray Effort Articles - Putumayo 

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Comment #5 posted by FoM on June 17, 2001 at 17:55:57 PT
Thanks lookinside. We have gotten sick a few times when we drank coffee which is odd to say the least. Both my husband and myself felt sick. We didn't use that new canister of coffee and bought another one and didn't get sick. We tried the coffee that made us sick a week or so later and we felt sick again with slight nausea which went away but we wondered why. It wasn't the milk because we used the milk in cereal with no problems. It was very strange since we both have been drinking coffee since we were in our teens and that never happened before.
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Comment #4 posted by lookinside on June 17, 2001 at 13:34:13 PT:
it seems like i read something concerning coffee a year ortwo ago(DDT contamination, i think)...generally, of itself,coffee has few pests...most arabica coffees are grownorganically because the need for pesticides is minimal...thepossibility that the coca spraying could cause contaminationcertainly exists, though...maybe some of the more informed posters can get more details?
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Comment #3 posted by FoM on June 17, 2001 at 12:28:01 PT

I've asked this question before but I'm not sure if anyone knows the answer. Since our coffee mostly comes from Colombia can it be contaminated too? 
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Comment #2 posted by lookinside on June 17, 2001 at 12:16:24 PT:

eliminating a REALLY harzardous drug...
i live in one of the largest wine grape producing areas inthe world...if a person uses glyphosate on a windy day here,he can find himself sued for the loss of vines...grapes areVERY sensitive to the stuff...a very minor exposure to avine will kill it in a matter of a couple days, and by thetime it's noticed, it's way too late...fortunately, coca plants seem to be tougher...i wonder how california growers would react if saudi arabiadecided that the only way to stop saudi's use of wine wasaerial spraying of the vinyards? i relish the thought...
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Comment #1 posted by Ethan Russo, MD on June 17, 2001 at 09:37:54 PT:

It is All Watershed
This story is disgusting. Here the Colombians themselves are asking that their own laws and protections be honored, while the Amerikan diplomats, mercenaries and talking head ideologues moan about how they are being thwarted in their holy crusade. It is all garbage. Take a look at the warning label on a Round-Up container and see if you would consider it safe. Suppose for the sake of discussion that glyphosate did not harm people or animals. Then consider that it is an indiscriminant broadleaf herbicide that they spray from planes. It does not selectively attach to coca bushes, but rather kill everything. Would you want to grow your food there? What if you couldn't?My hope is that the nations of the world will censure the US Policy and help to end it ASAP. It is the only hope for Colombia.
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