Controversy Dogs U.S.-Funded Fumigation 

Controversy Dogs U.S.-Funded Fumigation 
Posted by FoM on September 10, 2001 at 11:52:31 PT
By Sibylla Brodzinsky, MSNBC Contributor
Source: MSNBC
U.S.-funded crop dusters were on mission this summer to fumigate poppy fields near this southwestern Colombian town as part of a government effort to hit drug production at its source. Instead, they dumped their load of herbicide on Juan Rengifo’s organic coffee farm, destroying his crop.          Standing on the slopes of his once-thriving farm several weeks after the planes thundered overhead, Rengifo inspected the stunted plants, picking the desiccated shells of the coffee beans still clinging to bushes. 
At the modest house where his farmhands live, he ruffled the hair of 5-year-old Roosevelt Solano, who had been suffering from severe diarrhea since the fumigation. “It never even crossed our minds to plant poppy or coca,” said Rengifo, who received funding from the United Nations to grow organic coffee. “But now, after what they’ve done to us, we may be forced to. Otherwise how will we survive?”    For opponents of the U.S.-Colombian aerial spraying campaign, Rengifo’s case embodies much of what’s wrong with the strategy. As the spraying has intensified over the past year with help from a $1.3 billion aid package from Washington, so have the voices of protest.    The controversy over the main weapon in the U.S.-sponsored drug war here will serve as a backdrop to the visit Tuesday by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who will meet with Colombian government officials as part of the Bush administration’s review of American support for the campaign.      Just days before Powell’s visit, Colombia’s anti-narcotics police began a new fumigation blitz in the provinces of Arauca, Caqueta, Guaviare, Meta, Putumayo and Vichada. The goal is to wipe out 245,000 acres of coca and poppy, which produce the main ingredients in cocaine and heroin, by December.    Opposition Grows    Once confined to small harvesters of coca and poppy crops, complaints of environmental damage and health problems blamed on the weed killer glyphosate used in the spraying often were dismissed by both U.S. and Colombian officials as unsubstantiated whining by apologists for drug traffickers.    Glyphosate is sold commercially as Roundup in the United States. But the complaints — as well as demands for alternative ways to wean farmers off illegal crops — have found support from lawmakers, governors, some government officials and even the front-runner in next year’s presidential race.    In the latest challenge to the program, the comptroller-general’s office urged President Andres Pastrana to halt the aerial spraying until an independent scientific study is done on the effects of the herbicide.    That call followed similar statements from the national human rights ombudsman, and the introduction of bills in both houses of the Colombian congress that would prohibit or sharply restrict fumigation.    The program suffered a setback in July when a judge temporarily halted spraying on Indian lands in the Amazon after an Indian-rights group alleged that the glyphosate was causing health problems and environmental damage. The judge lifted the suspension order and ruled against the Indians 11 days later.     Horacio Serpa, the leading candidate in May’s presidential race, wrote in a local news magazine that “the public controversy over aerial fumigation … is valid. There are too many reservations and accusations to turn a deaf ear.”    Pastrana has questioned the timing of the growing opposition. “Everyone is coming out to attack fumigations because … it is harvest time. Once the harvest passes, the pressure drops.”    Put To The Test    Nevertheless, the United States and Colombia have agreed to accept an independent audit of the program, ordered originally by the environment ministry as part of an environmental impact study of the spraying.    “The government of the United States and the government of Colombia would welcome a review of these procedures, the study of our material and any other aspect of the coca eradication program,” Marc Grossman, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, told reporters on a recent visit to Bogota.    The U.N. Drug Control Program offered its services to conduct such a review, but a U.S. official said the United Nations was not the ideal choice.    “I don’t know if I support it from the U.N. — we’d like to find an organization that is transparent, truly third party and scientifically able,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.    But the official, who defended the spray program, said the United States was open to the study because “the facts are on our side.”      Harsh Reality    The facts for farmer Rengifo, however, are harsh.    Agricultural experts told him that some of his coffee plants may survive but this year’s crop, which would have been ready for harvest in November, is lost. As for next year, the yield will likely be much smaller than before, and it will take at least another two years to apply for certification that his coffee is organically grown.    The herbicide has generated such controversy that singer Célimo Hoyos has written a song called “Damned Glyphosate.”    “They order the spraying without looking at the calamities,” the song goes. “They hurt our environment and leave behind disease. ... That’s why I damn that damned glyphosate.”      U.S. and Colombian officials have insisted that glyphosate is harmless.    “The detergent people use to wash their dishes is more harmful to human health than glyphosate,” Justice Minister Romulo Gonzalez said after a recent congressional debate on the issue.    But Rand Beers, assistant secretary of state for narcotics issues, acknowledged last month for the first time that glyphosate may cause slight irritation to the eyes and skin. “This is not a totally benign product,”’ he said.    If studies find any negative effect on public health, the spray policy might be reconsidered, Beers said. But he suggested that the illnesses reported by farmers may be due to exposure to toxic chemicals used to transform coca leaves into cocaine, or the pesticides they use to cultivate the drug crops.    But Rengifo swears there was no coca or poppy on his farm, and because he grew organic coffee, he used neither herbicides nor pesticides on his crop.    Misguided Debate    Sen. Juan Manuel Ospina has been one of the most vocal opponents of the fumigation program but is frustrated at the direction the debate is taking. “Everyone is worried now about how the spraying is being done — what the chemicals are, how they chose the targets — but the real debate should be: Is the policy effective?’”       Ospina believes it isn’t. “Fumigation does not resolve the problem, but it worsens others. An anti-narcotics policy with its prime focus on fumigation is a policy that is condemned to failure,” he said.    Here, the facts are on Ospina’s side. While Colombia has been using aerial fumigation against drug crops since the mid-1990s, the area of coca and poppy cultivation skyrocketed to more than 400,000 acres in 2000.    Ospina and Sen. Rafael Orduz are co-sponsoring a bill in the Colombian congress that would allow aerial spraying as a last resort, giving farmers a chance to destroy their own crops while switching to legal alternatives with the government’s help. Congressman Gustavo Petro introduced a measure in the House of Representatives that would ban aerial spraying altogether.    A senior U.S. official said a visit to one crop substitution project in coca-rich Putumayo province convinced him of the importance of such programs. “The overwhelming impression is gosh, you have to pay attention to alternative development, or we’ll never succeed,” said the official.    That’s what opponents of the spraying have been trying to officials all along.    The U.S. Congress is considering an $882 million Bush administration request for additional funding for Colombia and its neighbors, a large chunk of which would go to support social programs. But much of the U.S. funds earmarked for alternative crop programs are available to farmers only after the fumigation planes have dropped their chemical load.    Floro Tunubalá, governor of Cauca province, where Rengifo grew his organic coffee, has spearheaded efforts to persuade the government to offer the carrot first and if that doesn’t work, to try the stick.    But the government appears willing to invest in social development only once the crops have been sprayed, he said. The lag time between the destruction of the crops and the arrival of government help, however, is driving many farmers to other areas where they replant the drug crops.    “The government’s position is to fumigate first and then repair the social damage it causes. We are asking that it be turned around,” Tunubalá said.    And while Rengifo awaits the reparations for the damage done to his farm, he continues to “damn that damned glyphosate.”     MSNBC contributor Sibylla Brodzinsky is based in Bogota. Note: As Powell heads to Colombia, critics cite impact of spraying. Source: (US Web)Author: Sibylla Brodzinsky, MSNBC ContributorPublished: September 10, 2001Copyright: 2001 MSNBC.comContact: letters msnbc.comWebsite: Articles & Web Site:Colombia Drug War News Reassesses Colombia Aid Man Without a Plan News Articles - Glyphosate
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Comment #1 posted by freedom fighter on September 11, 2001 at 00:18:00 PT
Open letter to good ole Prez. Bush
Sir,Please take the moment to fill a glass of round-up weed killer and drink it.No?Then stop this insanity!It is your power to do so. ff
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