People Suffer with Colombia Antidrug Campaign

People Suffer with Colombia Antidrug Campaign
Posted by FoM on April 08, 2000 at 07:42:46 PT
By Martin Hodgson, London Observer Service
Source: Record Searchlight
Farmer Jaime Cabrera surveys a 12-acre swathe of blackened vegetation. "They came over at 100 feet" he says, describing how Colombian police airplanes on a recent anti-drug operation dumped herbicide on his crop."This was all yucca how could they mistake it for coca?" he asks, voice cracking with anger and exhaustion. 
A devout Christian, Cabrera always refused to plant illegal crops even after 24 years living at the heart of the world cocaine industry.Cabrera's farm is a clearing hacked out of the dense jungles of Putumayo, a state which produces nearly 65 percent of Colombia's coca leaf the raw material for cocaine. But while he won't grow coca, his neighbors have fewer qualms, and the region's booming coca output reflects the failure to provide legal alternatives for Colombia's rural poor and highlights the contradictions at the heart of US-led anti-narcotics policies.The past three years thousands of gallons of herbicide have been released over the rain forests and drug plantations in an attempt to eradicate the raw material of the cocaine trade.Now U.S. lawmakers are edging toward approval of $1.3 billion in emergency aid to Colombia, most of which will go to support an anti-drugs onslaught. But critics say that aerial eradication is inaccurate and counterproductive when figures show that, despite fumigation, coca production has more than tripling since 1991."As long as Americans demand cocaine and heroin, the supply will be there. Drug dealing is market-driven capitalism in its purest form," said U.S Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.While McGovern and other critics want more money to treat drug abuse in consumer countries, hawks in Washington and Bogota are pressing a frontal assault on drug production. But the jungles and savannas of Colombia which would be targeted are also strongholds of Colombia's left-wing rebels, and observers fear that an anti-drugs offensive may send the country's civil conflict spiraling out of control.Most U.S. aid will go to train and equip three new elite army anti-narcotics battalions to spearhead a push into southern Colombia, clearing the way for fumigation planes. This will bring them into direct conflict with right-wing paramilitaries and the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, who rake off millions of dollars in drug kickbacks and protection fees.Formed in 1964, FARC has grown stronger in recent decades, thanks largely to the multimillion-dollar "war taxes" which the rebels charge on drug transactions in their zones of influence. Rebel commanders say the drug war is just an excuse for the U.S. to back a military offensive against Latin America's largest surviving left-wing insurgency .Critics question why the strategy focuses on the south a traditional rebel stronghold rather than more northern regions where paramilitaries control the drug trade.Others merely point at the results: Last year government planes sprayed 104,000 acres with herbicides, but cocaine exports reached a record 520 tons. Officials claim that without the spraying the figure would be even larger, but the Bogota representative on the United Nations Drug Control Program, Klaus Nyholm, is not convinced.Fumigation kills the coca, but peasants move further into the forest and plant more than they need to be sure that some survives, he says .In Caqueta, local officials describe the fumigation campaign as catastrophic. "There is indiscriminate spraying of legal and illegal crops. It causes displacement, and damage to the environment," said the state ombudsman, Hever Gonzalez.According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Glyphosate the herbicide used is harmless to humans, but environmentalists challenge this and argue that the aerial bombardment is inaccurate anyway. Cabrera and other farmers complain that maize, yucca and plantains are destroyed along with illegal crops, and Gonzalez says has filed dozens of complaints by farmers.Meanwhile, large-scale industrial coca plantations operate safely outside the crop dusters' range in the Colombia's far east, drug experts say, while fumigation hits hardest those already on Colombia's lowest rung: the rural poor."If the fumigation were accompanied by a strong social plan, it wouldn't be as catastrophic as it is ... (but) these regions have always been forgotten by central government," said Juan Carlos Claros, regional coordinator for the government's National Alternative Development Plan.Curillo, Colombia Published: April 09, 2000Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service. For more Observer news go to: Record Searchlight - E.W. Scripps. Related Articles:One Tough Plant Indians Doubt Safety of Spraying Crops Hope, Instead of Dope Articles On Colombia Over 200 Items: 
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Comment #3 posted by kaptinemo on April 09, 2000 at 06:29:26 PT:
Chemical Warfare
Thirty some years ago, as 4D said, the US sprayed the herbicide Agent Orange (which contains the deadly cancer causing compound called dioxin) onto wide swaths of the Vietnamese rainforests. Dioxin, just like DDT before it, accumulates in the lipidinous (fatty) tissues of the body, and slowly leaches out into the rest of the body. In extreme cases of dioxin poisoning, the effects are almost exactly like being hit with a first generation nerve agent like Soman: immediate headache, difficulty breathing, loss of coordinbation, coma and death. In lower level exposure (such as that received by non-combatants, Viet Cong, NVA regulars and our own troops) the stuff will leach out into the body for years, causing cancers, chromosomal damage, etc. The Vets who had been exposed to it sued the government. For political - and of course, economic - reasons, the Department of Defense denied dioxin's deadly effects until the lawsuit forced them to relinquish the classified information they had received from lab tests proving dioxin's qualities. (By then, most Vets had already died and never saw the paltry sum the survivors received). All during the Cold War, the US said that if the Soviet Bloc ever used chemical weapons on NATO troops, we would respond with N-bombs (which is why every 'war game' I ever participated in rarely went past four days; the 'mushrooms' would start sprouting then) and on up the escalation ladder until nobody was left to protest. That's how seriously the US took the chemical weapons threat.Now the US is giving away de facto chemical weapons to the Colombian government, which is using them indiscriminately. When Colombian farmers and their families start dying from rapid cancers and neuropathy, we'll know why. When Colombian mothers start having children with no eyes, no feet, no hands, have horribly disfigured faces, or organs in the wrong places, guess who'll they'll blame?I wouldn't be planning on taking any business trips in that area of the world for the next 60 or so years. Because when the Colombians find out the fullness of what was done to them, American will be even less welcome in that part of the world.
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Comment #2 posted by Mimosa on April 08, 2000 at 14:46:40 PT
pretty hard to tell coca from the air (I guess)
I was in Chile a couple of years ago and met some people from Columbia. A woman reported that her mother's 30-year-old pear-and-apple orchard had been destroyed by arial spraying even though there was no coca growing nearby. Golly, looks like another case of "winning the hearts and minds of the people" just like way back when!
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Comment #1 posted by dddd on April 08, 2000 at 13:39:35 PT
This is so reminicsent of Vietnam,and agent orange. "According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Glyphosate the herbicide used is harmless tohumans, " This is almost exactly what was said about agent orange.The people who will be dumping this chemical rain over Columbia,will not be concerned about accuracy or ecology,they will simply dump their poison somewhere that they are least likely to get shot down,and return to base saying"mission accomplished". This spraying of herbacides is really dimented and disgusting.There will be many more like the guy in this story,who will suddenly hear the sound of brand new helicopters in the distance,and moments later experience a chemical rain,which will drain off into rivers,taint drinking water,and who knows what else. This is really f*#king sickening............dddd 
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