Searching for Human Rights in Herbicide Mist

Searching for Human Rights in Herbicide Mist
Posted by FoM on December 06, 2000 at 22:54:07 PT
By Doug Grow, Star Tribune
Source: Star-Tribune
There was no chance for error. The Colombian national police were going to do an aerial spray of coca bushes right in front of a U.S. senator and the delegation accompanying him. It was to be an exercise in smart fumigation.Pam Costain, executive director of the Minneapolis-based Resource Center of the Americas, heard all the assurances from Colombian authorities just before she felt the mist envelop her.
"We're looking at each other and we're thinking, 'What just happened here?'" recalled Costain.Costain, 50, had been asked by Sen. Paul Wellstone to join him on his trip last week to Colombia.This was a senatorial junket. Wellstone's expenses to a nation of roadside explosives and herbicide mists were covered by the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, of which he is a member. Wellstone is just one of three senators who voted against a $1.3 billion U.S. aid plan that is supposed to help Colombia fight its drug war.According to Wellstone, there was simplistic pressure to support the huge aid package."It was presented that if you weren't supporting this package, you were in favor of drugs in U.S. schools," he said.Wellstone held firm on his vote opposing the aid, then set up last week's trip so he could see a little of the so-called war. Mostly, though, he wanted to talk to human-rights workers in Colombia about the toll the "war" is taking on the poorest Colombians and those who are trying to protect them.Costain came up with funding of her own for the trip. She's a longtime activist in peace and justice causes and, with others, had met with Wellstone in mid-November to express concerns about U.S. policy in Colombia. The fear is that U.S. aid, most of which is for military supplies, brings only more violence to a brutality-filled land.At the conclusion of that meeting, Wellstone asked Costain whether she'd like to accompany him to Colombia. She said she'd love to go, which is how she found herself on the side of a Colombian mountain six days ago.Costain has traveled to trouble spots throughout the world. Usually she travels in the company of grass-roots activists, meaning people of noble intentions but little power.On this trip to the coca-growing regions of Colombia, though, she was not only with a U.S. senator, she was with the U.S. ambassador to Colombia, Anne Patterson, and high-ranking officials in Colombia's police. She received military briefings and arrived at the can't-miss spray site on a Blackhawk helicopter.Then came the foul-smelling mist."What was surprising to me is none of them [Colombian officials] seemed to think anything of it," Costain said. "None of them tried to wipe off the senator with a handkerchief or anything like that. ... The official line from them was that this wasn't a problem. This was just your basic herbicide, like you'd use in your garden. ... Well, I don't use herbicides in my garden."At the time, there wasn't a chance to ponder the herbicide shower. Within minutes, most in the delegation were hiking down the mountain to see Colombian police blow up a cocaine lab.The event turned out to be nearly as surreal as being sprayed.When Costain arrived near the site of the lab, police were arresting 35 raspachines, coca workers."The police were joking with the workers," Costain said. "Two people came up and introduced themselves as people who protect the rights of the workers."Kindly police in a drug war in the middle of Colombia? Human-rights workers at the scene of a lab bust to protect the rights of raspachines? Hmmmm. Does this happen when U.S. senators aren't in the neighborhood?"I'm asking myself, 'Did I see a bust or a theater event?'" Costain said. "I felt like I was a character in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel."Since returning to her office in south Minneapolis, she's thought a lot about the heroic human-rights workers she and Wellstone did meet. Those people, who risk their lives daily, haven't received a dime of the $1.3 billion.She also keeps thinking about what must be happening daily to the poorest Colombians and to the environment. After all, she was with a senator, an ambassador and high-ranking Colombian police officials, and she got an herbicide shower."It does seem to give lie to the notion that anybody knows what they're doing," she said.Complete Title: Searching for Human Rights in Colombia's Herbicide MistDoug Grow can be contacted at: dgrow startribune.comSource: Minneapolis Star-Tribune (MN)Author: Doug Grow, Star TribunePublished: December 6, 2000Copyright: 2000 Star TribuneAddress: 425 Portland Ave., Minneapolis MN 55488Fax: 612-673-4359Contact: opinion startribune.comWebsite: Articles & Web Site:Paul Wellstone (D) Senior Senator from Minnesota E-mail: senator wellstone.senate.govWeb Site: U.S. Lawmaker Visits Deadly Colombia Town Defused In Colombia Before U.S. Visit Police Spray Herbicide on Wellstone
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Comment #3 posted by kaptinemo on December 07, 2000 at 09:41:43 PT:
They *will* give a f**k...but only too late
Although my sentiment echoes DOFW, my belief is that as soon as more of those 'stylish' US-made body bags start arriving at Dover AFB with our kids in them, people will start to take notice.But only then. 
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Comment #2 posted by defenderoffreeworld on December 07, 2000 at 08:17:55 PT:
You think?
that's the entire problem with the american society. people just don't give a crap about anything that doesn't involve a new giant t.v. set, or the brand new car, or their vacation to the freakin carribean. its funny how we seem to not learn absolutely anything from history, especially when what happened not even 30 years ago is still having repercusions today. one thing we know for sure, if we do have another 'vietnam' conflict, for this is what is eventually going to happen in colombia, then one thing is for sure; there won't be any shootings at any colleges this time, there won't be any suppressed marches, just because people don't give a f--k!!
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Comment #1 posted by Ethan Russo, MD on December 07, 2000 at 05:24:31 PT:
Surrealistic Theater
This article points out just about everything that is wrong with Plan Colombia. The trouble is that Americans are ignorant or apathetic about it, and that applies absolutely to most of the mainstream media.
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