War on Drugs Takes Toll on Environment 

War on Drugs Takes Toll on Environment 
Posted by FoM on March 22, 2001 at 11:02:40 PT
By Margot Higgins
Source: Environmental News Network 
The U.S. government's war on drugs in Colombia is poisoning the environment and jeopardizing the health of local farmers, said four of the country's governors during a recent visit to Washington, D.C. Assisted by a $1.3 billion U.S. aid package that was approved last summer, the Colombian army has significantly increased aerial fumigation operations throughout southern Colombia in recent months. The aerial sprays of Roundup Ultra, an herbicide containing glyphosate, are targeted at coca plants, the source of cocaine. 
According to the Colombian army, about 75,000 acres of coca plants out of 295,000 acres cultivated annually have been destroyed as of Feb. 15, 2001. The destructive herbicides are non-selective, however, and they have also wiped out subsistence crops such as corn and yucca. The U.S. State Department maintains that the herbicides are safe, but they contain two chemicals that not used in the United States. Critics say the eradication program is wiping out natural plants and killing birds, mammals and aquatic life in the fragile Amazon ecosystem. The herbicides are also linked to a variety of eye, respiratory, skin and digestive ailments. Complaints of vomiting and skin rashes have increased 60 percent in the Putumayo region since the herbicide campaign began on Dec. 22. "This spraying campaign is equivalent to the Agent Orange devastation of Vietnam — a disturbance the wildlife and natural ecosystems have never recovered from," said David Olson, director of the World Wildlife Fund's conservation science program. The ecosystems of Colombia contain approximately 10 percent of the world’s terrestrial plant and animal species, conservation groups note. Corn, a staple of Colombia's agrarian economy, dies within eight days of being fumigated. According to Linda Farley, a scientist at the American Birds Conservancy, "while glyphosate’s direct toxic effects on the ecosystem may not be as extreme as those seen with other herbicides, the indirect, long-term ecological effects are severe." It is well documented that glyphosate has harmful effects on soil micro-organisms and mammalian life including humans, invertebrates and aquatic organisms, she noted. "This represents a major cause for concern since a significant portion of coca cultivation occurs alongside rivers in the Colombian Amazon that flow directly into Ecuador and Brazil." Colombia's governors are calling for an end to the fumigation programs and an increase in funding for social programs that encourage farmers to plant legal crops. As a result of the globilization of Colombia's economy, 1 million jobs have been lost in the agriculture industry over the past 10 years, they said. "The farmers are the weakest in the narcotics traffic chain," according to Guillermo Jaramillo Martinez, governor of the Tolima province where much of the spraying has occurred. "They are cultivating illegal crops because they have no other alternative." Under a program in nearby Putumayo, farmers can destroy their coca plants by hand in return for up to $1,000 in food and livestock per family. Martinez noted that, despite the increase in fumigation efforts, coca production has tripled in the past 10 years. "Fumigation is not working as everyone expected," he said. "It is displacing people and continuing to deforest the jungle. We need to give these farmers the opportunity to grow other crops." Note: Fumigation to wipe out coca plants in Colombia is also destroying banana, plantain and yucca fields.Newshawk: SledheadSource: Environmental News Network Inc.Author: Margot HigginsPublished: Wednesday, March 21, 2001Copyright: 2001 Environmental News Network Contact: news enn.comWebsite: Articles:Colombian Governors Protest U.S.-Backed Spraying To Continue Anti-Drug Sprays
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Comment #2 posted by Sudaca on March 23, 2001 at 09:27:51 PT
This hurts
I wrote to greenpeace more than a year ago asking them to please lobby against Plan Colombia due to the obviuos consequneces of the massive chemical attack on the Amazon (face it - the effects of this spraying is not going to be felt on the world supply of coca, it'll impact the local peasants and the local environment, a significant piece of Amazonic rainforest). Human rights groups have had to react to the aerial spraying but this is the first thing I've seen (as far as I can remember) on the environmental front. A little too late.
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Comment #1 posted by John Markes on March 22, 2001 at 12:20:24 PT
New Income Source
As long as they were already exposed, the affected Columbian people should sue Monsanto for damages, a new source of income for them. The company pushed to get its toxic product in use there, so it should be responsible for the medical problems and damages. They can have a U.S. based attorney file the suit in the USA or locally. In the USA would be better for good publicity...
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