PANNA: Action Alert: Stop Aerial Fumigation Program in Colombia


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Action Alert: Stop Aerial Fumigation Program in Colombia
July 11, 2001

Last year the United States Congress approved US$1.3 billion to fund Plan Colombia, a program originally conceived by former President Bill Clinton and now embraced by President George W. Bush to eliminate all cocaine production in Colombia. Aerial spraying of a highly concentrated pesticide on coca bushes, whose leaves provide the raw material for cocaine, is a key element of the Plan. This year, the Bush Administration has proposed a US$882 million "Andean Regional Initiative" that will continue support for Plan Colombia and extend throughout the Andes its increasingly militarized approach to addressing drugs while heightening instability in the region. The Washington Office on Latin America, a non-governmental organization that promotes human rights, democracy and social and economic justice in Latin America, urges U.S. citizens to contact their Representatives immediately and tell them to vote for amendments to cut military aid to Columbia and suspend aerial fumigation.

Since its inception eight months ago Plan Colombia, promoted by the U.S. and Colombian governments and accepted by the British and other European Union countries, has failed to stem coca production. Meanwhile, it has caused vast damage to human health and the environment. Under the Plan, the Colombian armed forces are being given U.S. weapons and training in order to secure guerrilla-held territory in the drug-producing regions of southern Colombia. Planes then fly over fields of coca spraying a glyphosate-based, broad-spectrum herbicide to destroy the illegal crops. The Colombian government has been spraying herbicides on drug fields for decades, but escalated the program with U.S. support in December 2000. Since that time, close to 40,000 hectares of land in southern Colombia have been sprayed.

The spraying has not destroyed the majority of the coca bushes. Pesticide drift is inevitable with any aerial spraying and is exacerbated under Plan Colombia since planes fly higher than normal to avoid armed attack. The herbicides are consequently spread far beyond the targeted coca fields and into fields of food crops, other natural vegetation and waterways of the fragile ecosystem of the Amazon basin. Against a growing mass of evidence to the contrary, the Colombian and U.S. governments claimed last month that the aerial spraying did not cause any injury or significant damage to the environment. This is not the reality on the ground. Food crops on small family farms have been destroyed, children from local schools are showing signs of serious skin lesions that heal over but continually reappear and animals and fish have died by the tens of thousands.

Roundup Ultra (active ingredient glyphosate), containing Cosmoflux 411F, is a weedkiller that is being sprayed on fields and surrounding villages in a concentration 100 times greater than is permitted in the U.S., according to an article in The Observer, a U.K. newspaper. The pesticide is manufactured by the U.S.-based Monsanto Corporation using the British ingredients hexitan esters (supplied by ICI Specialty Chemicals) and liquid isoparafins (manufactured by Exxon). After publication of The Observer article, ICI announced that it would no longer supply its products for use in Plan Colombia.

Elsa Nivía, a Colombian agronomist and director of Pesticide Action Network Colombia, ridicules the U.S. government's claims that Roundup Ultra is safe and no more poisonous than aspirin or table salt. She has written that in the first two months of this year local authorities reported that 4,289 humans suffered skin or gastric disorders, and that the chemicals killed 178,377 animals including cattle, horses, pigs, dogs, ducks, hens and fish.

Citing concerns about crop destruction and reports of respiratory and skin ailments in communities following fumigation, the Colombian government's Ombudsman has called for a suspension of aerial fumigation. Such efforts to combat drugs at the source have proven ineffective, since they merely shift drug production to different regions and countries.

Action needed this week:

The main opportunity to change U.S. policy towards Colombia is on upcoming votes in Congress on the Andean Regional Initiative. The full House of Representatives will debate and vote on a large part of the Initiative on July 17, 2001. There will be amendments to cut military aid to Colombia and to suspend aerial spraying programs. The Senate will also take up this legislation in the coming weeks and again in September, when amendments to cut military aid are also expected.

Please contact your Representative and urge him or her to vote for amendments to cut military aid to Colombia and suspend aerial fumigation. Please also contact your Senators, urge them to support amendments to cut military aid to Colombia, and tell them about your concerns regarding fumigation. Tell your Members of Congress that a more effective policy would expand funding for drug treatment centers in the U.S. and alternative development programs in the Andes that provide small farmers with assistance to switch to legal crops.

For your U.S. Representatives' contact information, see http://www.house.gov and http://www.senate.gov, or call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

For more information on Plan Colombia, visit http://www.wola.org, http://lawg.org, http://www.ciponline.org, or http://www.usfumigation.org.

Sources: Washington Office on Latin America Action Alert: "Congress to Consider U.S. Anti-drug Policy Towards Colombia in Coming Days: Tell Congress to Stop Aerial Defoliation Program" (July, 2001); Hugh O'Shaughnessy "How global battle against drugs risks backfiring" The Observer June 17, 2001; and Antony Barnett and Solomon Hughes "ICI pulls out of cocaine war" The Observer July 1, 2001 (both Observer articles available online at http://www.guardian.co.uk).

Contact: Washington Office on Latin America; 1630 Connecticut Ave., NW Suite 200, Washington, DC 20009; phone (202) 797 -- 2171; fax: (202) 797-2172; email thodges@wola.org; Web site http://www.wola.org.

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