Son of Agent Orange

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon May 1 12:04:51 MDT 2000

New York Times, May 1, 2000

To Colombians, Drug War Is a Toxic Foe


RIOBLANCO DE SOTARÁ, Colombia -- The children and their teachers were in
the schoolyard, they say, playing soccer and basketball and waiting for
classes to begin when the crop-duster appeared. At first they waved, but as
the plane drew closer and a gray mist began to stream from its wings,
alarmed teachers rushed the pupils to their classrooms.

Over the next two weeks, a fleet of counternarcotics planes taking part in
an American-sponsored program to eradicate heroin poppy cultivation
returned here repeatedly. Time and time again, residents charge, the
government planes also sprayed buildings and fields that were not supposed
to be targets, damaging residents' health and crops.

"The pilot was flying low, so there is no way he could not have seen those
children," said Nidia Majín, principal of the La Floresta rural elementary
school, whose 70 pupils were sprayed that Monday morning last June. "We had
no way to give them first aid, so I sent them home. But they had to cross
fields and streams that had also been contaminated, so some of them got

In fact, say leaders of this remote Yanacona Indian village high in the
Andes, dozens of other residents also became ill during the spraying
campaign, complaining of nausea, dizziness, vomiting, rashes, blurred
vision and ear and stomach aches. They say the spraying also damaged
legitimate crops, undermining government efforts to support residents who
have abandoned poppy growing.

Such incidents are not limited to this village of 5,000, say critics in
Colombia and the United States, but have occurred in numerous parts of
Colombia and are bound to increase if the fumigation program is
intensified, as the Clinton administration is proposing as part of a $1.6
billion emergency aid package to Colombia.

Critics say they frequently receive reports of mistakes and abuses by the
planes' Colombian pilots that both the American and Colombian governments
choose to ignore.

State Department officials deny that indiscriminate spraying takes place,
with an American Embassy official in Bogotá describing the residents'
claims of illnesses as "scientifically impossible."

But to local leaders here the situation brought on by the spraying remains
one of crisis. "The fumigation was done in an indiscriminate and
irresponsible manner, and it did not achieve its objective," said Iván
Alberto Chicangana, who was the mayor when the spraying occurred.

"The damage done to the physical and economic well-being of this community
has been serious," he said, "and is going to be very difficult for us to

He and other local leaders say that people were sick for several weeks
after the spraying, and in interviews a few residents complained of lasting
symptoms. Three fish farms with more than 25,000 rainbow trout were
destroyed, residents said, and numerous farm animals, mostly chickens and
guinea pigs, died, while others, including some cows and horses, fell ill.

In addition, fields of beans, onions, garlic, potatoes, corn and other
traditional crops were sprayed, leaving plants to wither and die. As a
result, community leaders here say, crop-substitution projects sponsored by
the Colombian government have been irremediably damaged and their
participants left impoverished.

The spraying around this particular village has since stopped, residents
say, though they fear that it could resume at any time, and it continues in
neighboring areas, like nearby Guachicono, and year-round elsewhere in

Peasants in the coca-growing region of Caquetá, southeast of here, last
year complained to a reporter that spray planes had devastated the crops
they had planted after abandoning coca, and similar reports have emerged
from Guaviare, another province to the east.

Indeed, American-financed aerial spraying campaigns like the one here have
been the principal means by which the Colombian government has sought to
reduce coca- and opium-poppy cultivation for nearly a decade. The Colombian
government fleet has grown to include 65 airplanes and helicopters, which
fly every day, weather permitting, from three bases. Last year, the
spraying effort resulted in the fumigation of 104,000 acres of coca and
20,000 acres of opium poppy.

Yet despite such efforts, which have been backed by more than $150 million
in American aid, cocaine and heroin production in Colombia has more than
doubled since 1995.

Complete article at:

Louis Proyect

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