Colombian Indigenous Leaders Oppose Plan Colombia Fumigation

Tony Abdo aabdo at
Sun Mar 18 06:15:35 MST 2001

from ----

Third World
U.S. Anti-Drug Aid Endangers Indigenous Communities and Amazon

NEWS RELEASE: November 16,
Indigenous Leaders Available for Interviews
CONTACT:  Betsy Boatner, Amazon Alliance, 202-785-3334
Clark, Washington Office on Latin America, 202-797-2171
U.S Anti-Drug Aid Endangers
Indigenous Communities and Amazon Biodiversity

Indigenous leaders and scientists caution that aerial fumigation of drug
crops with chemical herbicides could seriously threaten the health of
Amazonian communities and ecosystems that are among the most diverse in
the world.  Studies show that fumigation abroad will not decrease drug
use in the US.

§         Emperatriz Cahuache (Cocama), President,
Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon   
§         Francisco Tenorio (Paez), President,
Regional Indigenous Organization of Putumayo  
§         Luis Naranjo, Director of International
Programs, American Bird Conservancy
§         Elsa Nivia, Colombia Regional Coordinator,
Pesticide Action Network
§         David Olson, Director of Conservation
Science, World Wildlife Fund 
§         Jeremy Bigwood, Mycotoxicologist,
Independent Investigator and Journalist
§         Ricardo Vargas, Drug Policy Expert, Acción
§         Sanho Tree, Director, Drug Policy Project,
Institute for Policy Studies
WHAT:                Press conference to
discuss potential impacts of drug crop fumigation in Colombia.
Sponsored by the Amazon Alliance, the Institute for Policy Studies, the
Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation, the U.S./Colombia Coordinating
Office, and the Washington Office on Latin America
WHERE:             Hart Senate Office Building,
Rm. 708, 2nd and C Streets, NE
WHEN:             Monday, November 20th, 11:00am
Washington, D.C. – An international coalition of indigenous,
environmental, human rights, and policy organizations warn that
escalation of the U.S.-funded Colombian government's herbicide spraying
program to erradicate illicit crops could seriously harm the health of
indigenous and peasant communities, endanger the biodiverse ecosystems
of the Amazon Basin, and fail to reduce overall drug production and use
in the U.S.  The Colombian National Police, assisted by U.S.
government spray aircraft, fuel, escort helicopters, and private
military contractors, will significantly increase aerial fumigation
operations in December in the southern state of Putumayo.

Fifty-eight indigenous peoples are among those affected by fumigation in
the Colombian Amazon.  Their territories cover almost half of the
region.  Emperatriz Cahuache, President of the Organization of
Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon, stated "Fumigation violates
our rights and territorial autonomy. It has intensified the violence of
the armed conflict and forced people to leave their homes after their
food crops have been destroyed."  

"Aerial eradication, and the thousands of U.S.-trained soldiers deployed
in the region, are escalating social tension and political violence,"
added Bill Spencer, Deputy Director of the Washington Office on Latin
America.  "These operations force many peasants to join the ranks of
the guerrillas or to flee the region - adding to the hundreds of
thousands of Colombians displaced internally or abroad."

The Human Rights Ombudsman offices at the national and local level have
also registered hundreds of complaints from peasants throughout Colombia
that aerial eradication has caused eye, respiratory, skin, and digestive
ailments, destroyed subsistence crops, sickened domesticated animals,
and contaminated water supplies.  These complaints, and other
occupation health data warning against direct human exposure, suggest
that the impact on human health could be extremely detrimental. 

According to Linda Farley, American Birds Conservancy Science Officer,
"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. Aside from non-target plant species
killed by aerial "drift" during spraying operations, glyphosate has
well-documented deleterious effects on soil micro-organisms, mammalian
life including humans, invertebrates, and aquatic organisms, especially
fish."  This represents a major cause for concern since a signficant
portion of coca cultivation occurs alongside rivers in the Colombian
Amazon that flow directly into Ecuador and Brazil. Moreover, the
ecosystems of Colombia contain approximately 10% of the world's
terrestrial plant and animal species. 
"Deforestation has also increased as farmers whose coca crops have been
sprayed move deeper into the rainforests," Farley continued.  In this
sense, glyphosate spraying is already having a significant detrimental
effect on the endemic and threatened birds of Colombia, as 95% of the 75
plus threatened species are forest-dependent.
Colombia is one of the richest areas in the world in terms of birds

On top of these concerns, drug policy experts argue that source-country
counternarcotic strategies will never be successful at decreasing
overall drug production because cultivation will shift to other regions
and countries around the world.  Coca and opium poppy production in
Colombia tripled from 1994 to 1999, despite fumigating over 240,000
hectares of illicit crops with more than two million liters of
glyphosate.  Experts argue that the stated goal of the $1.3 billion
U.S aid package for Plan Colombia – to reduce drug use in the streets
of America – will never be achieved by aerial fumigation or other
supply-side strategies. 

"Until we admit the drug economy is driven by three problems we refuse
to seriously address – poverty in drug producing countries, demand in
rich countries, and the "value added" to these relatively worthless
crops by prohibition policies –  we will never get a handle on the
problem," stated Sanho Tree, Director of the Drug Policy Project at the
Institute for Policy Studies. 

Bill Piper, Associate Director of Public Policy and Legislative Affairs
for the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation echoed his concerns, 
"When Congress chose to spend over hundreds of millions of dollars on
risky counter-narcotic efforts in Colombia instead of closing the
treatment gap here at home, the door was closed on thousands of
Americans needing help, while innocent Colombians were made to pay a
horrible price for our country's addictions."

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