International Coalition condemns fumigation
At a November 20th, 2000 press conference in Washington,
DC an international coalition of indigenous, environmental, human
rights, and policy organizations warned that escalation of the
U.S.-funded Colombian government's herbicide spraying program
to eradicate 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. These warning 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 call attention to profound human rights
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
and January in the southern state of Putumayo. Fifty-eight indigenous
groups 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
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 occupational 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 significant
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 diversity."
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 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
For further information contact: Betsy Boatner, Amazon Alliance,
202-785-3334 or Peter Clark, Washington Office on Latin America,