Senator Wellstone fumigated in Colombia
Senator Paul Wellstone,
(D-MN), was accidentally sprayed with herbicide during a police
demonstration. According to some accounts, Sen. Wellstone and
his traveling delegation were sprayed with a mist of herbicide
as they watched the Colombian National Police demonstrate a new
approach to fumigating coca, the raw product used to produce
Wellstone was allowed too close to coca bushes in a remote area
near the Tarasa River and was hit with a fine mist of the chemical
from a helicopter flying less than 200 feet above him. He winced
and rubbed his eyes later, but managed a joke, saying he could
become a case study on possible dangers linked to the chemical.
Asked whether he was stunned to get hit, the Minnesota Democrat
said, "Oh, yeah, and I'm imagining that I'm itching a lot,
too." Police officials said it was an accident, blaming
the wind for blowing the chemical - known as glysophate - from
its intended path.
Lt. Col. Marcos Pedreros, the police official in charge of the
spraying mission, had just assured Wellstone that the spray posed
no risk to humans, animals or the environment. Officials said
it's similar to Roundup, a commonly used herbicide. One member
of Wellstone's delegation was particularly angered and quoted
after she was sprayed.
"I really resented it," said Pamela Costain, executive
director of the Minneapolis-based Resource Center of the Americas,
who thinks the fumigation of coca fields could result in long-term
environmental damage. "I'm fearful about what they're using,
and I really didn't want to get it on me."
Wellstone is one of the few senators to oppose a $1.3 billion
U.S. aid plan approved ostensibly to help Colombia fight its
drug war. The plan is a pet project for Colombian President Andres
Pastrana, as well as US defense contractors selling helicopters
and other military equipment. Wellstone insisted that accepted
economic principles - good gains made for risking illicit production
- explain why peasant farmers will keep growing coca as long
as few legitimate jobs exist in a country where unemployment
hovers at 20 percent.
Wellstone flew to Barrancabermeja, becoming the first member
of Congress to visit what embassy officials called the most dangerous
city in Colombia. Under heavy security, he met with human-rights
groups who said the Colombian government is doing nothing to
protect civilians from the drug war, which is resulting in large-scale
massacres and record kidnappings.
Hopefully, Senator Wellstone will not be alone in Congress when
debate in 2001 arises over trimming or increasing aid to the
Colombia military in the increasingly hot war against its own