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 cocaine.

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 people.