Drug war is killing food crops
Columbia's national ombudsman has issued a
stinging critique of a U.S.-funded drug-crop eradication campaign,
saying that "indiscriminate" herbicide spraying had
wiped out food crops across southern Colombia.
Human-rights ombudsman Eduardo Cifuentes called for an immediate
halt to all counter-narcotics operations involving aerial herbicide
spraying, saying that the U.S.-supplied technology being used
was not distinguishing between legal and illegal cultivation.
the ombudsman is a government appointee, his recommendations
are not binding and do not carry a government stamp of approval.
His independent study does, however, call into question the intelligence
used by the United States to target drug crops in a $1.3 billion
U.S. counternarcotics program in Colombia.
A report by Cifuentes said, in effect, that while the Colombian
government and the United Nations were substituting legal crops
into southern Colombia in hopes of weaning farmers from dependence
on drug-crop income, government military and police forces were
using U.S. military aid to kill those same crops with herbicides.
The government says about 65,000 acres of coca were destroyed
during a six-week eradication campaign in December and January
by U.S. trained troops and police
The ombudsman's report, distributed recently, comes at a time
of growing clamor throughout Colombia to suspend the use of military
aircraft and troops to attack cocaine-production facilities in
southern Colombia. The program is the central aspect of the U.S.
aid provided to support Plan Colombia, a counternarcotics and
crop-substitution program launched last year by President Andres
Pastrana ordered a halt to the spraying campaign nearly two weeks
ago as he was preparing for a landmark meeting with the head
of the nation's largest guerrilla group., the Revolutionary Armed
Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the FARC has been among the chief
opponents of the campaign, but U.S. and Colombian officials accuse
the guerrillas of profiting from "war taxes" they collect
from coca farmers and drug traffickers.
Cifuentes said that crops eradicated during the campaign included
those planted under six separate alternative-development programs
sponsored by the U.N. Development Program, European governments
and the Colombian government.
Investigators from the ombudsman's office, responding to complaints
from farmers, found damage inflicted on legal food crops in at
least nine towns and villages targeted by government counternaroctics
forces in southern Colombia.
In interviews before the report was released, police officials
defended the herbicide-spraying campaign as virtually foolproof.
Gen. Gustavo Socha Salamanca, chief of the counternarcotics police
force, said the eradication program relies on U.S. satellite
intelligence, along with human intelligence obtained from aerial
surveillance of areas under coca cultivation.
"It is said that the police have engaged in acts of indiscriminate
spraying of legal crops," he said "This is not true.
There is no possibility that our planes can spray over legal
crops or populated zones."