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[OPIRG-EVENTS] Colombians bypass Plan Colombia

Colombians bypass Plan Colombia
Jane's Information Group -29, May, 2001

Vast stretches of southern Colombia now look like desert - crops
withered away, the ground parched and brown, vegetation burnt by
chemicals. The American-sponsored aerial drug eradication, the
biggest in the world, is well under way, destroying every plant that
grows over 30,000 hectares in this fragile Amazonian ecosystem.
"This is a carefully planned campaign," says James Mack, the
American point-man for Plan Colombia, the anti-drugs plan financed
by $1.3 billion of American aid. "These crop-dusting aircraft are
spraying areas plotted with aerial photographs and are guided by
satellite positioning systems."

On the ground, however, there is evidence that legal crops are being
destroyed too. Fields of plantain, almost a mile from the nearest
drug field, were withered and brown after the passing of a crop-
dusting plane. While the fumigation campaign has been going since
the end of last year, the other component of Plan Colombia, the $80m
to help coca farmers switch to legal crops, has not arrived. "What
are we supposed to do?" asks Cecilia Amaya, who heads a peasant
association based in Puerto Asis, the largest town in Putumayo
province. "The promised help has not arrived, and we suspect it will
never arrive. Corrupt politicians have already pocketed it."

The big worry is over the effect that spraying chemicals will have
on the local residents who breathe it and on the environment in
general. Mack insists that the glyphosate used in the spraying is
completely safe and used by millions of Americans as a weed killer.

In America, though, it is not being sprayed on people tending their
fields; Americans drink piped water, not from streams and lakes
dusted with the chemicals as in Putumayo. The US Environmental
Protection Agency says glyphosate-based products should be handled
with caution and could cause vomiting, swelling of the lungs,
pneumonia, mental confusion and tissue damage.

Are children suffering?

The clinics around Putumayo all have reports of illnesses associated
with the chemical spraying, particularly among children. "We are
getting cases every week of some mild poisoning and the eye, skin
and breathing problems which occur after the planes have passed over
and dropped their loads," said a nurse at San Francisco Hospital in
Puerto Asis.

Many insist the problem is not going away, just shifting location,
most immediately to the neighbouring province of Narino. But the
most obvious result of the fumigation in Putumayo is the explosion
of new coca crops, not the large fields that attract the crop-
dusting aircraft but small plots behind peasant shacks. Plan
Colombia and the crop dusting aircraft are only targeting drug
plantations of more than three hectares. So new fields of less than
three hectares are appearing all over the region.

Coca growing is becoming the new cottage industry and no aerial
eradication programme will be able to destroy these mini-

'The farmers grow it, the gringos consume it'

Few Colombians believe the American strategy has any chance of
success. The street price of cocaine has not changed since the
fumigations began. The only visible effects are the ravaged
landscape, some 10,000 people displaced since the programme began at
the end of last year, and an increase in acts of violence. A kilo of
cocaine is worth up to $50,000 in the United States, $80,000 in
Europe, and most Colombians believe that as long as the demand
remains the supply will feed it.

For the country's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed
Forces of Colombia (Farc), which controls much of Putumayo and
profits from the drug trade, Plan Colombia is everything they
predicted, as Commandant Simon Trinidad, a Farc spokesman, explained
in his Marxist jargon:

"The United States is attacking the Colombian peasant who makes
nothing from the drugs, while huge profits are made by gringo drug
dealers and deposited in gringo banks."

Copyright 2001 Jane's Information Group Limited
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