Colombians bypass Plan Colombia
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... Coca growing is becoming the new cottage industry and no aerial eradication programme will be able to destroy these mini-plantations. 'The farmers grow it, the gringos consume it' ...."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.
JANE'S FOREIGN REPORT
April 26, 2001
Colombians bypass Plan Colombia
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-plantations. '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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