BOGOTA - Six governors from southern Colombia asked
President Andrés Pastrana on Monday to order a halt to the use of
the glyphosate and other herbicides in eradicating illicit drug
crops, charging that the chemicals endanger human health and the
Governors Pablo Muñoz, of Caquet department, Floro Tunubal, of
Cauca, Parmenio Cuéllar, of Nariño, Juan Cárdenas of Huila, Iván
Guerrero, of Putumayo, and Alfonso Jaramillo, of Tolima, explained
to Pastrana that the situation confronting the region is
explosive, as 35,000 indigenous peoples and peasants are
threatening to rise up in protest against the fumigations.
Governor Tunubal said that the aerial spraying begun last week
under the orders of the National Anti-Narcotics Directorate is an
attack ''against the life'' of his community, because the
glyphosate used also kills the areas food crops, contaminates the
water supply and surrounding jungle and, most importantly, harms
the health of the peasant farmers.
The fumigation operations are ''costly and ineffective,'' as
proved by the experience of the last 25 years. In that period, the
authorities have been using the herbicide to eradicate illicit
crops - including coca (used to make cocaine), marijuana, and
poppies (to produce heroin) - ''but the total area covered by
these plantations has expanded from 20,000 to 160,00 hectares,''
Tunubal pointed out.
The governors exhorted Pastrana to comply with the accord that
was signed in 1999 to put an end to a protest at that time against
state-ordered herbicide spraying. The agreement included the
suspension of fumigations in exchange for voluntary eradication of
the illicit crops by hand.
The departmental leaders also called on the president to adopt
an alternative plan that they have presented to the international
community, proposing the integral development of the southern
portion of the country as an alternative to Plan Colombia, which
is Pastrana's strategy to combat the drug trade and to attend to
The People's Defender (ombudsman), Eduardo Cifuentes, repeated
Monday that the decision of the National Anti-Narcotics
Directorate to conduct aerial herbicide fumigation in southern
Colombia ''will bring grave consequences for the local ecosystems
and for the health of the region's inhabitants.''
''I believe that the state should have a margin of autonomy in
managing its internal policies... and in considering the effects
that this decision (to fumigate) has on the environment and the
population,'' said the government official, referring to the
Pastrana administration's promise to the United States under Plan
Colombia to eradicate illicit crops here within the next five
Plan Colombia, which Bogotá and Washington define as ''a
strategy for peace, prosperity and the strengthening of the
state,'' has been loudly criticized by some 60 non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) in Colombia, Europe and United States that
claim it is causing an escalation of the country's decades-long
The government-sponsored strategy has a budget of 7.5 billion
dollars, of which the United States is providing 1.3 billion,
largely in military aid for the anti-narcotics efforts underway in
the Colombian south and southeast, which are also regions with a
high presence of leftist guerrillas.
The policy to eradicate the illegal plantations of coca,
marijuana and poppies should be carried out, but through measures
that are ''reasonable and in line with the Colombian
Constitution,'' underscored Cifuentes.
The country's environmental legislation involves the universal
principle of precaution, which in this case requires the
authorities - the Ministry of Environment - to suspend the
fumigations until they have scientific proof that its effects are
innocuous for people and the environment, said the People's
Nevertheless, in Colombia, the application of glyphosate and
other mixes of herbicides and agro-chemicals in anti-drug efforts
has continued despite the fact that the Ministry of Environment
has said the National Anti-Narcotics Directorate does not possess
an environmental management plan for carrying out the fumigations.
Marco Romero, of the state-run National University, said in
comments to IPS that the Directorate has pursued aerial spraying
of drug crops ''in an irresponsible way, violating all the related
environmental and constitutional laws.''
The fumigation of illicit crops is outlined in the anti-drug
policy executed by the Pastrana government, and is closely linked
to the vision the United States holds of the drug trafficking
problem, says the academic.
In Romero's opinion, the US approach is that the narcotics
trade exists because Colombia has illegal drug plantations and, as
a result, it is a problem that must be attacked at the source of
But many Colombian analysts interpret it the other way around:
illicit crops exist because they are encouraged by the lucrative
drug trade. One proof of this thesis is the ease with which the
drug crops reappear in other areas following fumigation at any
Nariño's Governor Cuéllar says that the government's zeal to
eradicate drug crops using aerial fumigations obeys the
obligations the Pastrana administration has to the United States
under Plan Colombia and Washington's approach to the narcotics
In Cuéllar's opinion, the United States sees the problem as the
mere existence of the drug crops, while for Colombians these
plantations exist because of ''the poverty and marginalization of
the peasant farmers.''
The meeting of Colombia's southern governors coincided Monday
with the request in Brussels by European Parliament deputy Joaquín
Miranda, of Portugal, that Pastrana renounce aerial spraying of
drug crops in the Colombian south and that he back the alternative
plan proposed by the departmental leaders.
According to the European deputy, the fumigations carried out
''could ruin the possibilities proposed by those communities'' and
their authorities to resolve the problem of illicit crops through
manual eradication, crop substitution programs and other
The Cauca governor had presented this possibility in April
before the European Parliament and the European Commission, the
executive body of the European Union, both of which gave the
alternative plan their support.
Copyright 2001 IPS