BOGOTA, Colombia A new government report has raised fresh doubts about Washington's drug-fighting strategy in Colombia, saying aerial fumigation of crops may be damaging the environment and is failing to curb drug production.
The report from the nation's comptroller-general's office urged President Andres Pastrana to suspend the spraying of drug crops until scientists can study the environmental effects of the herbicide.
"The majority of the environmental damages are irreversible," claimed the report, which was released Saturday.
The spraying of cocaine and heroin-producing crops is a major component of Pastrana's Plan Colombia, an anti-drug strategy that Washington is supporting with $1.3 billion in aid.
Gonzalo de Francisco, Pastrana's top adviser in the drug war, said the U.S.-backed plan was on track and that criticism that the sprayings were causing environmental damage was unfounded.
"Plan Colombia was never meant to be something that would happen overnight," de Francisco said. "I am convinced that we are on the point of achieving what we set out to do, which is eradicating drug production in Colombia."
The report from Comptroller-General Carlos Ossa's office said the eradication campaign has failed to curb the drug industry in Colombia the world's main producer of cocaine and the main exporter of heroin to the United States.
The overall acreage of drug crops continue to expand and is moving to other areas of the country, and is even jumping the border into neighboring countries, the report said.
It urged the government to devise strategies other than forced eradication to curb drug production, and said promised social aid for coca farmers struggling to switch to legal crops has been insufficient and slow to arrive a point acknowledged by a high-level delegation of the Bush administration that visited Colombia last week.
The report cannot force the government to take specific action. However, it can be used as a weapon by Plan Colombia's other opponents.
A Bogota judge recently ordered a temporary halt to the fumigations in Amazonian Indian lands, acting on a request by the tribes there. That ban has since been lifted.
Under the U.S.-backed plan, crop-dusting planes have destroyed some 125,000 acres of coca the raw ingredient of cocaine using the herbicide glyphosate. Critics have charged that the herbicide is making people sick and polluting the environment. U.S. officials say it is safe.
The drug industry is fueling a 37-year civil conflict pitting the guerrillas against the government and the paramilitaries.
© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press