BOGOTA, Colombia - President Andres Pastrana's U.S.-backed
offensive against drug crops has hit a flurry of domestic
opposition from critics who say aerial spraying harms people and
the environment, punishes poor farmers and has failed to stem drug
The groundswell against Plan Colombia comes as the U.S. Congress
debates new aid for Colombia and Washington prepares to deliver
sophisticated helicopters as part of a $1.3 billion aid package
approved last year in support of the program.
The first three of 16 Blackhawk helicopters are expected to
arrive by the end of July and the remainder by December. The
helicopters will give greater mobility to U.S.-trained army
battalions assigned to destroy jungle drug laboratories and provide
security against rebel fire for aerial spraying missions using
Colombian anti-narcotics police officers keep guard as planes fumigate coca crops in the department of Narino, in southwestern Colombia. President Andres Pastrana's U.S.-backed push to eradicate drug crops has run into a flurry of domestic opposition from critics who say the aerial spraying is harming human health and the environment, punishing poor farmers and failing to stem drug trafficking. (AP Photo/Scott Dalton,)
The State Department also expects to deliver four additional
crop-dusting planes next month and eight more by February.
Colombian and U.S. officials have given repeated assurances that
the eradication push only targets large-scale coca and opium
plantations operated by drug traffickers. They say the chemical
used, a variant of the popular backyard fertilizer Roundup, is
ecologically harmless and safe for humans.
But environmentalists, human rights activists and small farmers
- who say their crops are also being hit - remain staunchly
Their arguments are now echoing on the political level, where
governors from the main drug-producing states, Colombia's top human
rights official, the nation's comptroller general and a leading
lawmaker from Pastrana's own party came out this week against the
Conservative Party Sen. Juan Manuel Ospina said Thursday he
plans to introduce legislation sharply scaling back forced aerial
fumigation, requiring more emphasis on aid to help farmers switch
to legal crops, and decriminalizing small drug plots. Fumigation
``has been absolutely ineffective in reducing or eliminating the
areas under cultivation,'' Ospina said in an interview.
At a congressional hearing Wednesday, Comptroller Carlos Ossa
called for fumigation to be suspended altogether, saying it is
proceeding without an approved environmental protection plan.
Federal human rights ombudsman Eduardo Cifuentes also demanded a
stop, adding that government offers of compensation for poor
farmers are lagging far behind the spraying.
Earlier in the week, six governors from some of the country's
main drug producing states forced a meeting with top officials in
Bogota in which they warned current policies could provoke mass
protests in their regions.
So far, Pastrana shows no signs of bending.
Spraying of heroin plantations continued this week in Cauca and
Narino, even as those states' governors were in Bogota registering
their protests. Anti-narcotics police chief Gen. Gustavo Socha
blamed the criticism on ``drug traffickers'' spreading
Any scaleback in forced eradication would likely put the
government at odds with Washington, whose number one priority in
Colombia is the drug war. Colombia is the world's leading cocaine
exporting nation and a major supplier of heroin to the United
U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson on Wednesday reaffirmed aerial
eradication as a ``key'' to its aid program. The embassy has
commissioned a study it believes will refute claims that the
spraying is causing respiratory and skin ailments among farmers and
The U.S. Congress last week began consideration of an $882
million follow-up aid package floated by the Bush administration
for Colombia and its Andean neighbors. Concerns about fumigation -
and the military's human rights record - are expected to arise.
A leading conservation group, World Wildlife Fund, sent a letter
to members of Congress last week warning that fumigation threatens
Colombia's biodiversity and urging a moratorium ``at least until an
adequate environmental impact study has been conducted.''
The latest controversy follows what U.S. officials are calling a
successful start to the eradication push, which began late last
year in Putumayo, the largest coca-growing province.
Since January, according to official figures released here this
week, spraying has done away with 128,000 acres of coca - more than
one-third of the amount U.S. officials estimated was growing in
Colombia at the end of last year. Gonzalo de Francisco, the
government's point man for Putumayo, said he has also signed up
more than 40,000 peasant families in agreements to manually
eradicate their coca in return for aid to grow legal crops.
Copyright © 2001 The Associated Press