PUERTO ASIS, Colombia - The Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Putumayo
Zone (OZIP) and the 128 Indigenous Governing Councils in the Department of Putumayo
have issued a plea to the government of Colombia and the international community
not to spray their lands with herbicide intended to kill illegal coca plants.
The Colombian government has announced that on July 28 it will begin a massive
constant aerial spraying of illicit coca plants in the territory of Putumayo.
The groups say all forms of life will die in the spray, not just the coca plants.
At a meeting in Puerto Asis on July 9 and 10, indigenous leaders formally
called upon the Office of the Ombudsman of the People (Defensoría del Pueblo),
the attorney general, the minister of the environment, human rights organizations,
national and international NGOs, social organizations, and the rest of the population,
"to stand by us in denouncing, and helping to find peaceful solutions to, this
violent act of aerial spraying."
The Indigenous Authorities, 128 Governing Councils, of the indigenous peoples
of Putumayo signed an agreement with the Colombian government on July 26, 2001
that "specifies a commitment to the social, economic and cultural recovery and
reconstruction of our peoples affected by the invasion of our territories, as
well as a commitment on the part of indigenous peoples to voluntarily and gradually
substitute crops grown for illicit use."
The indigenous leaders said they are not drug traffickers and must not be
treated as such. "We are willing and committed to being a part of the solution
to the problem, but we demand that the government and its police force also comply,
and not spray those territories inhabited by the indigenous people and peasants
who signed, with the same government, serious agreements that bind both parties."
"We are directly affected by the problem," they said, "and the illicit crops
that we do have are grown for survival. They are not commercial fields and therefore
we should not be given the same treatment as criminals.
The indigenous people say they are abiding by the 2001 pact, entitled, "A
Mutual Agreement for the Substitution of Coca Crops for Illicit Use in the Department
of Putumayo," and they are asking that the government comply with the agreement
"We know from past experience that this aerial spraying will wipe out everything,"
the indigenous leaders said. "The small subsistence farms and gardens will be
exterminated, it will affect the flora and fauna, and the rich biodiversity of
the Amazon jungles will be poisoned with glyphosate."
"The conflict will intensify," they warn, "and a huge number of people will
be displaced from their homes. Even the investments that the government itself
has made in projects to support food security and cattle ranching will be destroyed."
The Indigenous Authorities have identified their communities on maps brought
to them by the government, so that they will not be sprayed. "Nevertheless," they
said, "we have fears and doubts, because a string of governments have accustomed
us to a historic lack of respect for pacts."
"Aerial spraying is death," they declare. "It is genocide. Glyphosate does
kill. It kills communities through death by hunger because they spray our daily
sustenance - the food, the pastures and the water."
The indigenous peoples of the Putumayo are the Muráis, Ingas, Quichuas,
Pastos, Awas, Paeces, Emberá, Sionas, Muinanes, Yanakonas, Kamentzá,
Koreguajes, and Kofanes.
They are asking for "the urgent presence of competent authorities that can
support us in finding solutions to this problem, and accompany us in denouncing
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2002