Flap over Fumigation

The escalating legal and political battle over a massive aerial fumigation program to eradicate illicit coca and poppy cultivation in the southern Colombian interior has sparked a renewed national debate over the mounting environmental and social costs of the U.S.-sponsored Plan Colombia. The independent El Espectador of Bogotá (Aug. 2) contended in an editorial that the fumigation program, carried out with U.S. surveillance and technical support, has been implemented without consultation with local farmers, review of the potential environmental impact, or support for development of alternative cash crops.

“Unfortunately, the Americans and, therefore, the [Colombian] government have launched a drive to increase fumigations...without giving poor campesinos any option,” the editorial said.

Sergio Gómez Maseri, Washington correspondent for the centrist El Tiempo of Bogotá (Aug. 5), reported that heightened U.S. congressional resistance to continued U.S. support for fumigation and aircraft interceptions—two pillars of the Bush administration’s drug interdiction policy—has placed the entire U.S. campaign in Colombia in jeopardy. “Most serious of the evident absence of leadership to defend...this policy,” Gómez added, which is further complicated by the perception in Washington that it would be futile to embark on a new drug control strategy with President Andrés Pastrana entering the final year of his tenure.

Luz María Sierra in El Tiempo (Aug. 5) predicted serious setbacks for the Colombian military if suspension of fumigation results in a resurgence in drug-trafficking profits—considered a key source of support for Colombia’s guerrilla and paramilitary groups. Sierra quoted the rhetorical question posed by a top diplomat in Pastrana’s government: “Have Colombians asked themselves what could happen if fumigation were suspended?”

After ordering a temporary suspension of fumigation in July pending review of a suit filed by an indigenous people’s organization seeking a permanent halt to the program, a Bogotá Circuit Court judge ruled on Aug. 6 that evidence presented by the plaintiffs and the government did not provide conclusive proof of lasting damage to human health, the local ecosystem, or the cultural integrity of indigenous communities, reported El Tiempo (Aug. 7).

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