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Friday, June 08, 2007

Plan Colombia: What gives us the right?

From IPS News, we learn that Plan Colombia isn't even reducing the supply of cocaine:
COLOMBIA-ECUADOR: 'There Are No Plants or Animals Left'
By Constanza Vieira

Credit: Acción Ecológica

BOGOTA, Jun 6 (IPS) - A new U.S. government report acknowledges that coca crops expanded last year in Colombia, despite the heavy herbicide spraying carried out under Plan Colombia, which has been loudly protested by neighbouring Ecuador for causing damages to human and animal health and food crops in border areas.


Before she was lost in the crowd, the woman mentioned that in the area where she had been working, there were enormous quantities of coca, the raw material of cocaine, of which Colombia is the world's top producer and the United States the world's leading consumer market.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy's (ONDCP) 2006 report released Tuesday backs up her perception, reporting an eight percent increase in coca crops -- some 13,000 hectares more than in 2005, for a national total of 157,200 hectares.

The increase was seen despite the fact that roughly 213,700 hectares of coca were destroyed in 2006, mainly by spraying with glyphosate, an herbicide, but also by hand, under the Plan Colombia anti-drug and counterinsurgency strategy.

But look what it IS doing:

CIF found that spraying of coca in Colombia had impacted crops and human health in Ecuador at two, five and 10 km from the border. The group found evidence of health problems like respiratory and digestive ailments, skin rashes, and damages to the eyes.

"These four problems diminished the farther we got from the border," Spanish Dr. Adolfo Maldonado with the environmental group Acción Ecológica, one of the 11 Ecuadorian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that make up CIF, told IPS in Bogotá.

The umbrella group's first study found that a large number of animals, mainly fish, had died. No one has specifically studied the impact of the spraying in rivers and other water sources. "All of the campesinos (peasant farmers) mentioned that a large number of pregnant farm animals had miscarried," said Maldonado.

The second study compared the people on either side of the border. CIF found "a high level of stress" among the Ecuadorian population, because the campesinos weren't sure whether or not they should plant their crops, since the government has not been able to get the Colombian authorities to put a stop to the fumigations.


[In the third study] Samples were taken from 47 Colombian and Ecuadorian women who were selected because they live along the border and do not come into contact with pesticides in their work or other day-to-day activities, but were in the area when the Plan Colombia planes sprayed the glyphosate mix.

"We determined that 36 percent of the cells in the samples taken from the women were damaged, on average. A normal level of genetic damage in the population at large, whether urban or rural, is four percent, as was found in the control group of 25 women studied more than 80 km from the fumigated area, inside Ecuador," said Maldonado.

"That obviously means the risk of cancer, congenital malformations in fetuses or miscarriages is extremely high, practically 800 percent higher than normal," the doctor observed.


This fourth study covered 25 schools in Ecuador with more than 1,700 students, and discovered, besides the poor nutrition and diets, "significant behavioural anomalies among the children." As a result, the researchers called in a team of psychologists "to find out what was happening."

"We found that 40 percent of the children were depressed and 46 percent had problems with self-esteem. We also found a 70 percent reduction in learning abilities," a "terrible situation," he said.


But two years later, when they were once again asked to make drawings about the spraying, "the children began to show the bloodshed. What stood out in the drawings were the shooting and armed clashes. There was a major military presence, airplanes that practically filled the entire sheet of paper," he described.

In 2006, when the children were asked to draw a family, "we were absolutely shocked and shaken," said Maldonado.

"First of all, they stopped using colours. They abandoned colour. And second, they stopped drawing mouths. They no longer drew smiles. The only thing they put in were big open eyes, but no ears or mouths. That is a reflection of the children's inability to express what is happening," he said.

The psychologists summed up their findings "with a phrase that gave us all shivers: they had never seen children with ‘such low levels of happiness'."

One little boy, Diego Gonzaga, from the village of El Cóndor near the San Miguel River that marks the border, painted a pig lying upside down, and wrote: "My piggy died. I loved him very much. I was going to buy my uniform to go to school. I ask whoever sees and reads what is in my drawing to help me to be able to finish primary school. There are no plants or animals left."

Next to the San Miguel River is a warning sign that reads: "River polluted by Plan Colombia".


Now, the U.S. wants to repeat this kind of failure in Afghanistan:

Five years of faltering rural development plans have led to the US pushing for eradication through the spraying of herbicide, in the face of mounting opposition from European allies and Afghan officials.


However, Afghan officials and many western military officers argue that crop spraying will likely fuel the escalating insurgency, further complicating the fight on drugs.

"Aerial eradication will maximise the antagonism against the government," Mr Yasini said.


But Ms Felbab-Brown contested whether the programme could be effective. "The scenario that you suppress cultivation and they [insurgents] go bankrupt has not happened anywhere," she said.

She said the vast majority of poor poppy growers, facing the loss of their livelihood, would resort to desperate measures, including selling their daughters to pay debts, ending up in servitude or fleeing to Pakistan.

And really, even if it is "effective" - isn't that irrelevant? Just because we don't want drugs in our country, how does that make it okay for us to poison the land in another country?

Given the health problems seen as "collateral damage" of Plan Colombia - what gives us the right?

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

This Moment in Philly

Monday night I enjoyed a wonderful evening at the Philadelphia Free Library, where John and Teresa Kerry gave a talk on their new book, This Moment on Earth. Before the show, waiting in line for about an hour before doors opened, I had a great conversation with three local women who were quite excited for this opportunity to hear the Kerrys speak about their book.

As we waited, and chatted about current politics but of course also what we all knew we missed in 2004, I also remembered fondly the late October 2004 campaign stop in Philly. That was the first event where I had seen John Kerry in person, and probably the only time during the campaign that I heard a complete speech that he gave. While there'd been no doubt about my vote or commitment before that event, afterwards I realized what I'd been missing and I was annoyed with myself for not taking every possible opportunity to hear him speak. (I have since reordered my priorities in that respect. :) )

Anyway, back to Monday night. I'm sorry I didn't get photographs or audio to share with you, but I did take a few notes.

When JK came on he talked about how great it was to be in Philadelphia, how much he enjoyed the city, and did mention the big campaign rally in October 2004 as a fond memory. He also said they had just come from an event at the Academy of Natural Sciences - another of Philadelphia's many jewels, which is within a couple blocks of the library. He then introduced the book with the usual jokes, including that the book was produced from shredded Gonzales emails -adding, "I wish - but we couldn't find them," which got a nice chuckle from the crowd.

Getting into the serious stuff, JK talked about how the book was about optimism, about everyday people resolving problems in their own communities. He went on to describe some of the people in the book and the kinds of problems they were addressing. He tied these struggles into the political and cultural environment, with observations such as (these are all paraphrased of course):

JK went on to describe the mechanism of global warming in layman's terms. It was almost a little too lay for me, I was wincing at a couple of the simplifications, but I gotta remember that I was immensely privileged in the area of naturalist education in my upbringing, between growing up with a woods to roam in, a family that appreciated the outdoors, and the opportunity to study ecology in high school. I'm sure it was a helpful explanation for many in the audience. And I sure hope people start understanding this, because we will need educated voters to elect people who will start tackling environmental problems rather than denying them.

Finally, JK closed his portion by summing up what he sees as the three main efforts we need to undertake now to address global climate change: energy efficiency; alternative/renewable fuels; and clean coal technology. I know some folks think "clean coal technology" is a mirage at best, but I think that JK and others who really study it objectively understand that coal plants WILL be built no matter what, so the choice is what kind of coal plants will be built. It might be nice if we could just stop the coal industry in its tracks, but that's not realistic, folks. In any case, I don't know anyone who would disagree on the first two points, efficiency and alternative/renewable energy.

Next, Teresa spoke on her own experiences with environmental issues and her current concerns. She talked about her work that contributed to the greening of Pittsburgh, which was identified as America's "greenest city" a few years ago. This, by the way, is a truly amazing story of leadership to make something really big happen. One item she mentioned that I hadn't known before: when she took over the Heinz Foundations after John Heinz' passing, she instituted environmental criteria for the foundation's grants, to avoid their grant activity from contributing to the problem. That may seem kind of like a backroom detail, but that is how organizations are influenced to change - make the revenue stream dependent on the change. It is the vision to see those sorts of links and the determination to leverage them, that makes Teresa such an effective leader.

Teresa spoke a bit about some of the serious toxins issues we are faced with today. This is her area of expertise - if you missed it, be sure to check out the podcasts of her recent Women's Health and Environment conference, where the subject of environmental toxins was addressed in great detail.

She wrapped up with the story of the G-Diaper. She emphasized that this is an example of how people can create solutions to environmental problems, even when national leadership is failing us. As she said, it would be nice to have that national leadership, but when it isn’t there, we can still make a difference ourselves.

There was then a short Q & A, then we all headed upstairs for the book signing. The ladies I’d been sitting with were all gushing about what they’d just experienced… one said, “Oh my God, they’re so real” to which her sister fervently agreed; the third woman said something like “I think he’s so handsome!” which made me think of a few other “Kerrycrats” I know! (And of course I smiled and responded, yes they are, and yes he is. :) )

The book signing process was a little too much like an assembly line for me – it seemed the library staff really wanted to go home on time and were trying to get everyone through the line as quickly as possible. I swear they were glaring daggers at me for slowing the line to – gasp - exchange a few pleasantries with John and Teresa. It was great to have that brief opportunity though! And of course, they both looked great, and were quite gracious when we spoke. I think they must have been a bit tired of the assembly line by that time themselves (I had ended up near the end of the line, not wholly unplanned).

So that was my very pleasant “moment in Philly” on Monday night. Again I am sorry for the lack of photos, but ya know, I was too caught up in “the moment” to be fiddling with cameras and such.

I can leave you with this interview of the Kerrys done by the local radio station though – it’s very much worth the listen!

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