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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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