Colombia anti-drug campaign comes under fire

U.S.-backed drive called peril to economy, health

March 14, 2001|By COX NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - A $1.3 billion U.S.-sponsored program to eradicate illicit drug crops in South America came under fire yesterday from four Colombian governors who claimed that the program is destroying their region's economy and threatening the health of its citizens.

The governors, from four states in the southern region of Colombia where most of the coca and poppies used in the production of cocaine and opium are grown, said the military eradication efforts adopted by the United States last July and supported by Colombian President Andres Pastrana are opposed by local officials.

They claimed that aerial fumigation efforts are killing legal crops often planted in the same area by peasant farmers.

Despite assurances by the United States that the chemicals are not harmful to humans and livestock, the governors said there had been a sharp increase in health problems including birth defects, skin rashes and other illnesses.

Instead of large-scale aerial fumigation, the governors proposed a "social pact" of voluntary, manual eradication efforts that would compensate small growers by assuring them a multiyear guarantee of food, technical assistance to grow profitable crops and a lowering of international trade barriers.

In the state of Putumayo, where 60 percent of Colombia's coca is grown, Gov. Ivan Guerrero said that coca production has increased since the 1980s while legal crops have been destroyed and the economy disrupted.

"We do want to fight against the coca crop," Guerrero said, a comment echoed by his fellow governors. "If fumigation has had some 15 years, why not give two or three years to a social pact?"

Gov. Parmenio Cuellar of Narino said most of the nation's 32 governors agree that the coca eradication part of Plan Colombia is a mistake that "has caused environmental and social harm."

Of voluntarily eradicating coca in exchange for government support, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State James F. Mack said, "Unless you do the spraying, people are going to forget the other side of the equation. They'll forget to destroy coca. It will not happen."

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