Mary Barr


With Plan Colombia, we have taken the “War on Drugs,” literally by trying to eradicate Coca, the weed that cocaine is made from.  The problem with declaring war on this weed, is that it grows like---a weed.  In a June 2003 Witness for Peace delegation, I visited the Putumayo region of Colombia and saw many devastated fields.  In one field a farmer had burned Coca off their land in compliance with U.S. contracts.  In one blackened area, there was a tiny green plant sticking up out of the middle. If you guessed that it was Coca, you can go to the head of the class.  In my estimation we can’t effectively kill this weed or Poppy and Cannabis weeds either.

The plan is to give farmers a one-time payment of  (?) to plant alternative crops like corn, rice and Heart of Palm.  Heart of Palm takes fifteen months to grow, while Coca takes only three months to grow.  Rice takes only four months to grow but you need tons of it to make the same profit from one kilo of coca.  I wondered how all the farmers voluntarily agreed with this plan. In interviews with the non-profits that implement the plan, I found out that if one farmer in a community agreed, they all had to agree, or no payment.  Plus they would be placed on the list for fumigation.  This caused a lot of arguments in the pueblitos, where 90% of the rural population lives in abject poverty, and pressure to sign on was great. 

We were lead through three farms by Don Ishmael, his wife and cousin. All of these farms had eradicated coca over two years ago, at the beginning of Plan Colombia. In walking for many miles we saw no Coca but they all had been fumigated, the last time only two days before. At one patch of Heart of Palm the Senora stopped me and started to cry.  I guess she was around sixty years old, and she had spent days in the blasting heat of the region to plant these crops, which were totally devastated.  She told me it was the third time she planted and had her crops fumigated.  Then she said something that made me grab an interpreter thinking that my Spanish was faulty.  She repeated that these were Plan Colombia crops.  The very crops we had paid her and given her seed and instruction to plant!  And we had fumigated them not once, but three times.  Of all the things I learned this tiny crying woman moved me the most.   

On our way back from the country our bus was stopped and entered by a paramilitary soldier. There is a civil war going on in Colombia that is claiming many lives. We have sent 650 million dollars so far this year in military aid to Colombia and are planning to send more. The FARC, the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) are notorious for kidnapping and ransom tactics.  

When we went to our meeting at the U.S. embassy in Colombia we were told that there were over 8,000 complaints filed of erroneous fumigation of licit crops.   We asked how many were paid out and were told two!  We asked if that was because of budgetary concerns and were told they had an unlimited amount.  We asked what was paid out and they answered $6,000.  We then showed our pictures of fields of corn, Heart of Palm and other licit crops that had been fumigated from three farms.  An embassy official said that they would visit and, if they found the same conditions, would pay reparations. 

We also saw many fields of tall grass that fumigation had destroyed. This, along with poor roads and great distances to transport crops, is another obstacle for farmers in implementing alternatives to coca growing. Besides having less to feed their livestock, studies have shown it can make the animals sick and may cause deaths.  It is not yet known if the meat, milk or eggs from these animals will adversely effect humans. And we saw two water sources that were fumigated, which is illegal, and people and their livestock drink it.  During an interview with a nurse who participated in health studies on fumigation, she told us health problems in fumigated areas have doubled since it began. The folks at the embassy started out by saying there are no side effects from fumigation and then when we showed them a photo of a woman whose arms were burned from fumigation they said, “Oh yes, some people are allergic.” 

What if we hadn’t gone through the trouble we did to visit these farms, and what if the farmers had been afraid to allow us?  I am worried that some of these over 8,000 claims from farmers have validity and will never get paid.  Considering 90% of the rural population lives in abject poverty, this will add to the internal displacement and result in more refugees to the U.S.  We also run the risk of sending poor youth into the ranks of the AUC, FARC, and ELN whom we send the Colombian army our funds to fight.  Our tax dollars are being wasted and also used in an inhumane manner.  That only exacerbates the problems we claim to be trying to solve.


Home InitiativesConferencesDocumentsMama Coca

©2003 Mama Coca. Please share this information and help us to circulate it quoting Mama Coca.

br> ©2003 Mama Coca. Please share this information and help us to circulate it quoting Mama Coca.