Alvaro Uribe's Reasons for Waging Chemical War Against the Colombian People

María Mercedes Moreno


Although the Andean-Amazon Region’s crisis as relates to the Drug War is an agricultural one and thus tied to crops growers’ issues, I believe the division between grower and producer countries is a false abstraction of something which is very complex.  As far as one can see from studies and experiences, all countries enjoy and suffer (if you like) using and producing what is known as drugs. Some grow marihuana as in the case of the United States, some coca as Colombia does and some produce Ecstasy like Holland. And, as far a one can see, all countries currently consume and have historically consumed some sort of mind-altering substances.


Thus Colombia’s misfortune is not that it grows marihuana, coca and poppy or that it produces other mind-altering substances from these plants. No, its great fault −that has bred a crisis which the Drug War has come to fuel into a monstrous humanitarian tragedy− is a totally impracticable and egotistical agrarian model which has inevitable made these crops the sole means of subsistence for thousands of people. While on the one hand, the narcotics traffic has contributed to displacing the rigid traditional oligarchic structures under which Colombian society never realized that the land is for those who work it and not for absentee landlords to come and collect rent from, on the other hand, what is really tragic is that narcotics’ trafficking has only come in to replace feudal land and social control practices with war-mongering strategies of its own. It is said that 48% of Colombia’s productive land is in the hands of the narcotics-funded paramilitary. These armed groups are now well on the way to being incorporated into state security ranks in one way or another thus indirectly further legalizing land-concentration.


So what does the Drug War look like from Colombia? It’s a time bomb. Uribe, like his predecessor Pastrana, has ended up centering all domestic considerations and programs on the Drug War. While Pastrana’s peace program almost immediately turned into the warring Plan Colombia, Uribe’s fight against corruption −banner under which he was elected− became a Democratic Security (or pacification) program centered on expanding the Colombian version of the (terrorist) Drug War. Namely, unrestrained and indiscriminate military persecution of peasant communities, extensive aerial fumigation with chemical mixtures and widespread public campaigns aimed at creating an image of drug users as depraved and marginal individuals who should be denounced. In just one year, the government has developed an intricate network of, most likely poverty-stricken or voracious, informants and 20,000 peasant ‘soldiers’ armed after a 2-week stint of security training and licensed to kill their fellow countrymen.


Social leaders are being assassinated, disappeared and tortured and people are getting rounded up in groups all over the country and shipped off to jails. It suffices to accuse those who dare to protest of aiding and abetting the (terrorist) guerilla groups. While the Colombian state is, in the name of the Drug War, gradually disarticulating fragile social ties painstakingly knit by social organizations, guerrilla groups are waging a savage war of their own against peasant and indigenous peoples, mainly to control territories and crops. It’s a war for territorial control and Colombia’s practically only remaining cash crop: the coca.

Uribe is the man who −as Governor of the Antioquia Department− gave renewed and modern conceptual basis to the self-defense groups. Colombian landowners have traditionally defended their lands with these paramilitary squads when economic repression failed. Traditional Colombian politicians −like Uribe− used to owning vast extensions of land, have historically considered the country as if it were one of their farms with which to do what they like. It’s a mentality of el país finca where private security squads have been part of the scenery. This Administration is now legalizing these squads and incorporating them into the system (narcotics ties and all). There has been no need to hold peace talks with the paramilitary. They are, for practically all purposes legal.

If his political reform proposals are any indication, what is apparent is that all of Uribe’s Drug War measures are basically aimed at obtaining international funding and support for the military means required to exercise all-inclusive executive powers. At the onset of his 4-year term in August 2002−which he has hoped to extend by changing the 1991 Constitution to incorporate re-election− Uribe proceeded to merge ministries to concentrate power. This Administration’s pet project was a 15-article referendum to reform the 1991 Constitution, which cost so many lives to attain. An active campaign against the referendum has been effective to the point of initially forcing the government (Congress) to back down on the 16th Article of the referendum titled “Against Narcotics Traffic and Drug Addiction and which, for all purposes, sought to incorporate Prohibition against small growers and consumers into the Constitution itself and gave no indication whatsoever of the will to combat the narcotics traffic.[1]  The whole referendum was recently defeated and Uribe’s −supposedly popular− right right-wing government suffered serious social disapproval as shown by the election of several independent candidates to the posts of governors and mayors.  Local communities are already said to be paying heavily the price of this left-wing victory.

While purporting, in international scenarios, to defend Human Rights, Uribe virulently pointed the finger at NGOs in a widely-commented speech at the Colombian School of Defense thus virtually granting security forces the license to forcibly eradicate any and all social protest. Notwithstanding intimidation, activists living in Colombia, with international support from fellow organizations, continue to actively and openly campaign and promote legal measures against fumigation and in defense of Human Rights. The obstacles to stopping the Drug War in Colombia are enormous but there are alternatives. They are for a good part in the hands of US tax payers. A refusal to continue financing wars abroad is a good start. As far as the Drug War is concerned, the most blatantly outrageous human rights violation, ecocide, ethnocide is fumigation or chemical war measures being applied against peasant, black and indigenous communities in Colombia, and more recently and secretly according to reports, in Afghanistan.  Fumigation is the intensive spraying of peoples and their food with chemicals and cannot be justified under any circumstances whatsoever.

It has got to stop.

Uribe has, more than previous administrations, extensively fumigated rural communities and is therefore legally accountable for the dramatic health problems and environmental destruction he has wrought on Colombia. The Uribe Administration has not innocently chosen fumigation as a favored weapon in the Drug War. Fumigation is also a means to consolidate land concentration thanks to displacement of population. People displaced as of fumigation have no recourse since, were the government to acknowledge that fumigation is a cause of displacement, it would also have to acknowledge that it is applying (chemical) war measures against its own people. Colombia is said to have over 2 million internally displaced peoples. Uribe is waging chemical war against his own people and this is what the US is financing. What is apparent is that, by financing fumigation measures, the United States government is backing the Uribe Administration’s counter agrarian reform which is leaving vast swaths of land in the hands of the few, mainly the narcotics-funded paramilitary. The bone Uribe throws the International Community are a few ostentatious and paternalistic projects −such as a one-time 5 million peso (approx US$1,750) per family per year plan to set up 50,000 Forest Guards in a country of 40 million inhabitans where poverty is rampant.

The number of displaced, largely as of fumigation, is unending and heart-wrenching and Uribe knows no law: he −without any misgivings− failed to abide by the Tribunal de Cundinamarca’s ruling that fumigations be temporarily suspended pending government compliance with the Environmental Management Plan for the eradication program, and studies on effects of fumigation on human health and the environment. The Uribe Administration argues that 87% of Monsanto’s Roundup is used in traditional agriculture. The fact is that, although this is not healthy either, glyphosate in traditional agriculture is not generally mixed with other chemicals and then sprayed from the air, several times over the same field and sometimes after machine gunning the areas to be fumigated.  People must be told graphically how it is done and how peasants run ahead of the fumigation planes trying to save what water they can before it is totally polluted. That after the spray planes leave, they rush to the fields to save the only staple crop that survives the spraying: the Coca. That there are reports of extremely high rates of birth defects, lung problems, skin rashes, and many more health problems.  That the children of Colombia raised and born  under this chemical war will most probably forever suffer the consequences. The testimonies exist and many of them have been compiled by our fellow organizations in the States where numerous congresspeople have pronounced themselves against fumigation and in Europe, where the European Parliament has also signaled its disapproval of this extreme measure.

The US is said to be fighting a war on drugs. The question is how does Uribe's narcotics-tainted past and failure to combat the narcotics traffick fit into the picture? This Administration claims to have fumigated over a 100,000 hectares and eliminated 32% of Colombia’s banned crops and there are already reports of balloon effect in Peru. Be that as it may, there is no drug policy in Colombia only war measures to eliminate crops. This is what ultimately leads −or allows− the government to avoid its obligation and need to tackle the narcotics traffic; that is, if, as it says, it truly wants to re-legitimize and strengthen the state.

Colombia’s peoples and rich biodiversity have been subjected to chemical spraying since 1973 and the chemicals with which the successive administrations experiment get nastier and nastier. I would say that Colombia's only alternative to putting an end to this barbarian measure of fumigation is to achieve the backing needed to carry out a humanitarian appeal, a world-wide campaign in the US and Europe to make public opinion aware of the way legitimate social needs, demands and protest are being dealt with in Colombia: through a US financed and fueled chemical war.

Today December 5th, the US Congress approved funds for expanding chemical war measures to include Colombia's rich natural parks and reserves. The US talks about the horrors of Sadam Hussein's chemical war against the Kurds but its politicians and congresspeople have no qualms when it comes to funding Uribe's devastating chemical war against the Colombian people.

December 5th 2003

[1] Article 16. AGAINST NARCOTICS TRAFFIC AND DRUG ADDICTION   Question: to protect Colombian society, particularly its infants and youth, against the use of cocaine, heroin, marihuana, crack, ecstasy and any other type of hallucinogenic, do you approve the following article? 

Amend article 16 of the Political Constitution, by adding the following text: 

To promote and protect an effective development of personality, the law will severely punish the planting, production, distribution, possession or sale of hallucinogenic or addictive substances, such as cocaine, heroin, marihuana, Ecstasy, or others, varying penalties according to the circumstances under which the offense is committed. The state shall develop an active prevention campaign against drug addiction and for the rehabilitation of addicts and will penalize with sanctions other than imprisonment, the consumption and possession of these products for personal use, insofar as it is deemed advisable in order to guarantee individual and collective rights, especially those of children and adolescents. 


Today, Decembr 10th, 2003 "the Colombian Congress approved in record time in a last debate the Antiterrorist Ordinance (Estatuto Antiterrorista). It can now proceed to raid one's home or workplace, bug our communications, detain and jail anyone ..Now all the Uribe  Administration has to do is set the norms on how it wants to use these extraordinary powers.

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