Rivers of Glyohosate for an environmental trade-off


MM Moreno 


The First Green Revolution of the 1970s brought the world the widespread use of pesticides which came to dramatically alter the traditional agricultural practices of millions of peasants worldwide.  After almost 40 years of intensive use, numerous, varied and exhaustive studies show that the intensive use of pesticides has extremely negative impacts on peoples' health, water sources and territories.  In countries where democratic stability reigns, the indiscriminate use of pesticides considering existing scientific knowledge is an attack on public health and is less and less common. In countries at war, such as regions where war has been declared against the coca and other plants in order to eliminate "terrorism", aerial fumigation with chemical mixtures  is an act of war against these countries' civilian populations. Aerial fumigation with potent chemical mixtures of the lands on which millions of Colombian peasants live, and off of which the Colombian people live, is an act of war against the country's peoples.


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and numerous international environmental conventions call on governments to respect the lives and environment of their peoples.  For years, concerned citizens have raised the alarm regarding the risks of aerial fumigation. In Colombia, aerial fumigation with chemicals began with (the highly-toxic and now internationally-banned) Paraquat in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta to eradicate marijuana crops in 1984 and, as foreseen, crops grown for illicit purposes have simply moved elsewhere.  The have displaced, among others, towards the United States where aerial fumigation with chemicals to kill, as opposed to bolstering, crops was rapidly abandoned.  Nonetheless, despite the fact that it does not fumigate its own illicit crops, the United States -disregarding all humanitarian considerations- has used its funds and logistics to back this chemical (war) measure in Colombia for the past 23 years.


The situation is distressing and the future dim. Uribe disregards the law when, without the least dignity, he infringes the Tribunal de Cundinamarca's ruling to temporarily suspend fumigation pending scientific studies and abidance by the Environmental Management Plan.  Instead, he has proceeded to disarticulate all of the government's environmental institutions which might have advised him on the matter.  Fifteen months after the government's appeal, the State Council has given the government a free hand with fumigation. Ignoring scientific warnings and the cautious suspension of the use of pesticides elsewhere, the Colombian State Council has opted for continuing to apply this chemical war measure in Colombia alleging that there is no evidence to the fact that fumigation with chemicals causes irreversible damage to peoples' health and ecosystems.


Meanwhile, the government presses the use of genetically modified organisms (with Glyphosate already incorporated). GMOs foretell the death through their agrochemicals and genetically modified seeds which cannot be saved by farmers form one planting to another of what's left of traditional agriculture and biodiversity. If the government does not stop fumigating the nation's territories, chances are that the only thing that will grow in Colombia will be GMOs, whose seeds we will buy every 2 years from Monsanto from whom we also buy the Glyphosate and to whom we will probably hand over the nation's water sources. Now that the Free Trade Agreement is being discussed and biodiversity is under attack, questions abound regarding the Uribe Administration's intention of protecting the Colombian people's intellectual property,  peoples' traditional knowledge. Namely, the knowledge and plants which survive current fumigation. The environmental vision and agricultural perspective of the times seems to be a territorial project vowed to extensive cattle grazing, the mono-cultivation of coca and the growing of predetermined transgenic crops such as Monsanto's BT Cotton. While fumigation will probably degenerate (if not kill off) the country's livestock, the same cannot be said for the coca which, as can be observed from visiting the fumigated regions, is what best survives intensive fumigation.


After giving up the idea of fumigating the estimated 5,000 hectares of crops use for illicit purposes which are planted inside the nation's natural parks and reserves (an area of approximately 10 million hectares), the Colombian state once again begun to fumigate the Sierra and its peoples three months ago (Aug. 2004), and the enormous disasters caused by this new round of chemical assault are immediately clear and visible for all to see. The Colombian state threatens to spray more chemicals on the Sierra, an immensely biodiverse territory which holds 31 large rivers, the Tayrona National Natural Park and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Natural National Park.  The land that the Colombian state is targeting has been declared a biosphere reserve by the UNESCO. This park, together with the Macarena and La Paya Parks, are the nation's greatest present and future reserves. Curiously, it is in these three regions that Camilo Uribe says he has seen the Genetically Modified Coca. Camilo Uribe is the person who wrote, under hire by the Department of State of the United States, on the ‘none effects’ of fumigation on human health.  He has also been recently named director of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). Camilo Uribe says that he has no evidence of said the super coca, nonetheless, he also says that it has 97% of what gives cocaine it kick. (for a more common plant, without liters of Glyphosate, this 'kick' is 24%.)


Surprisingly as well, the Vice Minister of the Environment has said that Colombia is determined on promoting environmental trade. It would be wise to consider how many more liters of pesticides the government plans to bomb on the waters and lands that it is offering the International Community. The Colombian government would also do well to think twice about the crazy fungi it has considered pouring on Colombian soil. The Uribe Administration alleges that 87% of all pesticides are used in traditional agriculture.  The fact is that, even if this is not healthy either, Glyphosate in traditional agriculture is not generally mixed with other chemicals and sprayed from high altitudes several times over the same field or preceded by war measures such as machine gunning the areas to be fumigated. The children of Colombia born and raised under this chemical rain will forever suffer the consequences.  Fumigation displaces people from their homes and the people thus displaced have no resort since, where the government to recognize that fumigation is a cause for displacement, it would also have to recognize that is applying (chemical) war measures against its peoples.  Furthermore, fumigation and consequent displacement of populations contributes to land concentration in a counter-agrarian reform that can only weaken the nation even more; weaken Colombia.


The testimonies regarding the enormous negative impacts of fumigations are there, all that is needed is for someone to listen and support the people who are suffering them. Recent testimonies of citizens’ complaints and scorched earth can be found in the documentary filmed in October 2004 by Natalia Zuluaga and her French film crew in the Sierra as follow-up on the Andean Amazonian Forum and Regional Meeting of the Independent Global Commission.  In a country where people rarely complain, the Colombian Ombudsman registered, between 1999 and 2003, over 8000 complaints from citizens harmed by fumigation.  Pedro Arenas, elected by the Guaviare Department to the Chamber of Representatives, reveals that the application of fumigations measures varies from region to region. The fear raised by fumigation among the defenseless civilian inhabitants of the areas bombarded is the same throughout the whole country and should being reason enough for an administration to stop this type of war measure. The Ombudsman and General Comptroller have warned the government regarding the irresponsibility, doubtful efficiency, and illegitimacy of this measure.  The Colombia Congress has held several debates which reflect the profound fears generated by fumigations. Analysts, environmentalist, politicians, biologist and many others have appealed for the government to come to its senses. President Uribe, nonetheless, simply  brushes off these alarms and popular mandate to stop fumigating his people like cockroaches. He appears to be focused on raising war funds at all costs rather than seeking peace alternatives, which for many are to be found in the coca. 


In the United States, numerous congressmen have stood against the application of fumigation measures within the framework of the Colombian civil war. The European Union has also expressed its disapproval of fumigation since this indiscriminate measure has adversely affected the alternative development programs financed by the EU and other funders. In a initiative which convened 135 Colombian congressman, Jorge Enrique Robledo, Gerardo Jumí and Pedro Arenas renewed congressional initiatives and appeals to hold public debates on the application of fumigation measures. What can be observed is a need for transparency and greater participation of the Colombian Congress in the decisions regarding fumigation, and other polices. Currently the Colombian state has outsourced studies regarding the effects of fumigation.  The legitimacy of these studies depends on their transparency and scientific foundations. Well-known environmentalists sustain that aerial fumigation with reinforced Glyphosate is leading to the destruction of one of the most biodiverse areas of the planet whose water sources are worth much more than the greatly-cherished oil.  This Administration holds that pollution caused by the precursors used to process cocaine justifies fumigation. Slipping in a vicious circle of scorched earth policy: crops - fumigation - displacement - more Glyphosate-induced coca -more fumigation, the Colombian state has shown itself unable to generate or listen to alternatives. Firstly, the Colombian government should consider applying the Precautionary Principle while it measures the foreseeable humanitarian and environmental disasters generated by the Drug War Colombian style, on credit and foreign decisions.


 October 2004  


This Mama Coca issue seeks to echo the numerous and diverse voices arising from all sectors against aerial fumigation to chemically erradicate traditional, sacred and medical plants such as marihuana, coca and poppy.




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