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Deadly Fumigation Returns to Putumayo:
Violations of Colombian Law and U.S. Conditions

A Report by Witness for Peace
Released to Congress December 7, 2001

For years, Colombia has been working to curb drug production in its territory. The growing narcotics industry is a problem that has had disastrous effects in both Colombia and the United States. In the past two decades, coca and poppy production-the raw materials for cocaine and heroin, respectively-has become a major concern for lawmakers and citizens of both countries. According to studies carried out by the United Nations Drug Control Program, today it is believed that Colombia has 400,000 acres dedicated to coca production.

For the better part of the past quarter century, the U.S. government has been working with the Colombian government in an effort to eradicate illicit drug production. The policy has focused on the use of aerial eradication or what is commonly known as fumigation. Since the mid-1980s the chemical glyphosate-a broad-spectrum herbicide- commercially sold in the U.S. as "Round-Up," has been sprayed from crop dusters onto illicit drug crops as a means of eradication. Starting in 2001, the U.S. government redoubled its participation in the "Drug War" in Colombia through its support of President Andrés Pastrana's Plan Colombia. One of Plan Colombia's primary focal points was the eradication of the more than 140,000 acres of coca in the southwestern department of Putumayo.

As part of Plan Colombia, the Colombian government, in conjunction with the U.S. government and its sub-contractors, began a second round of fumigations in the department of Putumayo on November 13 in the municipality of Valle de Guamuez, expanding into the municipality of Puerto Caicedo on November 15 . There are also unconfirmed reports of fumigations in the municipalities of Puerto Asis and San Miguel. The most recent fumigations follow an initial round carried out between late December, 2000 and February, 2001 at which time more than 74,000 acres were fumigated.

Since the Colombian and U.S. governments began the second phase of aerial fumigation with glyphosate in Putumayo as part of Plan Colombia, Witness for Peace has documented violations of both the spirit and letter of Colombian law as well as that of the Andean Initiative legislation (H.R. 2506), passed by the U.S. Senate on October 24, 2001.

Social Pacts for Alternative Development

Just before the fumigations were set in motion last year, the Colombian government began entering into "Social Pacts of Alternative Development and Manual Eradication" with coca producing communities. The first Social Pact was signed in Puerto Asis on December 2, 2000. Currently there are 35 Social Pacts between the Colombian government and local communities in Putumayo, involving approximately 35,000 families. The Social Pacts include the following commitments :

The government commits to:

  1. Provide not more than US$870 per family in food security aid.
  2. Conduct market studies for potential alternative crops.
  3. Support income-generating projects in the area.
  4. Provide technical assistance to community members.
  5. Help finance infrastructure projects such as roads, educational investment, health investment, basic sanitation and/or electrification.
The community commits to:
  1. Shifting the community from an economy based on coca production to an economy based on legal crop production.
  2. Completely eradicate their coca within 12 months of the receipt of the first installment of aid.
  3. Not plant any new coca.
The Social Pacts were designed to encourage small coca farmers, the majority of whom have 7 acres or less of coca, to shift to legal crop production. There are cases of families with as many as 15 acres participating in the Social Pacts. People with 20 acres or more of coca are unlikely to participate in Social Pacts. There was a recognized difference between the small family farmer, who plants coca for survival and earns up to approximately US$10,000 a year, and the industrial producer who is much more closely linked to the powerful and wealthy drug-traffickers.

In addition to the Social Pacts, which receive funding from the U.S. government through Plan Colombia legislation, there are a number of other ongoing alternative development projects in Putumayo. One such project is an early eradication plan that is financed by the National Plan for Alternative Development. In an attempt to show the national government and the international community that the people of Putumayo were serious about eradicating their coca the Putumayo Departmental government promoted this initiative. Beginning in July 2001, 2,722 families signed agreements in which the families committed to eradicate 5860 acres of coca in six months in exchange for increased alternative development aid.

On November 13 the Colombian Anti-Narcotics Police-in conjunction with the U.S. government's subcontractor, Dyncorp and the U.S. formed, funded and trained Colombian Counter-Narcotics Brigade-began aerial coca eradication in communities of Putumayo that are participating in alternative development programs, including the Social Pacts. This was verified in situ by Witness for Peace staff and corroborated by an official from the Counter-Narcotics Brigade.

The Colombia government has justified the current round of fumigation in Putumayo by pointing out "the planting of new coca has been detected in the last three months, even though the commitment of the signatories of the Pacts was to not carry out new plantings." The Social Pacts state "if once the Pact has been agreed to new coca crops (are found) in the area of influence (the Pact) will be considered broken by the community and the government will determine the form of eradication."

There is much debate about the appearance of new coca crops in Putumayo since the signing of the Social Pacts. The Colombian government bases its estimates of coca production mainly on satellite images and aerial identification. The government has estimated the presence of anywhere from 140,353 acres to 1,235,500 acres of coca in Putumayo. Without carrying out on-the-ground investigations to confirm the appearance of new crops, it would be difficult to be certain of their existence. Additionally, through the use of satellite imaging and aerial investigations alone, it would be next to impossible to say conclusively whether those crops belonged to signatories of the Social Pacts. Witness for Peace found no evidence to suggest that Colombian governmental officials were on the ground in Putumayo investigating the existence of new crops and whether those crops belonged to signatories of the Social Pacts. In fact, in preparation for the current fumigations the Colombian government sent a letter to local mayor's offices requested information about the location of licit and illicit crops in the municipality, health statistics, territorial information and the location of ongoing development projects, among other things, but failed to request information about the location of the property of families participating in the Social Pacts.

Violations of Social Pacts?

Witness for Peace recently visited communities affected by the recent round of fumigations. Although the communities appeared to be respecting their commitments with the government to refrain from new plantings, Witness for Peace did find a few isolated cases in which it appeared that signatories of the Social Pacts had carried out new plantings. Nevertheless, the amount of new crops was minimal, and could not warrant the kind of alarm sounded by the Colombian government. Nor could it justify the massive, indiscriminate fumigations that have followed. A member of the Departmental Assembly of Putumayo told Witness for Peace, "We admit that there has been an increase in the coca crops, but the increase is in the industrial-sized crops. (In general) the community members have respected the Pacts hoping that the government follows through with what it promised."

It is clear that the current massive, indiscriminate fumigation campaign by the government violates the spirit of the Social Pacts. And although there is limited evidence that a handful of small farmers may have been remiss in their obligation to the Social Pacts, the Colombian and U.S. governments' response is grossly disproportionate to these relatively minor infractions.

The introduction of the Social Pact states that the Pact is based on the "search for a more humane solution to the problem of illicit crops...(in which) the will of the inhabitants and the State representatives unite on a path that has its foundation in community participation and the generation of mutual trust between the afore- mentioned parties." The unannounced fumigation of families that have signed the Social Pact and who are respecting it-verified in situ by Witness for Peace-is not a positive step in generating the much- needed trust between the government and the community.

Furthermore, the Social Pact states "in the cases of communities in which the majority of the producers form part of the Social Pact of Voluntary Eradication, the Government and the community will search for the mechanisms to achieve the objective of coca eradication of those farmers who are not part of the Pact without harming those that have fulfilled their commitments." From this language it is safe to assume that before fumigating their neighbors who are not members of or may not be complying with the Social Pacts, the government would have at least consulted with members of the Social Pacts "in good standing." This was not done. It is clear that the fumigation carried out to deal with the newly planted coca has harmed other participants in the Social Pacts that are fulfilling their commitments.

The Colombian government was quick to point out transgressions of the Social Pacts by the small farmers, and was equally quick to punish them with a new fumigation campaign. Yet the Colombian and U.S. governments have not been fulfilling their commitments outlined in the Social Pacts. According to representatives of the Putumayo departmental and municipal governments, approaching "12 months since the formal start to the social pacts, only approximately 5% of the US$30 million allotted for food security has been distributed, causing uneasiness and a lack of initiative among the small farmers involved in the social pacts." Witness for Peace was able to document cases in which almost six months have passed since the signing of the Social Pacts without a single allotment of aid to the communities.

Witness for Peace was able to confirm that from November 13 through November 23, just in Valle de Guamuez, over 30 communities-all of which were members of at least 3 different Social Pacts-were being fumigated. Not only were these communities participating in the Social Pacts, some of these communities were also participating in other alternative development projects, such as the Early Eradication Program funded by the National Plan for Alternative Development. Witness for Peace was able to document that substitute crops within this program, such as corn and rice, were affected by the current fumigation campaign.

Fumigation Violates Colombian Law, Allegedly Causes Health Problems

Witness for Peace was able to document the fumigation of family farms that contained less than one acre of coca. Colombian Law 0005 of 2000, which regulates fumigations, states that fumigation will be used on coca crop extensions of more than 5 acres. Similarly, the law states that unless food crops are being planted as "dummy crops"-food crops that are planted among coca in order to confuse the aerial spraying program-only illicit crops will be targeted; sparing food crops, pasture lands and water sources. In fact, the law states that "the application of agricultural chemicals in rural zones cannot be carried out within less than 10 meters by land and less than 100 meters by air as a security border, in relation to bodies of water, roads, nuclei of human or animal populations or any other area that requires special protection." Nevertheless, Witness for Peace found evidence to suggest that all of the above have been and are being sprayed in the current fumigation campaign, in clear violation of the law.

In the wake of the last fumigation campaign in Putumayo, there were hundreds of cases of reported human health effects. Potential health effects of the current campaign are already beginning to surface. Witness for Peace received testimony from individuals with alleged health effects and from doctors-either the attending physician or an expert in the area. Witness for Peace documented four cases of "toxemia" in which, to varying degrees, the individual showed signs of diarrhea, stomach pains and some vomiting within hours of being exposed to the fumigant glyphosate.

The most alarming of the cases documented by Witness for Peace was the death of Edwin Javier Dasa, an 11 month-old boy from Valle de Guamuez. According to a report from the Health Administration Department of Putumayo, "on November 15 at approximately 7:30am a plane flew by fumigating very close to the house. The family's water source was hit with glyphosate. At this time Edwin was playing in the yard." The report goes on to state that the child was apparently fine at the time of the fumigation. The only health problem in the child's medical history was a fever at 3 months. By 12pm the day of the fumigation Edwin's eyes had become red and his nose was itching. He slept for most of the rest of the day until 11pm when he began to exhibit signs of nausea. Shortly thereafter, he began vomiting, developed diarrhea and, cold sweats and his feet and hands turned purple. He cried when he was moved. The next morning, his whole body was purple, his eyes rolled back in his head, and he still had diarrhea. At this point his mother took him to the hospital. At 8pm that evening Edwin died.

Edwin's young mother is a widow who owns a small plot of land without a single coca plant. She reported that her father was also fumigated and hospitalized with a case of diarrhea, vomiting and a gastro- intestinal disorder. A forensic medical team in Bogotá is currently studying the results of the autopsy of Edwin's body to attempt to discern the cause of death. While the doctor who attended to the child in the hospital could not definitively say that the fumigation caused his death, he was unable to find any other reasonable explanation of the child's symptoms and the unusually rapid progression from appearing fine to death.


The conditions placed on the Andean Initiative by the U.S. Senate indicate that funds will be provided only if "the chemicals used in the aerial fumigation of coca, in the manner in which they are being applied, do not pose an undue risk to human health or safety...(and that) aerial fumigation is being carried out in accordance with Colombian laws and regulations..." Witness for Peace has documented possible health effects of the fumigation and concrete violations of Colombian law. This situation calls into question the continuation of U.S. aid to fumigation and specifically the continuance of the current fumigation campaign in Putumayo.

It is the strong recommendation of Witness for Peace that the current fumigation campaign be halted immediately until the Colombian government complies with its own laws, and until the possible health effects from this and the last fumigation campaigns can be formally and independently studied. Furthermore, Witness for Peace recommends that fumigation be halted in all areas with ongoing Social Pacts until such time as the communities have been given a fair chance to fulfill their commitments to manually and voluntarily eradicate their coca and until the government has fulfilled its commitments as outlined in the Social Pacts. Finally, Witness for Peace recommends that the U.S. and Colombian governments fully compensate all community members who have been unjustly fumigated in both rounds of the fumigations in Putumayo.

Lawmakers from both Colombia and the United States are joined in the struggle to find solutions to the scourge of the narcotics trade. Unfortunately, the solutions they find are oftentimes destructive, punitive, and ineffective. In the case of the renewed aerial fumigations in the communities of Putumayo that have signed the Social Pacts, innocent farmers and community members are falling victim to this latest battle in the so-called "War on Drugs." These efforts are doubly ineffective, in that they target small-scale illegal crops, and they undermine positive and as-yet-unproven initiatives to voluntarily eradicate coca production. And they are doubly destructive, as they destroy legitimate crops, as well as the fragile trust that recently has begun to be constructed between the communities and their government. If the governments of the United States and Colombia are serious about promoting social development and alternative crops in coca-producing zones, they must halt fumigations immediately, and take steps to rebuild the broken relationships between the Social Pact signatories, and the government.

Witnesses for Peace Fumigation Update

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