Colombia: US suspends spraying after pilots downed
News accounts revealed in December that the US-funded glyphosate spraying in Colombia has been indefinitely suspended after presumed FARC guerillas shot down two fumigation planes—killing one US pilot. One plane came down Sept. 27, killing the pilot, whose name was not revealed. Reports were unclear where this incident took place. The Los Angeles Times on Dec. 17 named the village of Tarra, which is in Norte de Santander, along the Venezuelan border; Bogotá's El Tiempo implied it was in the southern jungle department of Putumayo. A second crop-duster was brought down Oct. 5, apparently at a location in Caquetá—also in the southern jungle. This prompted the US embassy to halt the spraying, according to anonymous sources. Neither the embassy nor the State Department would confirm the report.
At least six US pilots have been killed in the spraying program since 1995. The pilots are supplied by contractor DynCorp in a deal with the US State Department, and the planes have been specially fitted with armor to fend off attacks. The spray program, which comes out of the annual Plan Colombia aid package, costs about $50 million per year. The area sprayed totaled about 250,000 acres in 2012 and 258,000 acres in 2011. At the peak in 2006, more than 425,000 acres were sprayed with variants of glyphosate, which is marketed under the name Roundup (a Monsanto product).
Although cannabis now plays a distant second fiddle to cocaine in Colombia's cartel lucre, the National Police continue to net massive hauls—pointing to a booming trade, especially in the southwestern mountains. On Dec. 19, the police announced the confiscation of 3.6 tons of cannabis in a rural area outside of the city of Medellín. Police apparently staked out a parking lot where they had received a tip of a truck delivering the shipment. The cannabis packages were found hidden under a layer of bananas. According to the report, the shipment had just arrived from the southwestern department of Cauca, a major cultivation area. No arrests were made, as the suspects were able to flee. (Colombia Reports, Dec. 19)