Despite Court Ruling and Peasant Protest

by Andrew Epstein, WW3 REPORT Special Correspondent in Colombia

According to the United Nations report, Global Illicit Drug Trends 2003,
coca production in Colombia has been reduced by an impres sive 37%.
However, the US fumigation program, supposedly responsible for this
dramatic decrease, has also ironically been destroying US-funded
alternative development projects. Meanwhile, the Colombian drug economy has
diversified, with the expansion fro m coca leaf to opium poppy gaining pace.

The Putumayo region of Colombia is where the fumigation program has
claimed its greatest success, eliminating 33,000 hectares between 2000 and
2002. Don Ismael Cuaran of Putumayo is a former coca grower who was one of
the first farmers to pull up his own crop and try the alternatives. He has
tried corn, pepper, heart-of-palm and even raising a few
cattle–alternative development projects funded through Plan Colombia and
administered by local non-governmenta l organizations. Despite the fact
that Don Ismael has no coca growing on his land, he says has been
fumigated five separate times by a program the US Embassy in Bogota calls
"extremely accurate."

The Embassy has set up a program for farmers, such as Don Ismael, to lodge
complaints about licit crops that are sprayed by fumigation planes. Over
the past three years 8,000 such complaints have been filed. To this day
only two people have been compensated for a total of $5,000, an Embassy
official said on condition of anonymity. According to an Embassy official
in charge of compensation, Dyncorp, the US company that carries out the
fumigation, is supposed to report to the Embassy when they fumigate licit
crops. The motivation for reporting such mistake s is small since the error
is then deducted from Dyncorp’s contract-the company fined and the pilots
docked pay. The Embassy says that acceptable drift from the spray lane is
approximately 7 meters. However, they admit that the crop-dusters used in
the fu migation will only fly as low as the highest "obstacle"Ëœreferring
to native trees which can measure up to 80 feet. The Embassy maintains
that the program is accurate, and even claims that farmers are altering
the appearance of their land after their c oca has been sprayed to make it
seem like they were growing licit crops.

While the fumigation has appeared to decrease coca production within
Colombia, it has also diversified it. In 2000, there were 12 coca-growing
regions within Colombia; that n umb er has grown to 21 by the end of 2002.
Colombia is also becoming one of the leading poppy-producing countries in
the world (Latin American Poppy Fields Undermine U.S. Drug Battle, NYT,
June 8). Unlike coca, which needs plenty of light to grow, poppy is al most
impossible to fumigate. It can be grown in small patches, under the cover
of trees, and on steep mountainsides.

Despite a recent court order to suspend the fumigations, Colombian
President Alvaro Uribe had only a few words to say on the subject during a
recent trip to the Putumayo region: "I am very sorry, but while I am
President, the fumigations will not be suspended." (El Tiempo, Bogota.
June 29)

For recent photos of fumigated land where licit crops were being grown, see: