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Plan Columbia Update - U.S. Should Seek Better Options

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Published On: <DATE>          Updated On: September 11, 2001
© Terence T. Gorski, 2001

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September 10, 2001

The ends don't justify the means when it comes to fighting illegal drugs in Colombia.

With U.S. support, the Colombian government is spraying large swaths of jungle territory with powerful chemicals to kill off drug crops.

But these chemicals also are making people sick and hurting the environment, according to recent reports. In some areas, aerial fumigations have wiped out coffee and banana crops. Rural hospitals are reporting an increase in skin rashes, diarrhea and stomachaches.

The controversy over Colombia's spraying campaign recently prompted the nation's Comptroller-General Carlos Ossa to call for a halt in the program until scientists could get to the bottom of the problem. The comptroller-general also reported that the sprayings have failed to decrease drug production. The amount of acreage planted with coca and poppy has grown, and drug crops have expanded into Ecuador.

The Bush administration inherited a well-intentioned but poorly thought-out $1.3 billion Colombia aid plan from the Clinton White House. Last week, a high-level U.S. delegation visited Colombia and recommended continuing U.S. aid. The goal is still a practical one. Colombia is the largest supplier of cocaine to the United States, and a drug-funded war between leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries threatens South America's fourth-largest nation. A destabilized Colombia hurts U.S. interests in Latin America.

But now is the time to re-examine U.S. aid and to make sure American tax dollars are not being used on drug-fighting measures that hurt innocent people and their environment. 

For one thing, aerial sprayings should stop until scientists can figure out the causes of recent health and environmental problems. Some experts think that Colombia's use of a soaplike additive meant to help the U.S.-manufactured herbicide Roundup Ultra penetrate leaves actually helps it penetrate human skin. Also, the practice of spraying drug crops from high altitudes -- done to prevent rebels from shooting at government helicopters -- helps spread the herbicide into non-targeted areas.

Government sprayings may not be responsible for all cited health and ecological problems. Drug producers also use chemicals to process cocaine and heroin and these may be seeping into the soil or the drinking water. All the more reason why independent scientists should study the problem and come up with solutions. 

The Bush administration has an opportunity to craft a Colombia aid plan with greater incentives for poor coca and poppy farmers who make the switch to legal crops. This would be far better than making them sick or leaving them hungry.

Newshawk: M & M Family
Pubdate: Mon, 10 Sep 2001
Source: South Florida Sun Sentinel (FL)
Copyright: 2001 Sun-Sentinel Co & South Florida Interactive, Inc


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