December 12, 2003 (ENS): Environmentalists
have mixed feelings about the decision by the U.S. Congress
to put conditions on funding for aerial fumigation of
coca and poppy crops in Colombian national parks and
other natural protected areas.
The funds are part of the "Plan Colombia"
drug eradication program, which is part of the Andean
Counterdrug Initiative - a key element of the U.S. "War
on Drugs" in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
The provision in the U.S. State Department's fiscal
year 2004 budget conditions funding for such spraying
on compliance with Colombian law and a determination
by the State Department that "there are no effective
alternatives to reduce drug cultivation in these areas."
The policy of using aerial spraying to eradicate illicit
crops poses significant threats to human health and
the environment, says Astrid Puentes, legal director
for the non profit environmental law firm AIDA, but
the conditions imposed by Congress are a step in the
Yet Puentes stressed that to truly protect the environment
in Colombia "we must ensure that the eradication
forces begin complying with Colombian laws and stop
trying to weaken them."
As in previous years, the Congress required that in
2004 the State Department certify that: the use of these
herbicides in Colombia does not pose unreasonable risks
or adverse effects to humans or the environment; the
eradication program complies with the Colombian Environmental
Management Plan; and the governments investigate and
fairly compensate meritorious complaints about health
harms and the destruction of legal crops.
But for the first time, however, the Congress also
referred to and conditioned the spraying of national
parks and reserves.
In 2001, Colombia's environmental authorities specifically
excluded national parks and natural reserves from the
regions that are subject to aerial herbicide spraying
- opting instead for manual or mechanical means be used
to destroy coca and poppy crops in these areas.
The authorities also prohibited the spraying of significant
buffer areas surrounding the parks to avoid harms from
spray drift or accidental spraying.
These special protections are in line with the Colombian
Constitution and environmental laws that establish special
protections for these environmentally sensitive areas.
These conditions show that spraying in these areas
is clearly illegal, environmentalists say, but it has
happened in Colombia's national parks thanks to U.S.
In June 2003, the Colombian National Council on Narcotics
attempted to legalize such spraying. This action is
being contested in Colombian courts for violating the
Constitution and other laws.
"As the U.S. Congress has now recognized for the
national parks, spraying should be the last recourse,
but unfortunately it is the only one that has been systematically
implemented until now," said Anna Cederstav, a
scientist with AIDA. "A policy that creates no
viable economic alternatives for farmers simply perpetuates
the cycle of farmers cutting forests to plant coca and
the government spraying herbicides to destroy the fields."