OAKLAND, California, 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
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 right direction.
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
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. funding.
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."