Taxpayer-Funded War Against Colombia
Colombian Governors Come to Washington to Denounce U.S. War Plan
A news update from our friends at drcnet.org
As "Plan Colombia," the U.S. action in Colombia funded by U.S. taxpayers, rumbles into its third month, the US-backed campaign to wipe out that country's vast coca and cocaine industry has already had a disastrous impact on farmers of all sorts as toxic glyphosate herbicide wafts down from low-flying planes over the fields of southern Colombia. This week, the governors of four Colombian states came to Washington to urge Presidents Pastrana and Bush to replace Plan Colombia's militaristic approach with a plan emphasizing alternative crop development based on social pacts.
The group traveled under the auspices of the Latin America Working Group (http://www.lawg.org), a consortium of 60 human rights, development, and religious groups organizations which opposes Plan Colombia. Governors Floro Alberto Tunubala Paja of Cauca, the first Colombian Indian elected to state office; Parmenio Cuellar of Narino; Ivan Gerardo Guerrero, of the southernmost state of Putumayo, and Guillermo Alfonso Jaramillo of Tolima met with legislators and government officials, gave interviews, and held a Tuesday press conference to say that aerial spraying of illicit crops is jeopardizing the health and food supply of small-scale farmers.
In response to the governors' offensive, US officials at a damage-control press briefing this week reluctantly conceded that food crops had been destroyed, but blamed peasants for growing food crops -- if they had raised no crops they would not have been destroyed.
The Week Online spoke with Tolima Governor Guillermo Alfonso Jaramillo on Thursday. Jaramillo, a member of the Social Democratic Party took office in January, the first time a Social Democrat has gained such an office in a party system dominated by the interchangeable Liberal and Conservatives. Excerpts from that conversation follow.
The Week Online: What is the purpose of your delegation's visit to Washington?
Governor Jaramillo: We are here to tell the US government and the North American public that Plan Colombia needs to be changed. We want the public to know that there are alternatives to Plan Colombia. It was supposed to be a $7 billion dollar development program funded by the United States, Europe, and Asia as well as with our own funds. But because the others don't support the US stance, what we are getting is the military part of Plan Colombia instead of what we need, the social development part. What we get now in help from the US is $1.3 billion, 85% to reinforce the army and police and to buy 60 helicopters for $600,000,000. And they have trained three anti-drug brigades. And they started to fumigate the fields at the end of December, especially in Putumayo. We are quite worried because the social investment hasn't come. Without that, eradication will not succeed. That has been the case for the last 15 years; instead of being able to eradicate the illegal crops, the coca fields have increased from 40,000 hectares to 120,000 hectares. (1 hectare is approximately 2.5 acres.) We think the eradication project has failed in Colombia. We are willing to help in the manual eradication of illegal crops, but there must be a replacement. We need the development help, especially alternative crops.
WOL: The civil war has only worsened in recent years, with the rise of the paramilitaries and the continuing vitality of the guerrillas, both fueled in some degree by the coca/cocaine trade. How does US policy affect the prospects for peace?
Jaramillo: We need the US to be clear with the message it sends, especially now that the peace process [talks between guerrillas and the Colombian government] is going on. If instead of support for alternative development, for the small farmers, for fighting poverty; if instead of all that, they send us more military aid, it will be difficult to convince the guerrilla movement that the US and the Colombian government want peace. A majority of Colombians would be willing to work with the US for manual eradication of illicit crops, but in a way that will reinforce democracy, human rights and social development.
WOL: Tolima is well north of where the big anti-coca offensive is underway. What is the situation in your area? Are there active guerrilla fronts?
Jaramillo: We have both guerrillas and paramilitaries. The guerrillas, the FARC, control 20 of our 47 municipalities, and others are patrolled by paramilitaries. The mountains are for the guerrillas and the paramilitaries have the plains. And we have illicit drugs -- not coca but poppies, opium poppies. We have 3,000 hectares of poppies, so they sprayed in Tolima last year. We know they are preparing fumigation for us again because first they do the satellite photography, and then they send in the spotter planes, and then we know the fumigation may come at any time.
WOL: How do you govern in this sort of situation?
Jaramillo: That's a good question. The peace process cannot only go at the highest levels. One of my proposals was to ask the government to let us have talks in the region, in the department. The central government is not willing to do that. All we want is to have the chance to be able to sit down and talk with the guerrillas and try to give peace a chance to break out. In the last year, 13 of our towns and cities were taken by the FARC; people were killed in the fighting, the police stations and agrarian banks were destroyed.
WOL: The State Department denies both that glyphosate is dangerous and that food crops are being damaged in the ongoing fumigation campaign in Putumayo. How do you respond to that? And how do local people react to the spraying?
Jaramillo: The reality is that they have destroyed quite a lot of legal crops, they have admitted it. They have said there could have been mistakes, and they know there were big mistakes. Usually ithey claim there are farmers who cultivate legal crops near the coca bushes. The U.S. fumigates without discriminating at all; it's impossible to for them not to make mistakes. There are other incidents where they inexplicably fumigated Indian communities that were working with the government on alternative crop development. The results are clear; there are pictures, testimonies, evidence, different organizations have been to Putumayo and seen the damage for themselves. How do people react? The government comes to the region where it has had little presence, and it comes with 20 helicopters and a thousand soldiers, and the people see that it is preparing itself for combat. What the farmers see is an army that invades their area and destroys everything.
WOL: Is regulating or legalizing the trade a solution?
Jaramillo: That is not up to us to decide, that will be decided in the US. Remember, we have been fighting the narco-traffic for many years, and we don't want the North Americans to get the wrong message. We don't want coca, we don't want poppy, we don't want any illegal crop. Colombia has paid a high price; we have lost our best men -- politicians, soldiers, policemen -- killed or corrupted, and it has changed much of our culture for the worse. We are a proud, hardworking people, and when people used to hear the word "Colombia," they thought of fine coffee. Now the whole world knows us as drug producers. We must stop this. We don't want to send the message that we agree with a free market for drugs, but the US needs to send a strong message to all of us by reducing demand. If the US reduced demand drastically, drug production in Colombia would come to an end. If the US is not able to reduce demand, the supply will always exist. Legalized drugs could be one solution if it somehow reduced demand. To reduce the supply, you must decrease demand.
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