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June 1 - 15, 2005

Issue #76

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The CyberCloset
A Chance Encounter

by Allan Uthman

 
Monkey Business
A Different Kind of Crusade
by Matt Taibbi
 
Jack Davis vs China
Trade Protectionist Gets His Party Started
by Matt Higgins
 
War on Drugs or Just War?
Plan Colombia Stays Aloft
by John Myers
 

Newsreek
Anonymous Sources Under Fire--Sometimes

by Matt Taibbi

 

Lonely Revolution
Free Buffalo, but Nobody's Buying

by Matt Higgins

 

Are You an Evil Genius?
Take the Quiz
by N. Sorrenti

 

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War on Drugs, or Just War?

Columbia’s U.S.-Sponsored Ecocide Continues

By John Myers

Bogotá

“One of the areas where we’ve been successful is cutting down on the hectares of cocaine- coca being grown there, and that spraying is working.”

- US Senator Norm Coleman (R-Minnesota) during Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s nomination hearing, January 18, 2005

What he is trying to say is that Plan Colombia is working. Specifically, the Senator from Minnesota is making the argument that the US-sponsored, aerial drug-crop eradication program is doing a bang-up job helping Colombian President Alvaro Úribe and his government fight narcoterrorists and reduce the flow of drugs to the US. Anyone with half a brain, however, knows that Coleman, as usual, is spewing misinformation in an effort to take advantage of a frightened and poorly informed citizenry that believes he’s being “tough on drugs.”

Now in its sixth year of US commitment, Plan Colombia has received nearly $4 billion dollars in US foreign assistance since 1999, making it by far the largest recipient of US aid in the western hemisphere. Contrasting this, very few in the U.S. are even aware of the program, thanks to major news organizations’ muteness on the subject.

Coleman and his Republican buddies like Indiana Congressman Dan Burton are asking for more money than ever to give President Uribe and the Colombian government more helicopters, spray planes and submarines. In a recent letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Republican leadership, after an extended session of boxing the clown to a picture of President Uribe, wrote:

Our joint aerial drug eradication program is destroying illegal drugs and denying financing to the several State-Department-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations operating in Colombia. . . . President Uribe doesn’t just want to hold the line. He wants to win. He’s asking us to help him step up drug eradication.

Which is exactly what we shouldn’t be doing. If reducing drug use at home and fighting terrorists abroad are vital US interests in Colombia (like these guys say they are), the current policy is failing miserably. Foreign Terrorist Organizations like the United Self Defense Forces (AUC), a paramilitary group currently negotiating a highly suspect peace agreement with the government, are responsible for nearly 40 percent of Colombia’s drug trafficking. 

Evaluating US Policy in Colombia, a recent International Relations Center policy report by Dr. Virginia Bouvier, the type of thing that Coleman would never read because it’s 16 pages long, shows that more Colombian drugs than ever before are entering the US. In fact, Colombia now supplies 90% of the cocaine and 50% of the heroin consumed in the US. As drug use appears to be on the rise at home, increased purity, wider availability and decreasing street prices provide strong indications that drug production in Colombia is well ahead of Washington’s current counter-narcotics strategy.

Recently released State Department figures indicate that the US-sponsored aerial drug eradication program is not discouraging Colombian peasants from growing coca. In fact, they are growing more than ever. Coca production in Colombia has surged 36 percent since 2000, and despite having now sprayed 566,935 hectares of coca cultivations —an area roughly the size of Connecticut—the jointly administered program has eradicated just 8,500 hectares of coca since Plan Colombia began in 1999. This means that for every 67 hectares sprayed with Monsanto’s mixture of glyphosate and cosmoflux 411(f) —the broad-based herbicide and leaf-penetrating surfactant used to defoliate coca plantations, we reduce 1 hectare of coca. Last year, for example, a record-setting eradication campaign actually corresponded with increased coca production.

So let me pose a question to the distinguished readership: does this sound like it’s working? Would you say a baseball player getting one hit in every 67 at-bats (pitchers and Kansas City Royals excluded) is a “successful hitter?” How about a pizza delivery boy who delivers 1 in every 67 pizzas to the right house, would you says he needs a raise? The only question is if the other 66 hectares are really “misses,” or if the drug war is really just a smokescreen for a massive defoliation campaign, part of Colombia’s seemingly eternal civil war.

Worse than “missing” are the effects on what they’re hitting. The Monsanto Corporation, makers of glyphosphate, the active ingredient in their retail herbicide Roundup (and, incidentally, the major financial beneficiary of the spraying of 19 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam), will not divulge how much taxpayer money they are getting from the fumigation, but at a wholesale price of about $15-$20 a gallon, it’s a lot. Suspiciously, neither the State Department nor Monsanto will confirm the relationship between the chemical giant and the U.S. Government.

This is what it says on a bottle of Roundup: Roundup will kill almost any green plant that is actively growing. Roundup should not be applied to bodies of water such as ponds, lakes or streams as Roundup can be harmful to certain aquatic organisms. After an area has been sprayed with Roundup, people and pets (such as cats and dogs) should stay out of the area until it is thoroughly dry. We recommend that grazing animals such as horses, cattle, sheep, goats, rabbits, tortoises and fowl remain out of the treated area for two weeks. If Roundup is used to control undesirable plants around fruit or nut trees, or grapevines, allow twenty-one days before eating the fruits or nuts…. Do not apply this product in a way that will contact workers or other persons, either directly or through drift. Only protected handlers may be in the area during application.

Clearly, these guidelines are not being followed in Columbia.

As if that weren’t bad enough, it turns out that the concentration of glyphosate being sprayed is five times the recommended dosage of one liter per acre. And cosmoflux enhances the toxicity of glyphosphate. According to Doctor Elsa Nivia, Colombia’s Regional Director of the Pesticide Action Network, “the mixture with the Cosmo Flux 411 F surfactant can increase the herbicide’s biological action fourfold, producing relative exposure levels which are 104 times higher than the recommended doses for normal agricultural applications in the United States; doses which, according to the study mentioned, can intoxicate and even kill ruminants.” The Roundup-Cosmo Flux mixture has never been tested. The use of such a mixture would be considered a very serious crime in the U.S.

The spraying program drastically outpaces efforts to provide any other possible way to make a living in Colombia’s desolate rural zones, where 85% live in poverty. Alternative development projects, granting assistance to Colombian farmers who agree to eradicate their illicit crops, are severely underfunded. The United States Agency for International Development, for example, predicted that assistance was needed for 136,600 families, yet only 33,400 families were served by alternative development programs from 2000-2003.

So just imagine for a minute that you, now a poor-ass Colombian campesino (instead of an overweight Buffalo Bills fan with 6 “AFC Champions” T Shirts), just got wind of the fact that these alternative development programs are a joke and that you probably aren’t going to get paid at all, despite the fact that you just pulled up all your coca plants. And that just as you’re contemplating what you’re going to do to feed your family, a fleet of US AT802 Air Tractor fumigation airplanes sprays hundreds of gallons of weedkiller all over your farm. And in a matter of hours, all your yucca and corn, the stuff you used to eat, is brown and dead, and your animals and children are sick. Now what are you going do?

Well, you basically have four options. First, you could try and actually re-plant your farm with licit food crops and wait around to see if anything grows before you get crop-dusted again with herbicide. The problem with this, however, is that if you wanted to sell any of these crops, transportation costs are so high that they will almost assuredly offset anything resembling a profit because the roads suck so badly. Or you could pack up the family and head to a major city like Bogotá or Medellin. The drawback here, unfortunately, since you are so damn poor and have no education, is that you’ll have a hell of a time finding a job because everybody else whose farm just got fumigated had the same idea. So, instead of joining the rest of Colombia’s internally displaced population in a metropolitan slum, a better option might just be to stay put and wait until you are recruited by either one of the leftist guerrilla insurgent groups or perhaps the friendly, neighborhood paramilitary death squads who will also happily enlist you. The problem here is that if anyone thinks you’re collaborating with the other side you’ll probably get shot. The best option, then, might just be to sit tight and plant coca like before. Better yet, you could head a little further into the forest, and instead of planting all your coca in one big field, you could chop down some trees and create a bunch of small plantations that are so well-hidden in the woods that the spray planes will never be able to access them. One of the added bonuses here is that not only is your crop much more profitable than anything else—thanks to those rich gringos who just can’t get enough nose candy—but your boss will also pay you in advance and swing by the farm to pick up tour coca leaves or coca paste and take it to market for you.

As the National Institute on Drug Abuse notes increases in both the use and perceived availability of cocaine among American high school children, the Congressional leadership is starting to get its collective grapesmugglers in a knot, since this makes it difficult for them to look “tough on drugs” and scare people into voting for them.

Earlier this month at a Congressional hearing brazenly entitled “Plan Colombia: Major Successes and Remaining Challenges,” House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois) pandered to any House Republicans who may be concerned with the direction of current policy. Followed by five other witnesses, each representing agencies whose budgets and reputations depended on putting the best possible spin on events, we heard almost nothing but unqualified praise for President Uribe and his tremendous leadership. The message from Hastert and company was clear: “If you oppose current policy, you’re running afoul of party leadership.” This despite a recent slew of bad news from Colombia, including increased coca production, American GIs being arrested for selling munitions to paramilitary foreign terrorist organizations, and a notable increase in guerrilla counter-offensives.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jonathon Farrar, eager to contribute to the fundamentalist circle jerk, later went on the record to defend expanding the US-sponsored aerial eradication program to include Colombia’s national parks.

While this controversial proposal is on the verge of being accepted in Bogotá, it is hard to imagine people in the US ever tolerating a similar practice in places like Glacier, Big Bend and Sequoia National Parks, where illicit crop cultivations also persist. The National Parks Conservation Association recently noted that marijuana cultivations in national parks are one of the biggest problems currently facing the parks system.

Meanwhile, as we continue spraying, it should be noted that Colombia is among the planet’s richest countries in biodiversity, ranking first in birds and amphibians, second in plants and third in mammals worldwide.

Current policy, while spending billions, is doing little to keep drugs out of the US while causing significant collateral damage at home and in Colombia. In 2003, the US Office of National Drug Control Policy estimated that illegal drug use kills 19,000 American annually, while costing the economy more than $160 billion in lost revenue. In Colombia, a host of problems—ranging from internal displacement, environmental degradation, political violence, organized crime, rural poverty, urban unemployment and food insecurity—are exacerbated by a fundamentalist attitude among US lawmakers and an outdated counter-narcotics strategy which concomitantly undermines democratic practices, rule of law, and counter-terrorism goals.

If the goal really is a reduction in domestic cocaine use, a much better strategy would be to reduce demand. A RAND corporation study finds that drug treatment programs here at home are 23 times more cost-effective than eradication efforts at the source. However, instead of heeding this evidence and treating users, we continue to incarcerate them. Fully 60 percent of the nation's prisoners are drug offenders. This incarceration policy has done nothing to decrease the availability or use of drugs in America, and is criminalizing otherwise law-abiding American citizens.

US policy toward drugs and toward Colombia needs to evolve—unfortunately, most of our lawmakers don’t seem to believe in evolution.

Rather than subject Colombia’s people and national parks to more of this imbecilic and unconscionable practice, it would be nice if lawmakers like Senator Coleman, one of six Republicans who voted against drilling for oil in Alaska’s National Arctic Wildlife Refuge, would stop and ask the question: “If this spraying program isn’t doing anything to keep Americans off drugs, why do we keep paying for it?”

The answer, unfortunately, is not something that people in Washington want to hear. Because if they did, they would learn that the US-sponsored aerial drug-crop eradication program, despite having now defoliated 20 percent of the country’s arable land and generated over 4,500 complaints for ruining legal food crops, is not really intended to keep kids off drugs; its about helping the Colombian government to forcibly displace millions of poor peasants from their land. That way they can’t support, either covertly or overtly, any of the country’s leftist guerilla groups or right wing paramilitaries that control half the country. And this, at least for a little while, gives the impression that the government is making important advances to thwart the “terrorist problem,” which has apparently been plaguing the country for the last 40 years.

Instead of maintaining this ridiculous 80/20 ratio of military and police aid to social investment, we should replace this “all stick and no carrot” policy with a less abominable and destructive approach. Preferably one that begins with a thorough and participatory review of the current imbroglio, uses relevant and reliable indicators to monitor progress toward goals (not categories like “hectares eradicated” and “tons of drugs seized,”) and does not advocate dumping more poison on Colombia’s national parks as the next logical stop in “winning the war on drugs.”

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