questions for Colombia policy, Latin America Working Group, May 18, 2001
questions for Colombia policy
The $1.3 billion
aid package passed last year, marking a dramatic escalation of US involvement
in Colombia, carries with it many risks and involves many unanswered questions.
In the months leading up to its passage, the Clinton Administration and
congressional backers painted an optimistic picture of the package’s potential
to help Colombia deal with its complex problems, while critics warned
of dire consequences.
Now that the package
is a reality, it would be wise to take a more careful look at the risks
and uncertainties posed by this policy before appropriating more funding.
Frequently, the questions asked about Colombia counternarcotics policy
are limited in scope–is the right equipment being delivered on time?
How many hectares of coca are being eradicated? Here are ten unanswered
questions policymakers should be asking.
the policy helped the United States to limit drug abuse and drug violence?
increased US aid to the Colombian military leading to improved human
the policy helped the peace process or harmed it?
is the regional impact of the policy?
the policy headed for quagmire?
are the impacts of the policy on democratic structures and civil military
the alternative development programs being implemented effectively?
US-funded programs to strengthen human rights and improve the justice
is the impact on Colombia’s crisis of internal displacement and refugee
is the impact of this policy on the environment?
Has the policy helped the United States to limit drug abuse and drug violence?
If the United States’
concern about drugs is really the driving force behind Colombia policy,
this ought to be the first question policymakers seek to answer. Success
in combating drug abuse in the United States can not be measured by the
number of acres of coca fumigated or acres planted in a given country,
measures often used in evaluating the success of international drug control
programs. Because of the infamous adaptability of the drug trade and
the ability to shift production from one region to another, the only measure
of success in supply reduction is a worldwide decline in production.
By this measure,
international source country eradication programs have not been successful.
The much-heralded reduction of coca planting in Peru and Bolivia, for
example, was “offset by Colombia’s increased coca cultivation in calendar
year 2000,” (Statement
of General Peter Pace, Commander in Chief, United States Southern
Command, Senate Armed Services Committee, March 27, 2001). As fumigation
proceeds in Putumayo, Colombia, cultivation is moving to the neighboring
province of Nariño and over the border to Ecuador (Juan Forero, “In
the War Against Coca, Colombian Growers Simply Move Along,” New
York Times, 3/17/2001).
Such failures are
strategic rather than incidental, according to international drug policy
successes..., source country operations have consistently been a strategic
failure, never significantly raising the price of cocaine or heroin
in the United States for more than a few months. In fact, while spending
on eradication and interdiction programs has grown from a few million
dollars in the early 1970s to billions annually today, the street price
of a pure gram of cocaine has dropped from $1,400 to under $200 during
that time, and the price of heroin has dropped from about $4,000 to
a few hundred dollars. This strategic failure is not due to a lack
of will or resources, but rather to the structure of the market for
illegal drugs, which invariably thwarts Washington’s best efforts to
suppress supply. Drugs are so cheap to produce, the barriers to entry
in the market are so low, and the potential profits are so enormous
that market forces invariably attract willing growers, producers, and
traffickers. Official measures of success–tons of cocaine seized, numbers
of traffickers arrested, acres of coca leaf eradicated–are as misleading
as the body counts during the Vietnam War because high profits generate
a limitless supply of new growers and traffickers even as the war on
drugs drives some out of business.” (William LeoGrande and Kenneth
Wars or One? Drugs, Guerrillas, and Colombia’s New Violencia,”
World Policy Journal, Fall 2000, p. 2.)
on supply reduction ignores the most important measure of success in US
drug policy, which would be a decline in drug abuse and drug-related violence
in the United States. Critics point to the failures of current drug policy
to address what should be the most important goals in the United States–saving
lives, keeping drugs out of the hands of children and teenagers, reducing
the violence associated with drugs, and treating addicts. According to
Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, overdose deaths
have climbed steadily since 1979, while illegal drugs are more easily
available to high school seniors than at any time in history, according
to a 1998 study. Of the five million Americans who require immediate
treatment for drug use each year, only 2 million receive it (Office of
National Drug Control Policy, National
Drug Control Strategy, 2000 Annual Report).
Is increased US aid to the Colombian military leading to improved human
It is too early to
measure the impact of US training. However, during the time since US
aid began to flow, the human rights situation has deteriorated even further,
and any progress related to diplomatic pressure resulting from the conditions
attached to the aid package has been minimal at best. The period from
August 2000 to the present, when the US aid package began to flow after
President Clinton waived the human rights conditions, was characterized
by an escalation of paramilitary massacres. The number of massacres
in the first four months of 2001 is roughly double the number of massacres
in the first four months of 2000. The massacres reached a level of
unparalleled brutality (Scott Wilson, “Colombian
Massacre Large, Brutal/Chain Saws Used by Paramilitaries in Village Killing,”
Washington Post, 4/21/2001). The army rarely acted to protect the
civilian population despite numerous cases in which pleas for help were
issued prior to paramilitary attacks. (See, for example, Juan Forero,
of Colombians Are Reported Massacred by Paramilitaries,” New York
Times, 4/20/01, or Jared Kotler, “Colombia Massacre Warnings Unheeded,”
Associated Press, 4/21/2001.) Moreover, army-paramilitary complicity
went much farther, as suggested by the following description of the Chengue
massacre, which was only one of 23 paramilitary massacres in the month
In dozens of interviews,
conducted in small groups and individually over three days, survivors
said military aircraft undertook surveillance of the village in the
days preceding the massacre and in the hour immediately following it.
The military, according to these accounts, provided safe passage to
the paramilitary column and effectively sealed off the area by conducting
what villagers described as a mock daylong battle with leftist guerrillas
who dominate the area.
no guerrillas," said one resident, who has also told his story
to two investigators from the Colombian prosecutor general's human rights
office. "Their motive was to keep us from leaving and anyone else
from coming in until it was all clear. We hadn't seen guerrillas for
weeks." (Scott Wilson, “Chronicle
of a Massacre Foretold,” Washington Post, 1/28/2001).
reports of army support for or tolerance of paramilitary violations, no
military officials were dismissed during this period explicitly on human
rights grounds. Three hundred and sixty-nine lower-level officers and
soldiers were dismissed without explanation, but were not prosecuted;
of these, the Colombian paper El Espectador reports that 11 captains
and 5 majors joined the paramilitary forces after their dismissal (“From
Bad to Worse,” New York Times, 4/4/2001). Human rights cases involving
military officials remained in military courts, instead of being transferred
to civilian courts, as specified by the conditions and in accordance with
Colombia’s 1997 Constitutional Court decision. One of the few trials
of high-level military officials to move forward, General Jaime Humberto
Uscátegui’s involvement in the 1997 Mapiripán massacre,
ended February 2001 with a military court ruling of 40 months in jail–only
two months more than was given to the lower-level officer who acted as
a whistle blower in the case.
What should policymakers
look for in evaluating progress? Actions, not words, especially on the
essential issues of cutting ties between the army and paramilitaries,
capturing and prosecuting paramilitary leaders, and protecting the civilian
population. The Pastrana Administration has been skilled at issuing decrees,
but often fails to follow through with deeds. Amnesty International,
Human Rights Watch and the Washington Office on Latin America have set
forth a list of specific benchmarks that should have been met prior to
the Secretary of State certifying compliance with the conditions. These
benchmarks, which are still relevant, include: that the Colombian government
should publicly present a fully-funded plan to disband paramilitary groups;
that 11 high-ranking officers be investigated and brought to trial in
civilian courts; that 8 high-ranking paramilitary leaders be investigated
and prosecuted; and that the perpetrators of 30 major human rights cases
and massacres be investigated and prosecuted. (See “Colombia
Human Rights Certification,” August 2000, pp.23-34).
also keep a careful watch on whether US equipment, training and intelligence
contributes to human rights violations. In the Santo Domingo case, the
Colombian airforce using US-made helicopters bombarded a town and killed
19 people, including 7 children (December 13, 1998), without triggering
a cutoff of US aid. In the case of Mapiripán, the United States
trained troops who were linked to a massacre. The 2nd mobile
brigade received US Special Forces training in June 1997 and one month
later facilitated the arrival of paramilitary forces into Mapiripán,
where 49 civilians were brutally killed and pleas for help were ignored
over a period of five days.
A disturbing question
for the future is the impact of US efforts to strengthen Colombian military
intelligence. The primary way in which the Colombian armed forces assist
the paramilitaries is through the sharing of intelligence. There are
no safeguards to ensure that intelligence supplied by the United States
is not passed along to the paramilitaries and that US support to strengthen
intelligence gathering does not end up benefiting paramilitaries and contributing
to paramilitary attacks against civilians.
A particular concern
for US policy is the persistence of army-paramilitary ties, and expanding
paramilitary action, in southern Colombia where US training and fumigation
efforts are focused. Paramilitaries extended their control over southern
Colombia through a series of brutal actions in the months preceding the
fumigation campaign. The Colombian Army’s 24th brigade based
in Puerto Asís, Putumayo reportedly permits paramilitaries to patrol
the town and fails to take action against paramilitaries within the town
or in nearby bases and farms (interview with local official, Puerto Asís
, September 2000; "Sin mayor control los 'paras' en Putumayo,"
El Tiempo, Bogotá, October 5, 2000). A paramilitary roadblock
15 minutes from a battalion of the 24th brigade continued to
operate eight months after the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’
office in Colombia reported its existence to the Colombian government
(the military authorities denied in writing its existence, despite the
UN’s statement and numerous stories in major media) (UN High Commissioner
for Human Rights, Report
on the Human Rights Situation in Colombia, March 20, 2001). The
24th brigade is currently suspended per the Leahy Law from
receiving US training, but the US embassy has stated that this suspension
is based on an older case which will shortly be resolved. US-funded
counternarcotics units coordinate actively with the 24th brigade;
the fumigation efforts starting in December operated out of 24th
Has the policy helped the peace process or harmed it?
The immediate impact
of the aid package was to harden positions within the guerrilla forces–at
least the FARC–the paramilitaries, and the army. FARC leaders have made
repeated statements that they view the US military aid package as a provocation,
and have proclaimed that US military personnel in areas of conflict are
military targets. Paramilitary leadership welcomed the aid package as
support for their cause. In southern Colombia, both FARC guerrillas and
paramilitaries intensified their brutal pressure on the local population
to join one armed band or the other in preparation for the impact of the
US-funded and trained “push into southern Colombia.” (“Guerrilla arma
a campesinos para responder a plan Colombia,” El Colombiano, Medellin,
8/13/00.) Fierce clashes between paramilitaries and guerrillas in southern
Colombia in September-October cut off commerce and produced a new wave
of 1,000 displaced people (Juan Forero, “Southern
Colombia brought to a Standstill by Fighting,” New York Times,
10/19/2000). Colombian army leaders have asserted their impatience with
the peace process, sometimes in direct contradiction to President Pastrana.
Proponents of the aid package argued that strengthening the military would
force the guerrillas to more serious negotiations; opponents argued that
US military assistance could weaken chances for peace by strengthening
the Colombian armed forces’ view that the war is winnable. It is difficult
to gauge at this point what the long-term impact will be.
Despite the immediate
negative impact of the escalation of US aid to the Colombian military,
however, some international diplomats stress that the US government still
can, if it wishes to, take positive steps to promote peace initiatives.
Public pronouncements and quiet diplomacy in support of continued peace
negotiations can be helpful, particularly to bolster faltering Colombian
domestic support of the peace process. Pressure on the Colombian government
to improve the armed forces’ human rights record–especially in cutting
army-paramilitary ties and stepping up actions against paramilitaries–can
contribute to a climate that favors peace. While at this point the United
States can hardly play the role of a neutral arbiter, the United States
can still provide diplomatic support for peace, including for UN and European
What is the regional impact of the policy? Has it improved or weakened
the stability of Colombia’s neighbors, and how has it affected them in
terms of human rights, democratic structures and civil-military relations?
With or without Plan
Colombia and US assistance, Colombia’s crisis will negatively affect its
neighbors. The United States’ emphAsís , however, upon a stepped
up fumigation and military campaign in southern Colombia is likely to
have a sharp impact upon Ecuador, Brazil and Peru.
report that guerrillas, paramilitaries and drug traffickers have already
set up operations in Ecuador. An estimated 7000 refugees from Colombia
had crossed into Ecuador by February (Samantha Newport and David Adams,
reluctantly joins U.S. war on cocaine,” St. Petersburg Times,
Last fall, the Brazilian,
Argentinian and Venezuelan governments expressed support for peace negotiations,
“but pointedly refused to back the military aspect of the plan,” concerned
in part with spillover of violence and drug trafficking into the rest
of the region. (“Ambitious
Antidrug Plan for Colombia Is Faltering,” Christopher Marquis, New
York Times, 10/15/2000; “US, Brazil See Common Ground on Peru, at
Odds over Colombia,” Reuters, 8/16/2000; “Latin
Leaders Rebuff Call by Clinton on Colombia,” Larry Rohter, New
York Times, 9/2/2000). The Panamanian government and local government
officials in Ecuador have also voiced grave concerns about its impact.
“A Brazilian Border Backwater Readies for Drug War Spillover,” Wall
Street Journal, 12/18/2000). It remains to be seen if the substantial
increases in military and economic aid included in President Bush’s Andean
Initiative will convince regional governments to embrace Plan Colombia
or at least mute their criticisms.
The US government
response to spillover includes providing further aid to militarize borders
proposed FY2002 $730 million package includes, for example, $14.2
million to train and equip counternarcotics forces to “reinforce Brazil’s
border with Colombia and support SIVAM directed CN operations” and $7.9
million in “assistance to the Ecuadoran military to strengthen its capacity
to secure Ecuador’s border with Colombia...” The long-term implications
of such increased militarization have not been carefully contemplated.
concern is that success in eradicating coca in Colombia will cause a resurgence
of production in other countries. Rising prices for coca is already putting
pressure on Peruvian alternative development programs, making a return
to coca production more tempting, while spillover of drug production from
Colombia appears to be introducing new production in Ecuador.
According to a
report being prepared by the United Nations Drug Control Project (UNDCP),
the implementation of the $1.3bn Plan Colombia is already increasing
the price of the raw material used to make cocaine. And that is encouraging
Peruvian farmers to return to the industry. There are around 77,000
hectares of abandoned coca fields in Peru, which need only three to
six months to become active again. New fields have already been sighted
in the south-east of the country (Claire Marshall, "Peru
set to be drug leader," BBC, 2/17/2001).
Is the policy headed for quagmire?
With the ink barely
dry on last year’s Colombia legislation, administration officials and
members of Congress began talking about future requests, while the Colombian
ambassador publicly called for $600 million each year for four years.
The GAO cautions that the Colombia supplemental only funded two years
of a six-year plan and did not include funds necessary to support and
maintain the equipment provided; it also cautions that the plan’s implementation
will be difficult due to the Colombian government’s lack of management
Assistance to Colombia Will Take Years to Produce Results,” GAO, October
2000). The Bush Administration has proposed an additional $730 million
in largely counternarcotics funding for Colombia and the Andean region
for FY2002, with more security assistance included in defense appropriations.
The dramatic increase in counternarcotics funding represented by the 2-year
1.3 billion package already runs the risk of becoming a routine annual
appropriation with the $730 million 1-year package. Unfortunately,
without careful analysis, the very failure of the program results in efforts
to escalate the policy and devote even more resources to an ever-increasing
A related question
is whether the United States will be inexorably pulled into counterinsurgency
efforts, or if it is possible to draw the line at counternarcotics. The
line is already crossed; US counternarcotics training is standard military
training, and there are no clear guidelines regarding the limitations
of the counternarcotics battalions’ operations. Intelligence on guerrilla-related
activities may already be shared with the Colombian military even if unrelated
to drug efforts in drug-producing areas.
The lucrative profits
to be gained from contracts for an aid package this size is already a
force driving expansion of the program, which can undercut careful consideration
of policy choices. An unwinnable war that moves from one country to another
is an ideal source of revenue for helicopter manufacturers–but it may
not be effective national drug policy or strategic foreign policy. Companies
will focus solutions on military hardware rather than the diplomatic,
political, social and economic prerequisites to a lasting solution.
What are the impacts of the policy on democratic structures and civil
It is too early to
judge this impact in Colombia, and the impact of any one factor will be
difficult to measure. It may be instructive, however, to observe the
impact of similar policies in Bolivia. The harsh coca eradication strategy
has paid off in terms of declining coca production in Bolivia (while at
the same time increasing in Colombia), but the efforts have taken a toll
on democracy. Tensions between peasants and the government have repeatedly
come to the boiling point, with more than 100 civilians killed by October
2000 in clashes with the police and military. The draconian law 1008
has swept up the innocent along with the guilty. The Chapare region,
where counternarcotics efforts are concentrated, is increasingly militarized,
while poorly-designed alternative development programs have failed to
deliver a decent life for farmers (see for example “In
Bolivia’s Drug War, Success Has Price,” Washington Post, 3/4/2001).
Are the alternative development programs being implemented effectively,
are they economically and politically viable, and do they cover the affected
and military aid was rapidly put into effect, the alternative development
programs have not even gotten off the ground. While bureaucratic reasons
can be found for this delay, implementing alternative development is clearly
not yet a US policy priority. The fumigation side of the policy was implemented
vigorously, eradicating some 72,000 acres by February, with full knowledge
that the alternative development programs were not ready to begin. As
of March, a report by the Center for International
Policy found only two U.S.-funded agreements or “social pacts,” in which
farmers agree to voluntary eradicate illicit crops in exchange for alternative
development aid, had been signed, incorporating 1453 families. The numbers
targeted are only a fraction of the families who should be eligible: the
Governor of Putumayo claimed in March that the local government could
sign up 27,000 families, if the resources were available and fumigation
As of April, barely
any sign of alternative development aid had arrived even for the limited
number of families covered by the pacts. The lack of implementation of
these programs has already eroded confidence of the local population and
local governments in the “soft” side of the policy.
fumigation efforts in Putumayo destroyed crops in many areas that should
not have been targeted, such as small farms, alternative development projects,
and an indigenous community that had just signed a pact to eliminate coca.
One problem is that areas identified by satellite as industrial-scale
coca plantations on the ground can be seen to be many small plots grouped
together, according to a site visit by Adam Isacson and Ingrid Vaicius
Ground Zero,” Center for International Policy, April 2001). According
to a March 2001 paper on “The Impact of Fumigation,” prepared by local
Putumayo leaders, the municipality of Valle del Guamuez received 180 complaints
of 1796 hectares of food crops fumigated, 42,663 farm animals killed or
harmed (from livestock to poultry to fish in fish farms), and 885 people
affected with health complaints, including diarrhea, vomiting, and rashes,
while the municipality of La Hormiga has received 850 complaints including
8194 hectares of food crops destroyed, 5174 people affected with health
complaints, and 171,643 farm animals affected. While such claims must
be verified, there is clearly an impact on human health, livestock and
legal crops. According to the national ombudsman of Colombia, eleven
alternative development projects were fumigated, including programs funded
by the UN, Europe, and the Colombian government (“Ombudsman
proves impact of fumigation on 11 projects for alternative development,”
National Ombudsman of Colombia, February 12, 2001).
It is an axiom of
development that good programs are designed as well as implemented with
extensive participation by those who will benefit from or be affected
by them. By this standard, the alternative development programs in Plan
Colombia are off to an abysmal start. Two successive governors of Putumayo
province have asserted that they were not consulted in the design of the
program (previous governor Jorge Devia Murcia and current governor Iván
Guerrero). Neither other local authorities nor the affected communities
were consulted by Colombia’s central government or the United States.
Six governors from southern Colombia have denounced fumigation efforts.
“Fumigation is not the solution,” said Governor Guerrero, “It has a great
defect. It doesn’t really take into account the human being.” Mr. Guerrero
warned that fumigation will drive the poorest farmers deeper into the
arms of drug traffickers by ruining their food crops and alienating people
from their national government. (Christopher Marquis, “Colombian
Governors Protest U.S. Backed Spraying of Coca,” New York Times,
The Putumayo local
government, farmers, and local civic groups have presented a proposal
for manual eradication by the growers themselves, a gradual phase-out
of coca, and truly sustainable crop substitution and other development
programs. Former Putumayo governor Devia cautions that past government
alternative development programs administered by the Colombian government
alternative development agency PLANTE were done without consultation,
without knowledge of local conditions, with some corruption, and were
characterized by broken promises to peasants which undermined future faith
in such programs.
of alternative development suggests that the following must be considered:
- alternative development
cannot solely focus on crop substitution on existing lands (where soils
may be poor and sustain only certain kinds of crops), but must provide
some farmers with more appropriate lands through agrarian reform, and
must provide pickers, who often come from urban areas, with urban job
- marketing must
be considered from the start, factoring in to all calculations the costs
of transport to markets; that rural roads must be developed;
- coca growers’
unions should be consulted regarding the design and implementation of
programs, although the US has generally preferred to keep these organizations
at arms’ length; and
- gradual phase-out
programs are more workable, because there is a substantial timelag between
coca removal and adequate harvests of new crops (the social pacts being
used in Putumayo allow a one-year phase-out, which local experts consider
What is particularly
worrisome is the question of how alternative development programs can
thrive in a setting of increased military campaigns, stepped up fumigation,
and increased recruiting and attacks by guerrilla and paramilitary forces.
Successful alternative development programs require the support of communities
and their leaders. The military and fumigation programs are already causing
people to disperse, destroying the community fabric and organizations
needed to implement programs successfully.
Another concern is
whether there is adequate funding for alternative development programs,
which are by necessity expensive. The US aid package was sold to the
US Congress with the expectation that European governments and the Colombian
government itself would contribute the bulk of the funding for the social
side of the package. Plan Colombia was supposed to total $7.5 billion,
with $4 billion coming from the Colombian budget and $3.5 billion from
the international community. In fact, it is not clear whether Colombia
has dedicated additional funding to Plan Colombia activities, beyond its
regular budget. European countries have been reluctant to provide assistance,
concerned at the unilateral and military approach the United States has
taken. “It’s the only aid package I know of where the military component
was put smack in the middle of a development package,” said one Scandinavian
diplomat.... “It contaminated everything in the eyes of Colombian civil
society and the European community.” (“Europeans
Scale back Colombian Drug Aid,” Scott Wilson, Washington Post,
10/19/2000) European governments appear to be focusing aid efforts
on peace-building efforts in northern Colombia rather than contributing
to alternative development in the south.
Members of Congress
should continue to watch whether alternative development programs and
other socioeconomic programs are adequately funded, but even more important,
that they are effectively implemented. They should carefully evaluate
any claims by the Colombian government and the US administration that
consultation with affected communities and local governments is occurring
in any systematic way. The programs, as noted, are off to a poor start,
but real and systematic consultation and flexibility in implementation
could still improve results. Poorly designed and inadequately funded
alternative development programs combined with increased fumigation and
militarization of southern Colombia will have disastrous consequences,
not the least of which will be to drive peasant farmers into the ranks
of the insurgency or the paramilitaries and to spell the failure of drug
Are US-funded programs to strengthen human rights and improve the justice
While US funding
programs for human rights and justice system strengthening are well-intentioned
and their goals appear well-designed, these programs must be carefully
monitored to ensure that they are effective. Like the alternative development
programs, they are barely being implemented; as of April, only some $5
million worth of programs had been disbursed by the Justice Department,
which manages these programs. The context in which they are provided,
the largely military aid package, has burdened them from the start with
For example, a number
of the nongovernmental organizations best qualified to implement such
programs have declared that they will reject such assistance. More than
100 Colombian NGOs signed an August declaration that Plan Colombia was
co-opted by US military strategy, making their participation unethical
and dangerous (Steven Dudley, “Colombian
Groups Say U.S. Aid Endangers Them,” Washington Post, 8/23/2000).
Organizations are also worried that accepting US assistance will make
them targets of guerrilla violence. Publicly rejecting the assistance,
however, also could make them more vulnerable to paramilitary attacks.
The rejection of funds by well-qualified organizations leaves the field
open to contractors with less experience in Colombia, who may still face
difficulties when they need to subcontract projects to Colombian counterparts.
The limited US aid
available in the past for human rights/justice has focused on training.
Colombian government prosecutors and investigators, however, claim with
some justification that their staffs are well trained and skilled, and
that instead of training, they face two related obstacles: political will
by the national government to support and implement their decisions, and
infrastructure to carry them out. For example, technical investigations
unit (CTI) staff claims that the security forces only carry out one in
ten arrest warrants for paramilitary leaders, so careful investigations
come to nothing. Moreover, prosecutors and investigators claim that the
central government does not allocate the cars and bodyguards they need
to carry out risky investigations with sufficient protection. Many investigators
have been killed or forced into exile. The effective human rights unit
of the Attorney General’s office and the technical investigations unit
are hampered by a high turnover rate due to the enormous stress and risk.
Aid programs to the
justice sector are promising but run the risk of being ineffective if
they provide resources and training but fail to address or are undercut
by the lack of political will on the part of the Colombian executive branch
and security forces.
What is the impact on displacement?
US policy’s impact
on displacement should not just be measured by effective delivery of humanitarian
assistance but also by whether it is creating more displacement or creating
the conditions that would allow displacement to slow and resettlement
to take place. With 2 million people displaced since 1985
and nearly 300,000 per year in recent years, displacement must be addressed
in Colombia as a major national priority in and of itself.
to the displaced, like aid for human rights, has been complicated by the
military nature of the package. Horrified by the fact that the official
US aid plan contemplated forcibly displacing an additional 10,000 people
through fumigation, as well as worried about risks to their field staff
if US funds were accepted, some of the most qualified humanitarian agencies
decided not to apply for US assistance, while other well-qualified agencies
did decide to accept funding. However, unlike the alternative development
and justice/human rights assistance, aid to the displaced has been rapidly
programmed by AID.
The Colombian government’s
efforts to date to provide humanitarian relief and resettlement for the
displaced have been roundly and almost universally criticized for their
inefficiency. Policymakers should ensure that most assistance is channeled
through nongovernmental humanitarian agencies, but should also ensure
that pressure is brought to bear on the Colombian government agency Red
de Solidaridad, which is responsible for attention to the displaced.
is the impact of this policy on the environment?
There are a number
of unanswered environmental questions. The herbicide used in aerial fumigation
is known as Roundup Ultra, whose main ingredient is the chemical glyphosate.
While the US State Department finds glyphosate to be “less toxic than
common salt” in oral toxicity studies (US
Fact Sheet on Fumigation, 11/6/2000), the Pesticide Action Network
has found that glyphosate is significantly more toxic when inhaled or
applied dermatologically (Elsa
Nivia, PAN Colombia Regional Coordinator, 11/20/2000). An additional
concern is that in Roundup Ultra, the chemicals added to the glyphosate–
which are often more toxic than glyphosate itself– are unknown. Roundup
Ultra is marketed as “Roundup with two additional surfactants” (Monsanto
website), but the surfactants added have not been released. Furthermore,
the concentration at which the herbicide is used in Colombia is unknown,
and could greatly affect the environmental impact of the herbicide application.
There are a number
of other inconsistencies in the fumigation campaign. Fumigation planes
often fly at far higher altitudes than recommended (in fact, the Roundup
website states that the herbicide is “not recommended for aerial application”),
causing the herbicide to drift into rivers, homes, and the Amazon rainforest.
Roundup is not supposed to be applied near or in bodies of water, but
rivers and ponds are routinely fumigated. In addition, the Roundup website
recommends that livestock be kept out of fumigated areas for two weeks
following application, but the aerial fumigation campaigns spray livestock
directly, leading to illness and death. Food crops are also killed.
The long-term impact of the fumigation campaign is still unknown, as there
have been no studies of the use of the herbicide in these specific concentrations
and conditions in tropical environments.
Perhaps the most
dramatic impact, however, is that fumigation causes coca growers to flee
and move deeper into the agrarian frontier, causing deforestation. Often,
farmers move into the Amazon rainforest, putting at risk one of the most
biodiverse regions of the world. Policymakers need to ask more specific
questions about the use of herbicides, insist upon environmental impact
studies, and look at the broader environmental impact of a policy that
shifts coca production from one environmentally fragile area to the next.
Lisa Haugaard, with research assistance by Tina Hodges and Elanor Starmer.