Last Updated:12/20/01
Letter to Secretary of State Powell from 62 U.S. organizations, December 7, 2001
The Honorable Colin Powell
Secretary of State
US Department of State
Washington, DC

December 7, 2001

Dear Secretary Powell,

The undersigned organizations write to express our grave concerns about the course of US counter-narcotics efforts in Colombia. It has come to our attention that aerial fumigation of illicit crops during the past few weeks has widely targeted legal cultivations, and represents a serious setback to the crucially important development-assistance component of U.S. aid to Colombia.

In the southern Colombian state of Putumayo, the site of the recent fumigations, local farmers and families have signed social pacts promising to eradicate their illicit crops within twelve months of receipt of assistance. Though these pact signers' twelve-month period has not expired - and in many cases aid has yet to arrive - they were specifically targeted by fumigations that began in mid-November.
We are concerned by reports that the November fumigations were carried out in violation of Colombian law, and furthermore in direct contradiction of the spirit of the legal conditions on fumigation approved by the U.S. Senate in the 2002 foreign operations appropriations bill.

A report released by the Colombian field team of Witness for Peace-a U.S. organization that visited the site of fumigations in November 2001 --documents the following:

Communities that signed social pacts were fumigated. The Witness for Peace investigative team in Colombia visited El Paraíso, a small group of communities in the municipality of Valle de Guamuez in Putumayo department. El Paraíso community members are among the 37,000 families in Putumayo that signed U.S.-funded alternative development pacts with the Colombian government over the course of the last year. El Paraíso signed a manual eradication pact with the government on June 1, 2001 and signed a letter of intent for an additional, optional pact on October 22, 2001. On November 13, four crop duster planes flew over El Paraíso three times, staying low to the ground and spraying throughout the communities. Further, Witness for Peace found no evidence to suggest that the National Police gathered information on which areas had social pacts underway when they researched the locations of legal and illegal crops in Putumayo.

Alternative development crops, subsistence crops, water sources sprayed. In addition to coca plants, the pilots sprayed subsistence crops near peoples' homes, including yucca, plantains, beans, fruit trees, corn, and pineapples. In El Paraíso, the spraying destroyed new rice fields, just planted as part of the manual eradication pacts. Houses, community buildings, farm animals, and water sources were also sprayed. Only a few weeks later, low?flying planes, supposedly with high levels of accuracy, widely sprayed legal crops.

Human health impacted. One remote community has reported that an eleven?month old baby died soon after being hit with fumigation chemicals three successive times. Although local medical personnel could not say unequivocally that the baby's death was a direct result of the fumigation chemicals, he could give no other possible explanation. The U.S. Senate recently included language in the 2002 Foreign Operations bill mandating a human health impact study of the fumigation chemicals before any new chemicals are purchased. The current spraying clearly violates that legislation's intent.

Communities had not received promised alternative development assistance. The Senate version of the Foreign Operations bill also mandates that alternative development programs be in place before communities are sprayed. According to the pacts themselves, communities that sign manual eradication pacts have 12 months after the arrival of the first government aid commitments to eradicate their illicit crops. The El Paraíso pact was signed more than six months ago -- on June 1, 2001 -- yet the community has received no government assistance.

Spraying was in violation of Colombian law. Witness for Peace was able to document the fumigation of family farms that contained less than one acre of coca. Colombian Law 0005 of 2000, which regulates fumigations, states that fumigation will be used on coca crop extensions of more than 5 acres. Similarly, the law states that unless food crops are being planted as "dummy crops"-food crops that are planted among coca in order to confuse the aerial spraying program-only illicit crops will be targeted; sparing food crops, pasture lands and water sources. In fact, the law states that "the application of agricultural chemicals in rural zones cannot be carried out within less than 10 meters by land and less than 100 meters by air as a security border, in relation to bodies of water, roads, nuclei of human or animal populations or any other area that requires special protection." Nevertheless, Witness for Peace found evidence to suggest that all of the above have been and are being sprayed in the current fumigation campaign, in clear violation of the law.

The claim of "new coca crops" is a government excuse. In his November 14th letter, Gonzalo de Francisco charges that the fumigation is a punishment for the planting of new coca crops by the pacts' signers. While it may be true that some individuals in some communities planted new coca crops, Witness for Peace did not find this to be a generalized situation. The investigators' findings, substantiated by local government officials, supported the claim that industrial?sized producers, who had never signed pacts in the first place, planted the majority of new crops. De Francisco's letter makes no mention of the lack of government compliance with pact commitments.

The U.S. role. This fumigation campaign was carried out with the cooperation of the U.S. government. A Colombian army officer in charge of one aspect of the fumigation campaign reported, "I believe the U.S. government is pushing for a new round of fumigation" as the reason for the recent spraying.

Most farmers in Colombia's impoverished coca-growing zones want to stop growing coca, and are closely watching the alternative development pacts. While many are skeptical, and believe that the Bogotá government may fail them again, most hope that this U.S.-backed effort may offer a legal alternative in areas where none currently exists. The fumigation of pact signers, even before aid arrives, sends an unhelpful signal. It casts severe doubts on the pacts' viability and increases the local peasants' deep-rooted suspicion of the Colombian government's ability to deliver on its promises. The spraying is nearly certain to prove counterproductive, inspiring coca-growers to ignore the pacts and grow more coca in new zones, out of the spray planes' current reach.

We call into question a government policy that is contradictory to the expressed concerns of U.S. citizens, the U.S. Congress, and Colombian law. We urge you to order the cessation of all U.S.-funded fumigation of communities who have signed social pacts for alternative development. No U.S.-funded fumigation should occur at least until communities have been given a good?faith opportunity to manually eradicate illicit crops. Only then will we begin to see a reduction in the amount of coca and poppy grown in Southern Colombia.


Steven J. Bennett
Executive Director
Witness for Peace

David A. Vargas
Global Ministries
United Church of Christ/Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Susan West Marmagas, MPH
Director, Environment and Health Programs
Physicians for Social Responsibility

David A. Moczulski, OFM
Executive Director
Franciscan Washington Office for Latin America

Terry Collingsworth
Executive Director
International Labor Rights Fund.

Gerald Smith, Ph.D.
Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Michigan

Glenn Wiser
Staff Attorney
Center for International Environmental Law

Rachelle Schlabach
Acting Director
Mennonite Central Committee, Washington Office

Patricia Forner
Advocacy Specialist for Latin America
World Vision US

Margaret Reeves, Ph.D.
Staff Scientist
Pesticide Action Network North America

Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
Auxiliary Bishop
Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit

Kevin B. Zeese
Common Sense for Drug Policy

Kathryn Wolford
Lutheran World Relief

Ivette Perfecto, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Natural Resources
University of Michigan

John I. Laun
Colombia Support Network

Sandra Alvarez
Colombia Program Coordinator
Global Exchange

Gary Chamberlain, Ph.D.
Professor of Christian Ethics
Seattle University

Atossa Soltani
Executive Director
Amazon Watch

Mary Anne Perrone
Steering Committee Chair
Interfaith Council for Peace & Justice

Monti Aguirre
Latin American Campaigns
International Rivers Network

Cathy Crumbley and Father Gerry Kelly
Colombia Vive, Boston

Maria Ines Martinez
Chicago Colombia Committee

Virginia Pratt
Boston Committee for Peace and Human Rights

Paula Palmer
Executive Director
Global Response

Wes Callender
Voices on the Border

Arthur Hynes
Collective member and former Colombia
Action for Community and Ecology in the Regions of Central America

Patrick Reinsborough
Organizing Director
Rainforest Action Network

John Pegg
Regional Coordinator
Witness for Peace Upper Midwest

Neil Jeffery
US Office on Colombia

Rebecca Belletto
Regional Coordinator
Witness for Peace Southwest

Juliana Gonzalez,
Seattle Colombia Committee
Marie Dennis
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
James Oldham
Director, Amazon Project
Institute for Science and Interdisciplinary Studies

Adam Isacson
Senior Associate
Center for International Policy

Arnold Newman, Ph.D.
Executive Director
International Society for the Preservation of the Tropical Rainforest

Kimberly Stanton, Ph.D.
Program Dir. for Latin America and Africa
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights

Wilson (Woody) Powell
National Administrator
Veterans For Peace

Kathy Thornton, RSM
National Coordinator
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

Gary L. Cozette
Executive Director
Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America

JoAnn Kawell
North American Congress on Latin America

Jean E. Jackson, Ph.D.
Professor of Anthropology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Gabriel Camacho
President, Massachusetts Chapter
Labor Council for Latin American Advancement

Sylvester L. Salcedo, LCDR, USNR (Ret.),
Veterans for More Effective Drug Strategies

Joanne Rappaport, Ph.D.
Professor of Latin American Studies
Georgetown University
Past-President, Society for Latin American Anthropology

Suzana Sawyer, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
University of California, Davis

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action Education Fund

John Lindsay-Poland, Coordinator and
Philip McManus, Chair
Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean

Cristina Espinel and Barbara Gerlach
Colombia Human Rights Committee, Washington, DC

Gail S. Phares
Carolina Interfaith Task Force on Central America

Maria Hope
Iowa Representative
Colombia Human Rights Network

Martha Honey
Director, Peace and Security Program
Institute for Policy Studies

Mariana Mejia
Latin American Concerns, Wellesley College

Martha Pierce
Executive Director
Chicago Metropolitan Sanctuary Alliance

Scott Wright
Ecumenical Program on Central America and the Caribbean

Kim Hanna
Regional Leader
November Coalition

Sarah C. Aird
Executive Director
Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala

Kate Harris
MA Green Party

Gustavo Torres
CASA of Maryland, Inc

Bill Callahan
Quest for Peace/Quixote Center

Alice Zachmann
Guatemala Human Rights Comission/USA

Amber Totz
Olympia Colombia Commitee

Joanne Ranney
Regional Coordinator
Witness For Peace, New England

cc: Ambassador Anne Patterson, US Embassy, Bogotá Colombia
Lino Gutierrez, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs
John Creamer, Senior Colombia Desk Officer, Department of State
Michael Deal, Assistant Administrator, US Agency for International Development
Mari Tolliver, Secretary for Human Rights, US Embassy, Bogotá Colombia
Senator Patrick Leahy, Chair, Foreign Operations Appropriations Committee
Senator Mitch McConnell, Ranking Member, Foreign Operations Appropriations Committee
Senator Russ Feingold
Senator Paul Wellstone
Representative Jim Kolbe, Chair,Foreign Operations Subcommittee
Representative Nita Lowey, Ranking Member, Foreign Operations Subcommittee
Representative John Conyers
Representative James McGovern
Representative Jan Schakowsky
Representative Christopher Shays

As of December 20, 2001, this document was also available online at http://www.witnessforpeace.org/colombia/fumigation_letter.html
Search WWW Search ciponline.org

Financial Flows
National Security

Center for International Policy
1717 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Suite 801
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 232-3317 / fax (202) 232-3440