Ecología y Medio Ambiente
Illicit Crops in
The most colorful landscape and great natural diversity of the world is located in Colombia. This country is rich in natural resources and has two oceans surrounding the main land. The Cordillera de los Andes ends in Colombia and the Amazon is located in the south of the country. Colombia's location and variety of ecosystems place it among the world's top five countries for biodiversity. Colombia is one of the countries in South America that has the honor to be located in such a fantastic land full of life and problems also. The mountains and green plantations that surround the jungle give the opportunist drug lords, guerrilla fighters and paramilitary groups a chance to plant and process coca into cocaine. Colombia is well known in the world for the high quality of cocaine and its drug trade between the U.S and Europe. On the other hand, Colombia has been living for more than three decades in a civil war that mainly affects the population in the rural areas. The guerrilla groups and paramilitaries dispute the possession of territories and the national government tries to establish its rules. The use and cultivation of coca for the indigenas in the Andes region has a cultural and peaceful meaning. Now, the U.S government has a big influence in the Colombian conflict because they sponsor their antinarcotics program called, “Plan Colombia”. The military aid contributed by the American government has been involved in the deterioration of the ecosystem caused by the fumigation of coca plantation. The uses of Glyphosate in the fumigation of crops damage the soil and kill people and animals. The eradication of illicit crops is killing the birds. The Colombian conflict allows political tensions with the neighbors. The problems in Colombia have a socio-economic impact as well. The Colombian conflict caused by the illicit crops is more complex than what it seems in reality.
The coca plant is the most powerful and non harmful stimulant of natural origin in the world and indigenas use it every day. Cocaine it is a derivation from the coca plant (Erythroxylon) that comes from South America. The indigenas have used the coca leaves for at least 5000 years. For indigenas coca chewing promotes clarity of mind and a positive mood. Traditionally, the leaves have been chewed for social, mystical, medicinal and religious purposes (www.cocaine.org). Coca has been used by the natives to allow them to travel long distances. The indigenas use the coca leaf for three different reasons: First, is it chew to relieve fatigue and hunger. Second, the medical applications of helping relieve altitude sickness and conserve body heat. Third, the coca leaf contains essential vitamins when consumed. The mouthful of coca gives the person the necessary energy to travel in the mountains. For the indigenas coca was just part of their lives as beer or soda is in the U.S.
The transformation of the coca plant in the U.S and Europe change the perspective of people about consumption. The U.S government had a hard time in the 1940's when alcohol was illegal. Forty years ago the United States became a consumer of illegal drugs with hippies advocating peace at the end of the Vietnam War. This only increased the consumption and challenged the traffickers to find a closer location and cheaper prices for importing the drugs. The growth of illegal drugs, production and smuggling in Colombia is the most lucrative international industry that benefits both the guerrillas and paramilitary groups. Colombia is a minor producer of marijuana and the world's largest cocaine exporter. The traffickers have access to global markets, capital, and the experience to replace supply, diversify production, and maintain profits by initiating farmers into the cultivation of coca and poppy through distribution of seeds and credit (Alexandra Guaqueta). There was a time when the Cali and Medellin cartel made an empire in their cities. People thought that things were going well in the economy but it was only a false image because in that moment the cartels laundry their money from drug traffic. They invested their earnings in legitimate businesses.
Colombian conflict is receiving help from several countries that are all trying to find a solution to the illegal drug business. In 2000 the former president Andres Pastrana made a proposal that the industry, U.S. security consultants, and Colombian contractors, all of which make profits in the context of the Colombian conflict, represent significant interest groups. Plan Colombia is a military aid made by the US government. This campaign has been made possible by millions of dollars of help donated by the U.S. government.
The recognition among the governments in the world regarding use of illegal drugs as being destructive in people lives made them decide to fight the problem. One of the biggest antinarcotics sponsors is the U.S. The creation of a military aid for the Plan Colombia was divided into two major operations. The first operation included counterinsurgency operation and the second one is an anti-drug operation. The second operation included various anti-drug operations, of which the most important has been the intensive use of the herbicide (Glyphosate) for massive aerial spraying of illicit crops in Colombia (www.tni-archives.org). American pilots are in charge to do the aerial spray and Colombian troops secure the area before they do the job. This is not a new herbicide in the market and has been used for more than 25 years. The fumigation of illicit crops also destroys licit crops and alternative projects from farmers that change their crops.
The actions taken in the fight to eradicate illegal crops in Colombia had an impact on the community. The Colombian government had established social programs of crop substitutions. The National Plan for Alternative Development proposed a program where the farmers had to do manual eradication (www.witnessforpeace.org). The national government proposes to pay them for hectares that they eradicate. The farmers would never receive the economic compensation and instead more fumigation would come (www.witnessforpeace.org). The farmers can observe the quick process of destruction from the herbicide, since it takes only one day and the crop substitution will not bear fruits for years.
People cultivation and the environment in rural areas in Colombia are affected by the problems that the fight against drugs has brought. It is common to see the grey clouds of glyphosate spray from airplanes and the desolate image of destruction left behind. The residents of the Amazon and Andes regions are the only ones who observed the negative effects of the herbicide. The most controversial aspects of the spraying are the effect on human health and the environment. They are serious irritants of the respiratory tract, eyes and skin and are contaminated with dioxane (not dioxin) which is a suspected carcinogen in the glyphosate. Fish and invertebrates are more sensitive to formulations of glyphosate (Glyphosate Fact Sheet). The Flora and Fauna suffer the consequences from bad decisions taken by the Colombian government for using glyphosate and the coca farmers cultivating in the middle of natural parks.
No one can hear the suffering from nature but the Colombian neighbors can protest. The Colombian mountains and jungle have a larger quantity of bird species than any other country in the world. Half of the destruction of the Amazon and Andes is caused by recent deforestation from the cultivation of illicit crops. According to Maria Alvarez (2002), there are a total of about 23,000 acres of illicit crops in five protected areas in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Maria and the Serrania de Perija, which each have about 40 threatened bird species. If illicit crop cultivation continues in the Colombian mountain forest some reserves that are critical to bird conservation could be fragmented. In only a decade there will only be much as much a tenth of bird species left. And the Colombian neighbors criticize their politics of how they treat their internal issues because they are being affected also.
The borders in Colombia are unsecured and people suffer continuously. Families that live in the Ecuadorian border observe the effects of the fumigation in the land. They could see the airplanes fumigating the land that is cultivated with corn, rice, bananas, and pineapples (Mike Ceaser 2007). Ecuador is not the only country that is having issues with Colombia for this reason. In Venezuela, the number of refugees from Colombia increase every year and the guerrillas have inhabited the borders of each country. Ranchers and indigenas in Venezuela claim that paramilitaries offered their services to keep the guerrillas away from their land (The Economist, 2003). These issues create economic tensions between the neighboring countries and their communities.
People in rural areas have to cultivate their land with coca plantations or they have to wait for retaliation. The cultivation of the land to produce crops is a loss of money for the farmers. The guerrillas and paramilitaries force them to cultivate coca and then they take the profits. Some farmers see this as a way to make a lot of money but other farmers do not want to switch their crops, so must leave their farms. Those farmers that decide to work for the guerrillas or paramilitaries begin to be prosecuted by the military and antinarcotics police. Every time the plantation is fumigated they move to a new area where they cut trees in order to set the crops (Maria D. Alvarez). Millions of campesinos and indigenas have left their lands to escape the rural violence.
Coca plantations are an inoffensive bush in the forest that was discovered by indigenas and they contain nutrients to survive from this plant. The Andes region and the Amazon jungle are hostile places for humans but the different indigena tribes learned how to live there. In order to receive extra energy the indigenas consume coca because it is a stimulant similar to caffeine. At this point, cocaine is an industry that represents big value in the black market. The U.S government thinks that the best way to stop the traffic is financing internal wars to eradicate illegal crops. This is a way to manipulate the politics and commerce between countries. The country that receives military aid has to prove that it is working on the agenda to establish Plan Colombia and if they do not the U.S will suspend the help. Colombia is one of the countries in the world that receives more military aid and there are no solutions for their issues yet. The Plan Colombia had many critics in the CIA because they made an investigation before Congress gave the money. They found that it was going to be a failure and it would damage the environment. The U.S government has to realize that the prolongation of the military aid in Colombia has terrible consequences to the environment and human rights. People are more likely to leave their land and migrate to the urban areas. The number of displaced people is increasing because they preferred to escape from war and fumigation. A regulation in Australia states that glyphosate should not be used near water because of its toxic level. This type of herbicide was used in the Vietnam War to eradicate illicit crop and it is well known as the “Orange Agent”. The war against illicit crops needs to receive a global cooperation with the Colombian citizens and a real compromise from the national government because sometimes the money does not go to social programs help and the environment.
-Alvarez, D. Maria. Columbia University, New York. “Forest in the Time of Violence: Conservation Implications of the Colombian War.” (2003)
-Guaqueta, Alexandra “Political and Economic Dimensions of the Colombian Conflict.”
-“Ripples of instability; Colombia and its neighbours.” The Economist 3 May, 2003
-Alvarez, D. Maria. “Illicit Crops Threaten Birds in Colombia.” ScienceDaily 23 July, 2002 <http:sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/07/020723075732.htm>.
-Ceaser, Mike “Colombian Coca Fumigation Causes Rifts in South American Relations.” WorldofPoliticsWatch 18 January, 2007 <http:www.worldofpoliticswatch.com/article.aspx?id=482>.
-“Glyphosate Fact Sheet.” 2003 <http:www.safe2use.com/poisons-pesticides/organo/glyphosate.htm>.
-Witness for Peace “Deadly Fumigation Return to Putumayo: Violations of Colombian Law and U.S Conditions.” <http:witneforpeace.org/colombia/colombia_fumigationupdate.html>
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