FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Colombia’s Agent Orange?

by JENNY O'CONNOR

A core element of U.S. anti-drugs policy in Colombia has been the destruction of coca fields by aerial chemical fumigation thus impacting the cocaine trade at its source. The continuation of this policy is based on three core myths: (1) That fumigation can target coca fields with pinpoint accuracy; (2) That the chemical used is harmless to humans and the environment; and (3) that aerial chemical fumigation is an effective method of eradicating coca cultivation.

Does Aerial Fumigation Accurately Target Coca Crops?

It is claimed that aerial fumigation uses satellite and computer technology to target coca cultivation with pinpoint accuracy. This has been disputed by international NGOs, indigenous leaders and the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (a Federal Advisory Committee to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) who have stated that subsistence crops, livestock, villages and sometimes even schools and churches have been sprayed with chemicals during the fumigation process.

One almost unbelievable event occurred in December 2000 when the late Senator Paul Wellstone, a democrat from Minnesota and a fierce opponent of Plan Colombia, was invited by the U.S. embassy in Bogota to witness the accuracy of aerial fumigation in person. When the planes flew overhead Wellstone, the lieutenant colonel of the Colombian National Police, the US ambassador to Colombia, and other embassy and congressional staff were drenched with the chemical spray. After this PR disaster Wellstone’s spokesperson, Jim Farrell, noted; “Imagine what is happening when a high-level congressional delegation is not present.

Is Aerial Fumigation Safe for Humans and the Environment?

The herbicide used for aerial fumigation of coca is called Roundup, originally patented and produced by controversial U.S. agri-corporation; Monsanto. Monsanto has always maintained that Roundup is a mild herbicide that is “biodegradable” and of no risk to human health or the environment. In 2009, however, a French court ruled that Monsanto had been lying when making these claims in its advertisements for the herbicide.

The active ingredient in Roundup is a chemical called glyphosate that is classed as “dangerous to the environment” and “toxic for aquatic organisms” by the European Union. Independent scientific studies have shown that low levels of glyphosate exposure causes human DNA and Cell damagekills human placental, umbilical and embryonic cells in less than 24 hours and causes liver damage and large tumours in rats. In Argentina a study demonstrated that glyphosate based herbicides caused the same specific neural birth defects and craniofacial malformations in chickens and amphibians as those complained about by people most exposed to crop spraying. This prompted the Chaco Government to investigate and in 2010 their report found that since the use of glyphosate based herbicides began in 2002 the communities most exposed had experienced an alarming increase in birth defects, spontaneous abortion and leukaemia, brain tumours and lymphomas in children under the age of 15. Two separate studies in Sweden have linked Hairy Cell Leukaemia and Non Hodgkins Lymphoma to Glyphosate exposure. In the Western world, Non-Hodgkins lymphoma is the most rapidly increasing cancer and in the U.S. it has risen by 73% since 1973, three years after Roundup was first introduced to the market.

In the production of glyphosate herbicides (of which Roundup is by far the most common) other ingredients are added to increase their effectiveness and it is claimed that these additives are harmless and inert. It has been discovered, however, that Roundup is far more toxic to human cells and DNA than its active ingredient alone. In fact, the toxicity of Roundup’s various varieties does not directly correlate to the amount of Glyphosate they contain meaning that the apparently ‘inert’ additives must include toxins. These additives often come under far less scrutiny and testing than glyphosate alone and often they are protected as “trade secrets”.

The adverse health effects uncovered in the studies mentioned above were based on concentrations of glyphosate based herbicides far below the levels used in U.S. agricultural production. In Colombia, however, the strength of the herbicide used for spraying is far beyond normal agriculture use. This is because two specific additives (Cosmo-Flux 411 and Cosmo InD) are added increasing Roundup’s toxicity four-fold. In addition, the concentrations in the mixtures prepared by the Colombian military (under the guidance of their US colleagues) are five times higher than is recognised as safe for aerial application by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Given these facts, it is not surprising that people have started to call Roundup ‘Colombia’s Agent Orange.’ After all it was Monsanto that created and produced the defoliant Agent Orange that was sprayed on civilians, Vietcong and U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War. Agent Orange, like Roundup, could strip jungles to the ground but was still marketed as safe to humans by its main distributer; Monsanto. In fact, it later emerged that Monsanto had known of Agent Orange’s toxicity years before but had covered it up.

In Colombia the symptoms complained about by people affected by aerial fumigation are worryingly similar to the initial symptoms of Agent Orange exposure; acute respiratory problems, conjunctivitis and other eye infections, miscarriage, dizziness, headaches, rashes, dermatitis, impetigo, abscesses, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and vomiting and the fact that children seem to be particularly effected. The gradual emergence of evidence linking glyphosate based herbicides, particularly Roundup, to various forms of cancer, birth defects and foetal malformations arouses an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu and raises serious concerns regarding the yet unknown human health and environmental implications of aerial chemical fumigation in Colombia.

Is Aerial Fumigation Effective in Eradicating Coca Cultivation?

As well as the clear human health and environmental risks involved in the fumigation campaign, it has also been a massive failure in achieving its stated goal; the eradication of the coca crop. Few government resources are channelled into helping farmers raise legal crops and as their subsistence crops are destroyed by chemical spraying many poor farmers are forced into some element of the drug trade. According to U.S. NGO Witness for Peace, fumigation has even destroyed U.S. Aid and U.N. funded development projects aimed at providing farmers with alternatives to coca cultivation. Coca, unlike most other food crops, is actually quite resistant to aerial spraying of glyphosate and is often seen growing back after chemical spraying where other crops will not. Therefore many farmers who have their food crops destroyed are left with few options when coca is all that will grow on their land. The result of the fumigation campaign therefore has actually been a marked increase in coca cultivation.

Jenny O’Connor holds an honours degree in international relations (First Class) with a specialisation in inter-state economic relations and contemporary Latin American politics. You can follow O’Connor and her travels at jennyoconnor.wordpress.com

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
Nicholas Buccola
What’s the Matter with What Ted Said?
Aidan O'Brien
Thank Allah for Western Democracy, Despondency and Defeat
Joseph Natoli
The Politics of Crazy and Stupid
Sher Ali Khan
Empirocracy
Nauman Sadiq
A House Divided: Turkey’s Failed Coup Plot
Franklin Lamb
A Roadmap for Lebanon to Grant Civil Rights for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
Colin Todhunter
Power and the Bomb: Conducting International Relations with the Threat of Mass Murder
Michael Barker
UK Labour’s Rightwing Select Corporate Lobbyist to Oppose Jeremy Corbyn
Graham Peebles
Brexit, Trump and Lots of Anger
Anhvinh Doanvo
Civilian Deaths, Iraq, Syria, ISIS and Drones
Christopher Brauchli
Kansas and the Phantom Voters
Peter Lee
Gavin Long’s Manifesto and the Politics of “Terrorism”
Missy Comley Beattie
An Alarmingly Ignorant Fuck
Robert Koehler
Volatile America
Adam Vogal
Why Black Lives Matter To Me
Raouf Halaby
It Is Not Plagiarism, Y’all
Rev. Jeff Hood
Deliver Us From Babel
Frances Madeson
Juvenile Life Without Parole, Captured in ‘Natural Life’
Charles R. Larson
Review: Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail