FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Colombia’s National Parks

Daniel Samper Pizano has turned his column in the Bogota daily El Tiempo into a megaphone in recent weeks, rallying the public against U.S.-backed herbicide spraying in Colombia’s 49 national parks. His writing led to a two-day deluge of more than 1,100 angry messages on El Tiempo’s Web site. It sparked a March 18 protest in Bogota outside the agency that oversees the parks. And it threatens to turn an upcoming Colombian Senate debate on the spraying into another protest scene.

The parks fumigation, part of a futile nationwide program to eradicate coca and opium poppy crops, was approved by Colombia’s National Council on Narcotics last June and by the U.S. Congress in December. The spraying endangers wildlife in the parks, which span 25 million pristine acres of a country that leads the world in bird diversity, that’s second in plant and amphibian diversity, and that’s third in reptile diversity. The spraying also threatens cities that depend on the protected areas for their water supplies. And it endangers the health and the food crops of the 800,000 people who live in the parks.

Samper, whose brother Ernesto served as the nation’s president from 1994 to 1998, first tackled the issue in a February 25 column that criticized President Alvaro Uribe Velez for folding the Environment Ministry into a new Ministry of Environment, Housing and Land Development and for appointing Sandra Suarez Perez to lead this “bureaucratic stew.” Until November, Samper noted, Suarez directed Plan Colombia, the U.S.-funded antidrug program that sprays hundreds of thousands of Colombian acres a year.

In a second column, published March 3 under the headline “How to Stop the Park-icide,” Samper turned up the volume. “It’s not enough to get indignant about the fumigations,” he wrote. “Something must be done.” He asked readers to attend the Colombian Senate’s planned March 30 debate on the spraying. And he urged them to flood Uribe, Suarez and human rights ombudsperson Volmar Perez Ortiz with protest letters and to send copies to an organization opposing the sprayings internationally, the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense.

Samper’s decision to offer how-to suggestions for political activism appears to have come in response to reader outcry after the February 25 column was published. In the March 3 piece, he quotes a message he received from one reader, Emilio Edilberto Guerrero: “We need someone to lead a national and international crusade, to mobilize the country. I’ll offer some hours of work… For anything I can do, I’m there.”

Samper’s third column on the topic, published March 9, attacked the three public officials for ignoring public outcry.

The columns apparently emboldened El Tiempo itself to take a stand. A March 13 house editorial departed from the paper’s longtime advocacy for U.S. military aid and collaboration between Washington and Bogota: “To not fumigate the national parks would be, for one honorable time, to put the national interest of a country with the second greatest environmental wealth on the planet before the interest of the United States.”

And, two days later, the newspaper requested the Web site comments. By March 17, at least 1,167 had arrived, nearly all criticizing the spraying. “We can’t confront the barbarous deforestation involved in drug trafficking with barbarous fumigation by the government,” Luis Felipe Ibarra Tamayo of Medellin wrote. “No arguments are needed beyond those of reality: You just have to see the effects. We’ve got to wake up!”

Juan Jose Lopez, a Colombian living abroad, took the sentiment further: “Why don’t we fumigate the brains, if they have them, of people who would even consider destroying the biodiversity in our parks?”

Many described the sprayings as an imposition of U.S. interests over Colombia’s integrity and the world’s ecological health. “Please, no more sacrifices and self-inflicted wounds for a [drug war] that has only brought us death, poverty and divisions,” Maria Elena Ramos of Cali wrote. “Our government’s mission_let no one forget it_is to defend NATIONAL interests!”

The comments also raised points omitted from Samper’s columns. The parks fumigation order, for example, came from former Col. Alfonso Plazas Vega, head of the narcotics council. Plazas helped plan and carry out the 1985 bombing of Colombia’s Palace of Justice, occupied by members of a guerrilla group called M-19. The bombing killed at least 76 civilians, including the country’s 11 Supreme Court justices. Plazas also helped form Death to Kidnappers (MAS), a forebear of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), the country’s main paramilitary federation today. Human rights organizations blocked attempts by the Colombian government to appoint Plazas Consul to Hamburg, Germany and later San Francisco, California during the 1990s.

El Tiempo’s March 13 editorial described fumigation as “the worst possible way to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of a people.” Indeed: after heavy sprayings over the last two years destroyed their food crops and income, many young men in the southern province of Putumayo enlisted with the country’s guerrilla and paramilitary groups. In terms of maximal alienation of the civilian population, it’s hard to rival the fumigations program – but the Palace of Justice massacre just might qualify. Having Plazas announce the extension of sprayings to national parks added many-layered insult to the colossal, obvious injury.

And Samper isn’t the only public figure speaking against the parks fumigation. Alfredo Molano Bravo, a columnist of the Bogota weekly El Espectador, asked in a December column what would happen if George W. Bush ordered herbicides dumped on the “pine forests and 2,000 year old Sequoias” of Yosemite National Park, where marijuana crops are grown. “The protests against such measures would be gigantic,” he wrote.

Other foes of the spraying of parks include former health minister Camilo Gonzalez Posso and former environmental ministers Juan Mayr Maldonado and Ernesto Guhl Nanneti. Former human rights ombudsperson Eduardo Cifuentes Munoz repeatedly urged suspension of fumigation anywhere in the country.

But Samper deserves credit for the current groundswell. If journalists rallied the public against war and impoverishment with the same conviction Samper has confronted environmental destruction, things might start looking up in Colombia.

PHILLIP CRYAN is a writer and activist who returned to the United States in November after 18 months of human rights work in Colombia. A shorter version of this piece appeared in his biweekly Colombia Week column on media coverage of the country’s conflict. He lives in Ames, Iowa. He can be reached at: phillipcryan000@yahoo.com

 

 

More articles by:

Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Jasmine Aguilera
Lessons From South of the Border
Manuel García, Jr.
A Formula for U.S. Election Outcomes
Sam Pizzigati
Drug Company Execs Make Millions Misleading Cancer Patients. Here’s One Way to Stop Them
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Agriculture as Wrong Turn
James McEnteer
And That’s The Way It Is: Essential Journalism Books of 2018
Chris Gilbert
Biplav’s Communist Party of Nepal on the Move: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian
Judith Deutsch
Siloed Thinking, Climate, and Disposable People: COP 24 and Our Discontent
Jill Richardson
Republicans Don’t Want Your Vote to Count
John Feffer
‘Get Me Outta Here’: Trump Turns the G20 into the G19
Domenica Ghanem
Is Bush’s Legacy Really Much Different Than Trump’s?
Peter Certo
Let Us Argue Over Dead Presidents
Christopher Brauchli
Concentration Camps From Here to China
ANIS SHIVANI
The Progress of Fascism Over the Last Twenty Years
Steve Klinger
A Requiem for Donald Trump
Al Ronzoni
New Deals, From FDR’s to the Greens’
Gerald Scorse
America’s Rigged Tax Collection System
Louis Proyect
Praying the Gay Away
Rev. Theodore H. Lockhart
A Homily: the Lord Has a Controversy With His People?
David Yearsley
Bush Obsequies
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail