Blood for oil
450 members of the U’wa tribe of Colombia, some of them women and children, scattered across the morning soil in front of an advancing line of bulldozers, hired by Occidental Petroleum. Police and military fired tear gas grenades into the families as some of them escaped into the forest, and some into the Cubujon river. Three of the children, unable to fight the river’s current, drowned.
They had been surrounded, on their own land, for over three weeks by 1,000 to 1,500 heavily armed units, after holding a peaceful vigil against Occidental’s occupation of their territory. Military helicopters had swooped in a couple of weeks after they were surrounded, and kidnapped three of their leaders before the attack.
It was February 11 of this year, and as of this writing, 15 other U’wa are still missing because of the debacle, which took place on U’wa sovereign land, with the help of the Colombian government, because a wealthy multinational company wants the oil that lies on their property.
The public was shocked. A general strike was called in the surrounding towns. Afterward, 2,500 people gathered to demonstrate at the drill site. The U’Wa threatened to commit mass suicide if Occidental went forward with their plans. Fearing a public-relations nightmare of exactly this nature, the corporation-loving drug-war promoting Organization of American States (see CC#19, Death to South Americans Inc) has demanded that Occidental cease all activity on U’Wa territory since September of 1997. But to no avail.
Occidental Petroleum, like many multinational corporations, has a long and sordid history. In the 70’s, Occidental was responsible for the infamous “Love Canal” toxic waste disaster. Since then, Occidental’s oil has poisoned innumerable rivers and lakes. Their Ca?o Limon pipeline alone has geysered about 1.7 million barrels of oil into watersheds to the nearby north of the U’Wa territory.
Occidental Petroleum has accused the U’wa of narco-terrorist affiliations. The Organization for Geopolitical Drugwatch (OGD), an international investigative organization, has found that, in Colombia, violent bloodbaths targeting so-called “narco-terrorist sympathizers” have a tendency to occur wherever there are poor farmers or indigenous peoples living on oil or mineral-rich lands (See CC#23, Colombia’s Corporate Killers).
In Colombia, everyone from the military to the highest levels of government to rebel and paramilitary factions are involved in the drug trade, so the label of “narco-terrorist sympathizer” is really meaningless. But it serves a purpose? it means that US drug war aid, police and military intervention can be used, literally, to kill babies in campaigns of terror designed to steal land from the poor and give it to the rich.
Money for blood
Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in Washington DC, someone stands to get very rich from leading the public to believe that more drug war funding will stop the slaughter of indigenous people and the poor. Political wheels turn, seemingly unrelated to the engines of terror set loose among the U’Wa.
“The US must help Colombia’s democratic government promote the rule of law, economic stability and human rights,” announced Barry McCaffrey, US Drug Czar in an April 6 letter to the Financial Times of London. “35,000 Colombians have been killed.” McCaffrey’s solution to the problem is to make it worse ? send another $1.6 billion in drug-war funding to Colombia. According to McCaffrey, another $4 billion will come from the Colombian government, and another $3.5 billion will come from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a free-trade promoting, world-lending institution with big stakes in extracting resources from South America.
80% of the US’s $1.6 billion will go to military hardware, including 30 Hueys, the kind of helicopter used to kidnap U’wa leaders. Plus 30 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, various other weaponry, and further assistance through the already cooperative CIA, their spy network and spy satellites. The remaining 20% of the package will supposedly go to alternative crop development and human rights initiatives. Since, as reported in the New York Times, Colombian president Pastrana opposes the human rights initiative part of the US package,1 the $4 Billion Colombia is providing for drug war activities and the $3.5 billion from free trade organizations will be spent exclusively on military expansion.
The $1.6 bill package has already passed through the House and, despite some resistance from the US Senate, the package will likely be passed sometime in May or June of this year, according to Valerie Van Slyke of the Colombia Support Network, a human rights organization. “Senate majority leader Trent Lott wants it to go through the regular channels, not as an emergency package,” Van Slyke told Cannabis Culture. “He is a republican from Mississippi and he is not against the package in any way, just the way it was introduced.”
The U’Wa-slaughtering profiteers of Occidental Petroleum are among the multinational corporations that lobbied the senate to pass the $1.6 billion in aid, explained the San Francisco Examiner on March 15, 2000. The Examiner also reported that British Petroleum (BP) ? another oil company implicated in using death squads equipped by US drug-war dollars to clear peasants off of oil-rich land (see CC#23, Colombia’s Corporate Killers) ? was also among the lobbyists. According to the San Francisco paper, helicopter contracts went to Textron and United, which each donated approximately a million dollars to both Republican and Democrat election campaigns.2
The US is able to provide military hardware, training and tactical cooperation to steal land and extract oil from Colombia, because the South American country owes the US billions in development loans. Many of these loans are held by the New-York based IMF. All bets might be off if leftist Colombian rebels, known as the FARC, the de facto government of the Southern half of Colombia, should succeed in taking over. So drug-war funding like the proposed $1.6 billion will also go to all-out war against the FARC,3 who are no more involved in the drug trade than the Colombian government? which is to say that they are quite involved. It is no wonder that the FARC have tried everything from promising to quit growing drugs to a recent call for legalization? anything to stop US politicians from using the drug war as an excuse for military attacks on the FARC.
A poison rain is killing Colombia’s rainforests, annihilating food crops, causing birth-defects and an epidemic of cancer, and could potentially unleash a fungus plague to spread across North America, creating widespread famine in Canada and the US.
The rain is a US-backed fumigation campaign that will be tripled when McCaffrey’s $1.6 billion in drug-war funding is approved. The fumigation campaign supposedly targets coca, poppy and marijuana crops, but is really intended as an act of war against rebel-governed southern Colombia and anyone else standing in the way of corporate development in that country.
Farmers and townspeople have demonstrated in crowds of thousands against the aerial fumigations, which President Pastrana promised to stop when he was elected. Pastrana’s promise vaporized in the heat of the billion-plus aid deal from the US. When Pastrana’s own anti-drug chief, Ruben Olarte Reyes, complained against US-backed fumigation in May of ’99, Pastrana fired him.4
McCaffrey and others have tried to down-play the amount of spraying the US is prepared to back, but much of the $1.6 billion in aid is geared toward what could be the biggest fumigation campaign in history. When General Jose Serrano, Director General of the Colombian National Police, attended the House Committee on International Relations hearing on US anti-drug policy in his country in 1998, he explained why the Blackhawk helicopters that the US is buying for Colombia are such a significant purchase.
“The poppy is located at more than 3,000 meters above sea level,” said Serrano. “The UH-1H helicopters do not have the capability to carry necessary elements to the Alps to provide the support for the fumigation. And in the Huey, at those altitudes, we can only send two men up. In the Blackhawk, we could put 15 to 18. Where coca is concerned, the narcotics traffickers are planting the coca at greater distances than the range. They know what the range of the Huey helicopter is. So, they calculate that range and plant the coca farther than that.”
Serrano also revealed that CIA cooperation has been instrumental in aerial fumigations.
“We do have support from CIA satellites to be able to map the illicit cultivation of drug crops,” he said. “The satellite images tell us how many hectares are under cultivation. Also, it follows up and takes a look at the results after fumigation.”
In Colombia, few people can speak freely without being killed. But perhaps she had nothing left to lose. With nervous glances at the audience, Omira Morales told of her personal experience with US-backed fumigations, and about how she had helped, behind the scenes, to organize protests against them.
“One can hide in the house, but the planes come in so low,” Omira told the crowd, assembled by the Women’s League for Peace and Freedom in 1996, when anti-spray protests reached a peak. “Our houses are made from wood and it filters in. Not only that, there is the damage caused by the poisoning of the water. This has produced vomiting and diarrhea. This is one reason we started the protest marches [in March of 1996]. The children began losing their hair and had burns and eye diseases. At this time in the places we cultivated, the land is barren. At one point there were 7 fumigations using 3 planes.”5
US drug czar Barry McCaffrey claims that fumigation efforts are aimed at the FARC’s “dangerous drug production sanctuaries in southern Colombia.”6 But investigative reporters Elsa Nivia and Rachel Massey, working for the Global Pesticide Campaigner, revealed that in June of last year, for example, the Yanacona community of indigenous, traditional food crop farmers was the target of a US spray attack.
“Glyphosate [was]sprayed indiscriminately over houses, community centers, schools, water sources, grazing areas and workers in the fields,” reported the Campaigner’s investigative duo. “Men and women talked about their experience of being ‘sprayed like flies’ and becoming ill. Mothers reported on illnesses among children, including respiratory distress, rashes, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, migraines and conjunctivitis. One child had lost consciousness temporarily. One pregnant mother with five children testified that all her children are sick and her livelihood has been destroyed, leaving her with no way to provide for them ? fish and chickens died, other farm animals became ill. The spraying has destroyed the crops they grow to feed their families?”7
The fumigation of Colombia is not all that different from the US agent-orange project in Vietnam. Agent-orange, laced with deadly dioxins, was dropped indiscriminately from the air to defoliate vast tracts of jungle and destroy villages in Vietnam. It killed droves of American War Vets, riddling them with incurable cancers.
Monsanto, the company that created and supplied agent orange, has been supplying glyphosate for use against Colombian villagers and indigenous people since the 80’s. Should glyphosate spraying continue, Monsanto also stands to make a killing on their new, genetically-engineered glyphosate-resistant crop seeds.
Better death sprays
According to Carolyn Cox, of the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP), glyphosate is the pesticide industry’s “first billion dollar product, with predictions of three billion dollars in annual sales this year.”8 No wonder that Monsanto claims the product is harmless, despite scientific evidence and first-hand testimony from thousands of Colombians.
According to a fact-sheet produced by the NCAP, quoting a plethora of well-documented studies, glyphosate causes salivary gland lesions, heart palpitations, increased abnormality of sperm, genetic damage to blood cells, increased risk of miscarriage, premature births, liver tumors, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and thyroid cancer.
The US is pressuring Colombia to accept even more toxic substances to be sprayed over Colombia. Included in this deadly arsenal of potential sprays is Tebuthiuron (aka “Spike”). In the 1980’s, fear of the deadly potential of Spike led the head of the US Department of Agriculture’s narcotics lab to quit in protest over plans to use it in Colombia. Spike’s manufacturer eventually declined to sell the product for anti-drug applications. Despite concerns, and under US pressure, the previous Colombian president approved “experimental use” of Spike when he left office in 1998.7
Now the US State Department is using the United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP) to pressure Colombia into spraying the genetically modified Fusarium oxysporum fungus.9 The virulent fungus is being touted as more “environmentally friendly” than the toxic herbicides now used. The state department claims that the fungus will attack only coca and marijuana plants, yet Fusarium is known to be a highly adapatable, rapidly mutating fungus which already damages a wide array of food crops around the world. The widespread spraying of the “killer fungus” would undoubtedly produce massive environmental destruction of native plant species.
Their crops poisoned, their livestock sick and dying in the fields, their families dead, many Southern Colombian farmers turn to the FARC to fight back against the American invasions that have destroyed their lives.
US fumigation campaigns rain more than just deadly toxins on farmers, they also rain lead. The Hueys and Blackhawk helicopters are not for spraying, but for “tactical support” for the fumigation planes. They are troop transport units, and are used to deliver death squads into villages that grow crops in FARC territory. Major media around the world are unmasking the US government’s drug-war scam.
In February of last year, the UK Economist printed a story alleging that $290 million in funding for crop eradication went to equipping helicopters with 20mm cannons,10 to cut down peasant growers in their fields and occasionally kill FARC rebels, who sometimes defend farmers in Southern Colombia by shooting down the planes.
“US-financed fumigation campaigns targeting peasant growers actually work to the guerrilla’s advantage by further exacerbating social tensions,” reported Winifred Tate of the Washington Office of Latin America. “This climate of discontent has helped swell the ranks of FARC and has cast the guerrilla organization as the defender of small peasant farmers.”11
“The base has been destroyed. There is nothing left. The police have been taken away? and the soldiers, too.” On August 6, ’98, the Miami Herald related this tale, told by Luis Rodriguez, a Southern Colombian villager, over a two-way radio. Rodriguez was telling how angry Southern Colombians, who had joined the FARC, swarmed from the jungle and killed over 64 police and soldiers, then took another 100 as hostages.12
Such tales are common in Southern Colombia; there is a general awareness that fumigation means more violence; and US drug war chief McCaffrey’s promise that $1.6 bill in funding will somehow bring an end to the Colombian war is a poorly conceived lie.
Crop smoke screen
Colombian villagers are familiar with the kind of “alternative crop development,” that McCaffrey claims is part of the $1.6 billion package, and in their experience it means yet more spraying.
In November of ’99, the New York Times printed the testimony of coca grower “Dagoberto P”. “It wasn’t crop substitution at all,” Dagoberto told the Times. “It was forced fumigation.”
Dagoberto’s tale is common in Colombia. Even when alternative crop development projects get growing, they are often snuffed out in death squad raids and fumigation campaigns. The August ’99 issue of The Global Pesticide Campaigner described how the Colombian towns of Albania and Macizo had successfully begun growing food crops instead of coca and marijuana. They were funded not by US dollars, but by money from the local churches, the UN and the Colombian government.
The Campaigner described “intercropped gardens of native species, pasture areas with tree cover, and small-scale fish farming” ? all wiped out by US-backed fumigation using the toxic glyphosate. Adults and children lay sick in their beds while crops wilted and fish died.7 The Washington Office on Latin America reports the US-backed fumigation of similar non-US funded crop development experiments across Colombia.11
In the past, very little US bucks allocated for crop development have even been spent. Last year, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) revealed to the press that Congress had passed a $15 million crop development package for Colombia in 1998, but by late 1999 only $500,000 had been spent.
Alternative crop development programs are a threat to the multinational corporate forces that sponsor the war on drugs. The big oil, gold and emerald corporations that profit from the drug war already have enough problems clearing peasant farmers off of mineral-rich lands. The reality of successful farming in Colombia might also raise the poverty-level wages currently paid in factories. Why should Colombians work for pennies per hour in heavily-polluted corporate sweatshops when they can successfully work the land?
Citing widespread environmental degradation, Juan Mayr ? the Colombian Minister of the Environment for the Amazonia region ? called a temporary halt to US spray campaigns over the southern half of the country last March..
Mayr’s announcement came after a February meeting with local mayors and governors, who reported “grave concern for the health of residents of the region, in particular for peasants and indigenous people,” and “pollution and environmental degradation of the headwaters of the region and of the Colombian rainforest” as a result of aerial glyphosate spraying. Attendees of the conference concluded that “The constitutional rights of personal integrity, health, and access to food are being violated as subsistence food crops are destroyed along with the illicit crops.”
In an atmosphere where death threats are as common as office memos, Mayr’s bold stance may last only as long as he lives. In North America, an act of drug-war defiance can be as safe as choosing to ride your bike or walk, instead of taking your car. If all cannabis smokers had even a fraction of the bravery shown by politician Juan Mayr, prohibition would have ended long ago.
(1) “Colombian Asks Congress for Aid Not Tied to Human Rights” by Tim golden, New York Times, January 26, 2000.
(2) “Occidental Lobbies for US Military Aid to Colombia” by Arianna Huffington, San Francisco Examiner, March 15, 2000.
(3) “Eyes Wide Shut: US Aid Package to Abusive Army.” Washington Office on Latin America. February 15, 2000.
(4) “Colombia Anti-Drug Chief Fired,” Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 16, 1999.
(5) The Courageous Women of Colombia, by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Videotape, 1996.
(6) Statement by General Barry R McCaffrey, Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy. Before the House Committee on Government Reform, Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources, Colombian and Andean Region Counterdrug Efforts: The Road Ahead, February 15, 2000.
(7) “Casualties of the ‘War on Drugs’: Traditional farms destroyed with herbicides,” by Elsa Nivia and Rachel Massey. Volume 9, No 2. Global Pesticide Campaigner, August, 1999.
(8) Herbicide Factsheet by Carolyn Cox. The Journal of Pesticide Reform, A publication of the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, Fall, 1998.
(9) “Colombia may test anti-coca fungus,” by Michael Hedges. Chicago Sun-Times, Feb 18, 2000.
(10) “Policy, which policy?”, by D Paul Stanford. Feb 20, 1999. The Economist [London].
(11) “Colombia’s Role in International Drug Industry,” by Winifred Tate. Volume 4, Number 30 of In Focus, A publication of the Washington Office on Latin America, November 1999.
(12) “Nothing left of police base in Colombia,” by Tim Johnson. Miami Herald, August 6, 1998.