WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
7 Apr 2007

Aerial fumigation is contributing to the worst recent humanitarian crisis in Colombia, experts say

Washington, DC April 7— In the last 15 days fighting between the Colombian military and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the activities of new illegal armed groups vying for control of drug routes is reportedly generating the internal displacement of an estimated 7,000 people. The Colombian Department of Nariño is experiencing one of the worst protection and humanitarian assistance crisis since Colombian President Alvaro Uribe began his second term in office. The U.S. financed aerial herbicide spray program (fumigations) compounds and exacerbates the myriad of hardships that Afro-Colombian communities are already facing: racism, disadvantaged access to state programs, food insecurity due to the internal armed conflict, internal displacement and vulnerability to human rights violations by the armed groups.

"The current crisis in Nariño illustrates that the fumigation effort just makes matters worse for Afro-Colombians who wish to remain outside of the conflict," argues Gimena Sanchez, Colombia Senior Associate at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

WOLA and TransAfrica Forum (TAF) visited Nariño in March to meet with local Afro-Colombian leaders who provided countless testimonies of how the U.S. funded fumigation effort fails to deter the cultivation of coca. Yet it does inflict tremendous damage on rural farmers' food crops and their efforts to grow legal crops to sustain themselves. In El Charco area, the Association of Afrodescendant Women for Life (AMAV), an organization with hundreds of members who are attempting to ensure food security for their families and children and remain in their collective territories, informed the mission that fumigation planes destroyed their crops on six occasions in the months of February and March. WOLA and TAF were informed in numerous meetings that the combination of the internal armed conflict, drug related violence, human rights abuses committed by paramilitary groups that have re-grouped or not fully dismantled their operational structures, fumigation efforts, and declining respect for the land rights of Afro-Colombians linked to economic projects such as the cultivation of "African" oil palm is devastating for Afro-Colombian communities.

"U.S. counter-drug policies are a failure, the fumigation program is destroying the livelihoods of Afro-descendants in Colombia. It is an outrage that anti-drug tactics used by the governments of Colombia and the U.S. destroy the lives of African descendants in both countries," states Nicole Lee, Executive Director of TransAfrica Forum.

Ms. Sanchez from WOLA points out: "U.S. policy makers must shift the Colombia aid package in favor of programs that support the land rights and alternative development proposals of ethnic minorities, as well as rights based durable solutions to the internal displacement crisis."

Since 2000, the U.S. has invested billions of dollars in aid to Colombia heavily skewed (an estimated 80%) towards security assistance and the aerial herbicide spraying of coca. Although one of the objectives of the aid is to curb drug production, the aid has not met this goal. Despite the spraying of over 2 million acres of illegal and legal crops in Colombia, cocaine production remains robust and cocaine is as available as ever on U.S. streets. According to WOLA Senior Associate for Drug Policy John Walsh, "The fumigation would be bad enough if it were simply wasteful and ineffective. What do the Colombian and U.S. governments suppose will become of these people? Fumigation isn't the solution, it is part of the problem because it deepens reliance on coca by pushing poor farmers into even more desperate straits."