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Colombian Aerial Anti-Drug Spraying Found to Cause DNA Damage

(Beyond Pesticides, July 18, 2007) Since 2000, the United States has financed aerial spraying of glyphosate over Colombia’s coca crops, the raw material of cocaine, as part of the “War on Drugs.” Scientists from Pontificia Catholic University in Quito, Ecuador, have completed a study of 24 residents living within three kilometers of the Colombian border – an area targeted by the coca spraying – and have found a wide variety of ailments. The study’s subjects suffer from symptoms that include intestinal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, numbness, blurred vision, skin irritation, rashes, and difficulty breathing. In addition, the damage to their chromosomes was 600 to 800 percent greater than that of people living 80 km away, which can signal possible conditions like cancer and reproductive effects like miscarriages.

The U.S. has increased the spraying each year since 2000, including the addition of a fourth spray team in 2006. In 2006, the Colombian National Police’s Anti-Narcotics Directorate (DIRAN) sprayed more than 424,055 acres of coca. Extensive research in recent years regarding glyphosate’s toxicity to placental cells and aquatic life, among others, has prompted the U.S. Congress to seek guarantees that Colombian wetlands would not be sprayed, but the program continues to threaten legal crops, domestic animals, and fish hatcheries, in addition to exposing humans to the study’s documented health effects.

Research like this study, led by researcher Cesar Paz y Mino, has led Colombian officials to seek out other means of eradication of the coca crops. By 2006, more than 100,000 acres, or 25 percent, were destroyed by workers using hoes, while guarded by policemen against guerrilla groups that derive much of their wealth from the cocaine trade. This year, they aim to uproot 172,000 acres. “We are convinced of the advantages of manual eradication over spraying, and that’s why we want to give more importance to manual eradication,” said Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos.

This position, likely due in part by studies like that of Paz y Mino, is also aided by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) data that shows coca crops remain as strong as they were in 2001, despite $5 billion in U.S.-funded spraying. El Tiempo, Colombia’s largest newspaper, published an editorial that said, “The strategy doesn’t work; fumigating doesn’t eradicate. Instead of clamoring for help on a program that seems more inappropriate every day, the government should take advantage of this moment to redirect and rethink its anti-drug collaboration with the United States. Fumigation should be suspended and only used in extraordinary causes.”

TAKE ACTION: Democrats in Congress have recently cut aid to Colombia by ten percent from concern over human rights and the efficacy of spraying. To ensure that coca eradication does not continue to endanger humans or the environment, write to your senator or representative and express your concern over these issues today!

Sources: Truthout, Washington Post


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