While on a visit to Colombia last week, Drug Czar John Walters said that his office will soon announce data indicating that supplies of cocaine in the United States are going down. He did not indicate whether that means that prices have gone up and purities have dropped, or whether he is using some other measure.
This may be the case. The question will be: have prices risen above the levels they had attained in 1999, before Plan Colombia and massive aerial herbicide fumigation began? Or have we merely crawled back to where things stood when Plan Colombia started?
Hereâ€™s what I mean â€“ the average price of a gram of cocaine on U.S. streets, according to figures compiled by the Drug Czarâ€™s office (the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, or ONDCP), fell steadily from 1999 to 2003, even while fumigation was expanding rapidly. (Eradication presumably should make the product scarcer, and thus more expensive.)
Average price of a gram of cocaine in
That sharp drop in 2002 and 2003, quite frankly, doesnâ€™t make sense. Itâ€™s never been clear why the price of cocaine might have dropped so sharply â€“ to all-time record lows â€“ in the midst of a stepped-up anti-drug effort. Itâ€™s reasonable to expect some correction in the market â€“ a rise in price back to a level somewhere between 1999 ($135) 2000 ($160). If the Drug Czarâ€™s figures do not show an increase beyond what we saw five or six years ago, then he has not proven that fumigation has had any effect on supply.
Drug Czar Walters said something else remarkable, though, that deserves comment. According to AgÃ©nce France Presse, while giving a joint press conference with Colombian Vice-President Francisco Santos, Walters offered a defense of the U.S. policy of fumigating hundreds of thousands of acres each year with herbicides sprayed from aircraft. â€œRound-Upâ€ â€“ the mixture of the herbicide glyphosate with other chemicals to make it adhere to leaves â€“ â€œis the safest herbicide in use worldwide,â€ Walters said. He added:
There are two reasons why people are opposed to its use. First, because they are ignorant about this fact. The other reason why they say that glyphosate is dangerous is because they support terrorism and narcotraffickers.
Yes indeed: another gratuitious use of the terrorist threat to attack one’s political enemies. It’s not only offensive, it’s getting boring. But wait – was Walters referring to people like us?
CIP Colombia Program staff have spent years following the research on the health and environmental effects of Round-Up, including several visits to areas where people have been sprayed. So we canâ€™t be ignorant. That must make us, according to the U.S. Drug Czar, supporters of terrorism and narcotrafficking. Mr. Walters didnâ€™t allow for any third choice.
If only the picture were as clear as the Drug Czar makes it out to be. Since the spring, U.S. officials have been pointing to a U.S.-funded study carried out by the OAS counter-drug agency, CICAD, which mostly gives the fumigation program a clean bill of health. Never mind that Colombiaâ€™s National University and others immediately came out with strong critiques of the OAS methodology. Never mind that other recent science points to glyphosate doing great harm to amphibians. The message from the White House is: if you donâ€™t believe the CICAD findings, youâ€™re either a dupe or a willing accomplice of narco-terrorists.
My own estimation? Iâ€™m no scientist, but I have traveled to several fumigated areas (in Guaviare, Putumayo and NariÃ±o), Iâ€™ve talked to people who have been fumigated, leaders of the communities they belong to (both elected and religious), and local doctors and health officials. From that experience, Iâ€™m at least convinced that fumigation is giving people severe gastrointestinal, respiratory and skin-irritation illnesses that last for a week or two.
Another unscientific reason why I suspect there may be something to the localsâ€™ health claims can be found in your neighborhood garden store. This is a scan of a label from a bottle of Roundup I bought at my neighborhood Home Depot back in 2003. (It did a great job killing weeds that had sprouted in between bricks near the roof of our very old Washington rowhouse.) Note the parts highlighted in yellow.
Wash hands thoroughly after handling? Keep people and pets out of the area until the spray has dried? These are not anything like the conditions under which small farmers and their homes are sprayed in Colombia, where the herbicide mixture is several times more potent than what you can buy in a U.S. retail store. The planes come, and you had better get out of the way, if you can. The parts about avoiding drift and keeping the spray from water are also interesting. Even the OAS-CICAD study cites harm done by spraying the herbicide over shallow standing water.
But donâ€™t take our word against Drug Czar Waltersâ€™. Instead, read some of the many reports questioning the programâ€™s health and environmental effects that have been produced over the last few years. A big sample of reports that can be found online is listed below.
If the Drug Czarâ€™s best response to these experts is to dismiss them as narco-terrorist supporters, then he has lost the argument, by a landslide. Unfortunately there appears to be quite a time lag between losing the argument and actually seeing a change in policy.
- Latin America Working Group, â€œNew Science on Roundup: Threats to Human Health and Wildlife,â€ by Rachel Massey, June 20, 2005
- Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense, â€œCritical Omissions in the CICAD Environmental and Health Assessment of the Aerial Eradication Program in Colombia,â€ June 2005
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, â€œDifferential Effects of Glyphosate and Roundup on Human Placental Cells and Aromatase,â€ Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 113, Number 6, June 2005
- Transnational Institute, â€œA Few Comments about the OAS-CICAD Study of the Impact of Glyphosate used in the Eradication of Illicit Crops in Colombia,â€ by Ricardo Vargas, May 30, 2005.
- Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Instituto de Estudios Ambientales, â€œObservaciones al â€˜Estudio de los efectos del programa de ErradicaciÃ³n de Cultivos IlÃcitos mediante la aspersiÃ³n aÃ©rea con el herbicida Glifosato (PECIG) y de los cultivos ilÃcitos en la salud humana y en el medio ambiente,â€™â€ various authors, May 11, 2005.
- Open letter from Alberto Rueda, former senior advisor for drug policy, Colombian Ministry of Interior and Justice, â€œUrgente aterrizaje del informe de la OEA sobre los efectos de la fumigaciÃ³n de los cultivos ilÃcitos,â€ May 4, 2005.
- R.A. Relyea, Univ. of Pittsburgh, â€œThe Lethal Impacts of Roundup and Predatory Stress on Six Species of North American Tadpoles,â€ Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology v.48, n.3, April 1, 2005
- Informe de la MisiÃ³n de ObservaciÃ³n sobre los Efectos del Plan Colombia en los Departamentos de NariÃ±o y Putumayo, report issued jointly by CIP and several Colombian and Ecuadorian NGOs, November 2004
- Resignation letter of Alberto Rueda, senior advisor for drug policy, Colombian Ministry of Interior and Justice, October 2004
- Debate en el Congreso de Colombia: â€œEl impacto de las fumigaciones aÃ©reas con glifosato contra los cultivos ilÃcitos en el medio ambiente del pais, y especialmente en los parques nacionales,â€ March 30, 2004.
- Latin America Working Group: "Going to Extremes: The U.S.-Funded Aerial Eradication Program in Colombia," by Betsy Marsh, February 2004.
- Latin America Working Group, â€œTop Ten Myths about the U.S. Supported Aerial Coca Eradication Program in Colombia,â€ July 22, 2003.
- DefensorÃa del Pueblo de Colombia, â€œResoluciÃ³n Defensorial No. 26: Derechos Humanos y Derecho Internacional Humanitario en el Marco del Conflicto Armado y de las Fumigaciones de Coca en el Departamento del Putumayo,â€ 9 de octubre del 2002.
- Several organizations, â€œInforme MisiÃ³n de VerificaciÃ³n: â€œImpactos en Ecuador de las fumigaciones realizadas en el Putumayo dentro del Plan Colombia,â€ octubre del 2002.
- Amazon Alliance, â€œFindings from Independent Reviews of the State Department Report on Aerial Spraying in Colombia Regarding Compliance with Requirements in the FY2002 Foreign Appropriations Act,â€ September 2002.
- â€œComments by Ted Schettler MD, MPH Science Director, Science and Environmental Health Network; Boston Medical Center, Boston, MA; Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility,â€ September 2002.
- â€œComments by Anna Cederstav, PhD, Staff Scientist, Earthjustice and Interamerican Assocation for Environmental Defense,â€ September 2002.
- â€œComments by Ivette Perfecto, PhD, Associate Professor, School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan; and John Vandermeer, PhD, Margaret Davis Collegiate Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan,â€ September 2002.
- â€œLetter to The Honorable Joseph B. Biden by David B. Sandalow, Executive Vice President, World Wildlife Fund,â€ September 2002.
- â€œComments by Rachel Massey, Research Fellow; and Jim Oldham, Amazon Project Director, Institute for Science and Interdisciplinary Studies,â€ September 2002.
- Sierra Club, Sierra Magazine, â€œLethal Dose,â€ by Vikki Kratz, July-August 2002.
- Pesticide Action Network, â€œUrge the U.S. EPA to Fully Evaluate Aerial Herbicide Spraying in Colombia,â€ July 26, 2002.
- Doctora Maria Elena Arroyave, DefensorÃa del Pueblo de Colombia, â€œAnÃ¡lisis al â€˜Informe Final; Estudio de las Denuncias de DaÃ±os a la Salud Relacionadas con la ErradicaciÃ³n AÃ©rea en Colombia,â€™â€ May 2002.
- Ana Cederstav, EarthJustice, â€œValidity of the reports presented by the US Department of State as evidence that no human health impacts are caused by the ‘Plan Colombia’ aerial herbicide spraying in coca-producing regions,â€ March 2002.
- DefensorÃa del Pueblo de Colombia, â€œPosiciÃ³n de la DefensorÃa del Pueblo: La ejecuciÃ³n de la estrategia de erradicaciÃ³n aÃ©rea de los cultivos ilÃcitos, con quÃmicos, desde una perspectiva constitucional,â€ April 18, 2002.
- Kimberly Stanton, RFK Memorial; Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working Group; Betsy Marsh, Amazon Alliance; Adam Isacson, Center for International Policy, â€œCompliance with Fumigation Conditions in the Andean Counterdrug Initiative,â€ April 10, 2002.
- Red de AcciÃ³n en Plaguicidas y Alternativas – AmÃ©rica Latina, â€œCultivos IlÃcitos y Guerra BiolÃ³gica, compilado por Elsa Nivia de RAPALMIRA-Colombia y editado por Luis Gomero de RAP-AL Andino,â€ December 2001.
- World Wildlife Fund, â€œLetter to Sen. Russell Feingold regarding herbicide spraying in Colombia,â€ November 21, 2001.
- Discurso del Senador Rafael Orduz, Congreso de Colombia, August 14, 2001.
- Instituto Departamental de Salud de NariÃ±o, â€œVerificaciÃ³n del uso y manejo de plaguicidas,â€ 26 de julio del 2001.
- ContralorÃa General de la RepÃºblica de Colombia, â€œAuditorÃa Especial a la PolÃtica de ErradicaciÃ³n de Cultivos IlÃcitos,â€ July 19, 2001.
- Red de AcciÃ³n en Plaguicidas y Alternativas – AmÃ©rica Latina, â€œLas fumigaciones aÃ©reas sobre cultivos ilÃcitos sÃ son peligrosas â€“ Algunas aproximaciones, Elsa Nivia, Directora Ejecutiva,â€ May 2001.
- Center for International Policy, â€œPlan Colombiaâ€™s â€˜Ground Zero,â€™â€ April 2001.
- Departamento Administrativo de Salud, GobernaciÃ³n del Putumayo, â€œEfectos de la FumigaciÃ³n,â€ February 2001.
- OrganizaciÃ³n de los Pueblos IndÃgenas de la AmazonÃa Colombiana, â€œImpactos de las Fumigaciones Sobre los Pueblos IndÃgenas de la AmazonÃa Colombiana,â€ November 17, 2000.
- Lauren Spurrier, World Wildlife Fund, â€œComments on Glyphosate,â€ October 30, 2000.
- Censat Agua Viva, â€œPlan Colombia y Medio Ambiente,â€ October 2000.