Holiday cheer from Fernando Londoño 2005: The year of non-military aid?
Dec 212004

A colleague in Colombia gave me a copy of this document [ href="">PDF format], obtained
in June from the narcotics unit of the Colombian police (the DIRAN). It provides
statistics about the number of people who have sought compensation for damages
to their legal crops after being fumigated with herbicides by U.S.-funded spray
planes. Of those, the document notes how many have been compensated, rejected,
or are still being considered.

Colombians who seek compensation for damage to their legal crops must undergo an arduous and bureaucratic process, the Latin America Working Group explained in an excellent report
published last February [ href="" target="_blank">PDF format].

The State Department reports that claims of damage are sent to municipal
representatives who refer them to a local agricultural agency to be verified
in a field visit. If the complaints are verified, the municipal representatives
submit the complaint and a record of preliminary verification to the Antinarcotics
Police (DIRAN) and the National Directorate of Dangerous Drugs (DNE). The
DIRAN is then required to certify within five days whether spraying took place
in the vicinity of the complaint. If the claim is certified, DIRAN makes a
field visit within ten days to evaluate the veracity of the claim and the
potential amount of compensation to be paid. It is important to note that
the agency responsible for the spraying operation is the agency in charge
of verifying claims, and it has no incentive to admit to spraying errors.

Despite having to undergo such a difficult process, the DIRAN document notes
that, as of June, 4,535 people – most of them residents of remote and insecure
parts of rural Colombia – had taken the step of registering a complaint.

Of those 4,535:

2,768 (61%) were rejected, or were thrown out because they filed too
late (the most common reasons claimed for rejection: no spraying allegedly
occurred on the day the campesino claimed it did, or the campesino
had some coca near his legal crops);

1,757 (38.8%) were still under consideration, at some stage (field
visits, due to cost and security concerns, are not easily arranged); and

10 (0.2%) had been compensated (I’ve heard anecdotally – and this
may not be accurate, though I’ve heard it several times – that most of the
ten are agribusiness enterprises, particularly oil-palm plantations.)

That’s right: 0.2 percent of those who had bothered to file a claim had received
any compensation at all. Leaving aside the 1,757 still under consideration,
that’s an incredibly low success rate: for every individual compensated, 276
are turned away.

Does this low rate owe to the incredible accuracy of the spray planes, combined
with the malice of Colombian peasants looking to make a quick peso? Of course
not. As the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, which closely monitors drug-crop eradication
results, acknowledges in a remarkable recent “Mini-Atlas” of Colombian coca-growing
[ href="" target="_blank">big Powerpoint
document], “It is not technically possible to limit the aerial spraying
only over coca fields and to avoid overlaps.”

In our judgment, this poor record should make it impossible for the Secretary
of State to certify that “fair compensation is being paid for meritorious claims,”
which since 2002 has been a requirement that the U.S. government must fulfill
in order to free up money for new herbicides. (In 2005, for instance, 80 percent
of funding for herbicides is frozen until the State Department can certify that
this and several other requirements have been met.)

The compensation program must be dramatically sped up if the next fumigation
certification is to be at all honest – and if we are to make any progress at
all in the battle for hearts and minds in the “ungoverned spaces” of rural Colombia.

2 Responses to “Fumigation compensation? Forget it”

  1. jcg Says:

    This might sound a bit like a broken record (still, by now, few opinions expressed in discussions regarding Colombia can escape such a fate), but, unless I’m wrong or missing something, I honestly don’t see neither the U.S. nor Colombian governments taking much interest in this issue if current trends continue, despite the fact that it’s evidently an important and deserving one.

  2. francoise callier Says:

    Recently the Dutch government made a donation of 500.000 Euros to Colombia for manual eradication of coca in two specific places, Amazona and Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
    Isn’t it a better way to solve the drugproblems instead of those terrible fumigations, very expensive and provoking terrible damages on human health and biodiversity. They even fumigate where there is no coca at all. We know it is not the right solution.
    Everybody talks only about Colombia but the US are highly responsable for this situation:
    - They by nearly all the Colombian cocaine production.
    - How is that enormous amount of cocaine entering so easily into the US.
    - With wich complicities? Who takes the advantages?
    - Who is arming the AUC and the FARC?
    - How come that both are so rich?
    - If the US wouldn’t by the Colombian cocaine it would be a part of the solution.
    - Maybe would it be more interesting to solve the American drugproblems, put more money in desintoxication programs inside the US and survey the borders.
    It is, of course easier to make a diversion and talk only about the problems inside Colombia. I don’t blame you of course, your site is really interesting, but generally, in France it is the same.
    I would be interested in some answers to my questions.

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