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Feb 212008

Persistent U.S.-supported aerial fumigations in northern Antioquia department, a few hours’ drive from Medellín, have spurred thousands of campesinos to leave their villages and protest in town centers of municipalities like Tarazá and Valdivia.

The Colombian government’s response, so far, has been to send the security forces – including the National Police’s feared anti-disturbance squad (ESMAD) – and to deny requests for meetings with high departmental officials.

The Medellín daily El Colombiano sent a correspondent to the area, and this morning’s report is very much worth a read. Here is a translation.

Cocaleros are not opposed to eradication, only glyphosate

  • The situation was calmer yesterday and the dialogues with authorities continued.
  • In Valdivia, farmworkers await more aid before returning to their farms.
  • In Tarazá they are still waiting for the governor to come and hear them.

By Paula López, special correspondent, Tarazá

“We’re not against the government. We know very well that the logic is to eradicate all of the illegal crops, but we want them to understand us: we aren’t opposed to eradication, what we oppose is that little plane that passes over us every so often, burning out our yuca plants, burning out our pastures, burning our our plaintain and corn plants.”

“Until two years ago, we made our living in the mines. We worked with a tub and a pick, scratching away at the earth to see what we might find, but we tired of that so we began to work as day laborers in the coca fields. Months ago we tired of that and we bought ourselves some cattle and went back to planting pasture and yuca. On November 20, the plane passed over, fumigating, and within two days the yuca plants’ leaves fell off and the pastures turned brown. We had to sell the cows for whatever price we could get, and once again we ended up with nothing.”

This story from an inhabitant of Oco Alto village is repeated over and over again in Tarazá. For four days, 1,500 campesinos have been occupying the municipality’s sports coliseum, asking the government to please listen to their needs.

Yesterday they had hoped to speak with Antioquia’s governor, Luis Alfredo Ramos, but he did not arrive. Their disappointment almost generated another disturbance, like those of Monday night and Tuesday morning, which left 35 people arrested, 15 of them charged with disorderly conduct.

Sickly yuca

When listening to the liders of the 1,500 mobilized people, their arguments sound as coherent as the logic of officials at all levels, who insist on continuing coca eradication.

“What we want is a productive project. I have wanted to plant cacao, but that is expensive and we don’t have anything to start out with. The thing is that our situation is so difficult that we are buying yuca at 1,200 pesos a kilo (about 60 cents), whether it looks healthy or sickly, and buying a single plantain for 500 pesos (about 25 cents). Who could imagine a campesino having to buy his plantains in town?” asked one of the leaders of Oco Medio village.

“I assure you that it is necessity that forces us to live from coca, that is why we are asking for the government to be present, even though they already told us that nobody is going to come. Do you know what is most outrageous? That of all the plants that we planted to feed ourselves, the coca is the only one that does not die,” alleges another leader from Los Refranes village.

Yesterday, during the entire day, the campesinos’ leaders, the Municipal Administration and representatives of UNHCR, DAPARD and [the presidential department of] Social Action were meeting to find a solution that would allow the farmworkers to return to their lands. But no substantial accords were reached, because the department’s principal authority was absent.

“More goods”

In Valdivia, where another group of campesinos has been protesting for two weeks, their return has been slowed for two reasons: the amount of foodstuffs that the authorities offered them in order to feed themselves during the first month, and the 300,000 pesos [US$150] that the governor’s office offered them.

“The foodstuffs they are offering us includes 6 kilos of rice, for example, but we are asking that each family receive two arrobas [about 23 kilos] of rice and two arrobas of panela [unrefined sugar], among other small things. You know that someone in the countryside eats more because he has to work harder, that is why we want them to help us with more goods,” explains César Rendón, of Pensilvania village.

The Valdivia protesters contend that they need a subsidy of at least eight months, or that they be given loans to cover the next two years, when the new crops will begin to produce.

Some spokespeople of Valdivia’s mayor’s office argue that in addition to economic incentives and foodstuffs, the families have been offered benefits from government Social Action programs like Families in Action, Forest-Protector Families and the Food Security Network (RAS).

For a while

As things are going, with the farmworkers’ clear intentions to stay in town until they are listened, and with the absence of high-level public officials, the situation in Tarazá does not seem likely to change.

Meanwhile, 150 men from the Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squad (ESMAD), the police and the army remain ready to avoid any alterations to public order.

While at first glance the situations in Valdivia and Tarazá appear similar, the protesters’ willingness to dialogue differs greatly between the two municipalities.

In Tarazá, so far, the atmosphere is more peaceful and is tending toward finding an alternative that would allow people to return to their villages as soon as possible. Until last night the curfew, the prohibition on alcohol sales, the prohibition on motorcycle passengers and the prohibition on bearing arms all continued, according to Major Nelson Gómez, commander of the anti-disturbance squad.

Luis Walteros, Tarazá’s deputy mayor, said that the campesinos continue expecting a meeting with high government officials, and he said that that depends largely on the mobilization’s continued tranquility.


John Gilberto Gómez, from Pensilvania village, Valdivia:
“We plan to say here until they address our situation. We need them to assure us that we can go safely back to our farms without fearing armed groups. Also, we have to leave here with improvements for our crops, loans and seeds.”

Tobías de Jesús Vásquez, from Pensilvania village, Valdivia:
“I have four children and my wife. Since December 20 I’ve had nothing planted in my land because the fumigation did away with everything. Since then I have had to ask for free food from stores and restaurants. I am here out of necessity, if the situation were otherwise I would have went back to my farm a while ago.”

Dilia Molina, from Buenos Aires village, Tarazá:
“We are displaced and we have nine children. The only thing we want is for the government to aid us, to give us the protection we need to live. Before, we lived from mining, but now nothing can be found. What we wantis for them to give us a way to plant food and see it grow.”

9 Responses to “Antioquia: “We are asking for the government to be present””

  1. jcg Says:

    This entire story, once more, continues to show the folly of fumigation polices and the lack of effective and sustainable alternatives for past or present coca growers.

    I noticed that this report speaks about the absence of the Antioquia governor and/or his reluctance to meet with the protesters. That makes me wonder, briefly…was he the one who dispatched the riot police or was it done elsewhere, at a more local or national level?

    While there are indeed things that a governor can’t do, which must be handled by officials from the central administration, at the very least one would expect him to send envoys in order to hear their concerns and try to mediate, if he won’t attend personally for one reason or another…unless, of course, it’s not him that doesn’t want to go but the government which is telling not to, but that isn’t clear from reading this report. In either case, the situation is far from pretty, as repressive measures aren’t exactly the right answer.

    I would want to think otherwise…but even in the unlikely event that a specific local arrangement is made and honored by *both* parties, I doubt we’ll see the end of this cycle while anti-drug policies continue along their current path.

  2. Jaime Bustos Says:

    A revolution is impossible until it happens, but once it happens, it’s inevitable.

  3. Alejandro Pelaez Says:

    The story has a few more important details. In the first place, the campesinos are protesting againsta aerial spraying, but, the real cause of their protest is the massive manual erradication that the GME groups started some weeks ago.

  4. Sergio Méndez Says:

    In all fairness…if growing coca is a more productive buisness than growing Yuca, I wonder why they should accept that the goverments force them to change their cultives….

  5. jcg Says:

    Jaime: Nice phrase, but implementation may vary…a lot.

    Alejandro: I overlooked that when I commented, though I recall reading article about that other side of the story as well…in any case, manual erradication, while preferrable to fumigations in certain senses (it seems to be more efficient and causes far less damage to the environment and human health), has other (security) risks and still runs into the same corner: what to do in order to prevent people from resorting to coca, once and for all, not just in one particular location but regionally and nationwide.

    Sergio: Well, Colombia and the world (the U.S. included) aren’t exactly at a point where it would be feasible to legalize that crap and leave them to their own devices, free to plant coca if they so choose.

    If that were the case, I’d go for it and wouldn’t waste time, lives and resources fighting the drug war at all.

    Until that becomes possible, if the world doesn’t seem to care as long as Colombia fights the drug trade in some way, shape or form…I think the government is responsible for finding some way (through artificial subsidies, massive state investment or foreign aid), to provide them with a better alternative.

    Current schemes don’t seem to be working, and perhaps it would be very hard to compete with the profits offered by coca…but something needs to be attempted, at the very least, beyond what we are seeing right now.

  6. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Cocaine chloridrate, not to be confused with cocaine leaves, which are harmless, has been used since a chemist named Angelo Mariani in 1863 started marketing a wine called Vin Mariani, which had been treated with coca leaves. The ethanol in wine acted as a solvent and extracted the cocaine from the coca leaves, altering the drink’s effect.

    A “pinch of coca leaves” was included in John Styth Pemberton’s original 1886 recipe for Coca-Cola, though the company began using decocainized leaves in 1906 when the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed. The only known measure of the amount of cocaine in Coca-Cola was determined in 1902 as being as little as 1/400 of a grain (0.2 mg) per ounce of syrup (6 ppm). The actual amount of cocaine that Coca-Cola contained during the first twenty years of its production is practically impossible to determine.

    By the turn of the twentieth century the dangers of cocaine abuse became part of a moral panic that was tied to the dominant racial and social anxieties of the day. In 1903, the American Journal of Pharmacy stressed that most cocaine abusers were “bohemians, gamblers, high- and low-class prostitutes, night porters, bell boys, burglars, racketeers, pimps, and casual laborers.” In 1914, Dr. Christopher Koch of Pennsylvania’s State Pharmacy Board made the racial innuendo explicit, testifying that, “Most of the attacks upon the white women of the South are the direct result of a cocaine-crazed Negro brain.” Mass media manufactured an epidemic of cocaine use among African Americans in the Southern United States to play upon racial prejudices of the era, though there is little evidence that such an epidemic actually took place. In the same year, the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act outlawed the use of cocaine in the United States. This law incorrectly referred to cocaine as a narcotic, and the misclassification passed into popular culture. Cocaine is a stimulant, not a narcotic.

    A problem with illegal cocaine use, especially in the higher volumes used to combat fatigue (rather than increase euphoria) by long-term users is trauma caused by the compounds used in adulteration. Cutting or “stamping on” the drug is commonplace, using compounds which simulate ingestion effects, such as novocaine producing temporary anasthaesia, ephedrine producing an increased heart rate, or more dangerously, strong toxins to produce vasodilatory effects. For example a nosebleed is incorrectly regarded by heavy users as a sign of purity. The normal adulterants for profit are inactive sugars, usually mannitol, creatine or glucose, so introducing active adulterants gives the illusion of purity. Cocaine trading carries large penalties in most jurisdictions, so user deception about purity and consequent high profits for dealers are the norm. [see wikipedia]

    Prohibition of nacotics such as marihuana and stimulants sucs as cocaine always go hand in hand with race stigmatization (mexicans – marihuana ,negroes – crack cocaine and chinese – hashish people).

    So cocaine chloridrate has been around for more than one century and has been made illegal for approximately the same time span.

    From the above one can infer that the cocaine production and trade has been a transgenerational activity. If a serious effort to control cocaine had been put forward, one could not explain why the estimated U.S. cocaine market exceeded $35 billion in street value for the year 2003, a century after it was banned.

    The truth is a lot of people is benefiting from this illegal trade, and not just the drug dealers. Furthermore, no fight against cocaine precursors is ever heard in the news, for which one can assume is non existent.

    Hence this fight against illegal drugs is a two sided issue, promoted by those who speak against them, and suffered by those who say to enjoy them.

  7. Sergio Méndez Says:


    The problem is…when are we going to stop using the excuse that the world is not prepared to accept the only acceptable solution, that is, ending the war on drugs? It may be the case that the war on drugs will not end tommorrow, in one year or in a century. But at least it will not be fought on my name. If we don´t start doing something instead of making up excuses not to act, it will never end

  8. Mika Tikkanen Says:

    This all makes me so angry. For you all the lovely Colombian people, what a beautiful country full of riches you have got, and your time will come, regardless of US politics. Stay positive and proud of your country, which I know you already are. US is not the answer, everything they ever do is measured by the amount of dollar signs you have in your bank account. You lot are much wiser than that.

    It’s so hypocrite for US to declare a war for Colombian crop growers, think yourself, what would happen if the US consumers would not have their coke fix, the country would not function..all these lovely wall street boys would get mad, the audacity of coming there and preach about cocaine and at the same time being the biggest consumer of it all is beyond me. It’s an internal problem, nothing to do with Colombia. The US druggie is blaming you for the market effing economy they created. Ef you.. all of you US druggies! Think for once what are consequences for an another nation, thought so you never thought you ugly fat-arsed idiots.

    Now, cocaine market is worth 70 billion dollars, US being the biggest consumer of them all, followed closely by the western European countries. Effing pisses me off we always have to talk about this one particular crop that stupid westeners learned to abuse and used to be around for thousands of years by indegineous people before Pizarro murdered Manko. Manko was a genious, he said on his dying day we will get rid of these intruders and poor guy he was wrong. his troops were defeated by European diseseas, rather than by Spanish armada that was claimed to the king of spain.

    My conclusion, be proud of your amazing country, be proud of your history and culture, and tell the US druggies to eff off. You have minerals, plants, ( and what US wants oil) and vegetation.. the country is a effing paradise.

    Colombian history is very diversed and troubled, but I want to be part of it in a good constructive way.

    Greetings from UK by a Finnish Colombian fan

  9. mika tikkanen Says:

    so nice to see so much knowledege here, rather than speculation. unfortunately my previous article was very much under the influence of aguardiente so a lot of factual errors there. i am completely anti-cocaine and anti farc. i think colombian government is doind a very hard job in order trying to balance the market forces of US and at the same time staying independent. the solution lies somewhere my personal opinion, uribe has transformed the country, by the same token you might argue he has sold his sold to devil…hmm to US.

    i think we have not heard the last word from colombia as yet, the beautiful country possesses so much valuable goods and hopefully the country will be able to put them out as an independent trader, rather than uder US based dictatorship…….

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