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Toxic herbicides used in Colombia
Chemical weapons in U.S. drug war

by NICOLE COLSON | August 17, 2001 | Page 2

BOGOTÁ, Colombia--Authorities here can resume a U.S.-funded program to spray toxic herbicides on the Colombian countryside following a judge's ruling in early August.

In July, Judge Gilberto Reyes halted antidrug flights to spray coca and poppy fields, agreeing that the chemicals used were a threat to humans and the environment.

Then the Bush administration got to work. The U.S. mounted intense pressure on the Colombian government-even threatening to cut off all aid--until Reyes caved.

U.S. officials claim that the spraying program is a necessary tool in their "war on drugs." Under the program, planes are supposed to target fields of coca and poppies--which are used to manufacture cocaine and heroin--with the toxic herbicide glyphosate. More than 125,000 acres of Colombian land have been sprayed this year.

But this chemical weapons program is having a devastating effect. There are numerous reports of local populations that were blanketed with the chemicals. Residents in affected areas report rashes, nausea, vomiting and blurred vision.

Meanwhile, fields of corn, beans, potatoes and other crops near targeted areas have been affected; reports of dead fish and farm animals are on the rise; and water sources may have been contaminated.

Reyes' reversal is the latest example of the U.S. flexing its muscle to impose its will on poor countries. But opposition to the U.S. plan is growing. According to one report, 35,000 indigenous people are threatening a campaign of protest over the spraying.

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