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Colombia Free Trade Deal Could Boost Cocaine Exports May 9, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Drugs, Human Rights, Labor, Latin America.
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There’s only one Colombian industry that can potentially employ workers who would lose their job in the wake of a free trade deal.

Jess Hunter-Bowman By Jess Hunter-Bowman

Manuel Esteban Tejada was a teacher in the Colombian province of Cordoba, near the Panamanian border. Unfortunately for him, he was also a union member. On January 10, paramilitary gunmen broke into his house at 6 a.m. and shot him multiple times, killing him.

Tejada was the first trade unionist killed in Colombia in 2011, but not the last. At least five more have already been killed this year. Colombian and international labor officials report that 51 unionized workers in Colombia were killed in 2010–25 of them teachers. More union members were killed in Colombia last year than in the rest of the world combined.

The fact that Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world to belong to a union hasn’t kept President Barack Obama from backing a free-trade deal with the South American nation that would further erode labor rights and wages.

Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos recently announced a labor rights “action plan” as a ploy to gain congressional votes in favor of the controversial deal. The Obama administration hopes this effort, which would do virtually nothing to deal with the violence targeting labor leaders, will convince some Democrats to hold their noses and vote for the trade deal, despite Colombia’s deadly labor track record.

Just days before the two leaders made their announcement, Hector Orozco and Gildardo Garcia–farm workers who belonged to a union–were murdered. Business as usual in Colombia.

It’s no surprise that Washington would sacrifice labor rights in the rush to secure this free trade deal. But Colombia isn’t only the world’s leader in union murders–it’s also the world’s leading cocaine producer. Although efforts to stamp out drug trafficking have dominated the U.S.-Colombia relationship for decades, this trade deal would likely boost cocaine production.

Free trade deals scrap tariffs and quotas on imports. Countries that enter such agreements can no longer protect strategic industries and sectors to ensure they are competitive. And no one in Latin America can compete with U.S. grain farmers. The technology, mechanization, and subsidies at U.S. famers’ disposal make grain production in the United States extremely cheap relative to Latin America.

For example, once Mexico eliminated corn tariffs and quotas under NAFTA guidelines, an estimated 2 million Mexican corn farmers went bankrupt. They simply couldn’t compete with U.S. corn prices.

Research has shown that 1.8 million Colombian farmers will see their net income fall 17 percent if the U.S.-Colombia trade deal is enacted. An estimated 400,000 will see their net incomes fall by between 48 percent and 70 percent.

Meanwhile, Caterpillar (which wants to sell bulldozers to Colombia), Walmart (which wants to resume tariff-free purchases of Colombian flowers), and other large U.S. corporations stand to profit handsomely from the U.S.-Colombia free trade deal.

Free traders in Congress and the corporate lobbyists who are pressuring them insist that the trade deal will create new jobs, absorbing people from sectors without a “comparative advantage.” That’s a boldface lie. Since the early 1990s, nearly all Colombian exports have entered the U.S. tariff-free under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act. Any jobs created in Colombia by gaining unfettered access to U.S. markets were created years ago.

But there is one Colombian export market that can always absorb new workers: the cocaine trade. When Colombian farmers are pushed out of grain farming due to cheap U.S. imports, expect them to face a terrible choice. They’ll either lose their farm, join the vast ranks of Colombia’s unemployed, and watch their children drop out of school and become malnourished–or switch to farming coca crops to stay on their farm, keep their kids in school, and put food on their tables.

Colombian farmers want out of coca farming because it doesn’t pay very well and violence often dogs coca production. But the U.S.-Colombia trade deal will leave them with virtually no other choice.

By pushing it forward, Washington is catering to corporate interests instead of heeding Colombia’s human rights crisis and seriously considering its impact on illegal drug trafficking. We can only hope that there are enough lawmakers willing to recognize that this deal isn’t worth the costs to us or to Colombians.

Jess Hunter-Bowman is the Associate Director of Witness for Peace, a nonprofit organization with a 30-year history monitoring U.S. policy in Latin America. http://witnessforpeace.org

Two Colombian Generals Face Charges June 9, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Latin America.
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Sherwood Ross

www.opednews.com

consortiumnews.com
June 8, 2009

Two Colombian generals, both of whom received training at the U.S. Army’s “School of The Americas”(SOA) at Ft. Benning, Ga., have been accused by authorities there of crimes involving narcotics and collaborating with criminal paramilitary groups, according to a report in the June 15th issue of The Nation magazine.

Brig. Gen. Pauxelino Latorre has been charged “with laundering millions of dollars for a paramilitary drug ring, and prosecutors say they are looking into his activities as head of the Seventeenth Brigade,” investigative journalist Teo Ballve reports, noting that criminal probes repeatedly linked Latorre’s unit “to illegal paramilitary groups that had brutally killed thousands” of Colombian farmers in an effort to seize their land for palm oil production.

Another general, Rito Alejo Del Rio, former Seventeenth Brigade leader, is in jail on charges of collaborating with paramilitaries, gangs that have been responsible for widespread atrocities.  He also received training at SOA.

Various firms engaged in palm oil development since 2002 apparently have received $75 million in U.S. Agency for International Development money under “Plan Colombia,” Ballve writes. And some of the firms appear to be tied to narco-traffickers, “in possible violation of federal law.” The writer notes Colombia’s paramilitaries are on the State Department’s list of foreign “terrorist” organizations.

“Plan Colombia is fighting against drugs militarily at the same time it gives money to support palm, which is used by paramilitary mafias to launder money,” The Nation quotes Colombian Senator Gustavo Petro, as saying. “The United States is implicitly subsidizing drug traffickers.”

President Alvaro Uribe has urged Colombians to increase palm production from 750,000 to 15 million acres to cash in on the expected boom in biofuels.

“Oil palm, or African palm, is one of the few aid-funded crops whose profits can match coca profits,” Ballve notes. But human rights groups have long accused palm companies, notably Urapalma, of cultivating stolen lands, he adds.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, has attached an amendment to this year’s Plan Colombia funding (for 2010) to ban palm projects that “cause the forced displacement of local people” but in the bill’s current draft, Ballve says, Leahy’s amendment is marked for deletion.

Urapalma submitted a grant application to the Bogota, Colombia, offices of ARD Inc., a rural development contractor based in Burlington, Vermont, which The Nation reports does business in 43 countries and has received $330 million in revenue from USAID.

In January, 2003, ARD began administering $41.5 million for USAID’s Colombia Agribusiness Partnership Program and Urapalma was one of its beneficiaries. Urapalma has been accused of taking land illegally from Colombian peasants.

In July, 2003, just before Urapalma’s USAID application, Colombia’s national daily El Tiempo reported that “the African palm projects in the southern banana region of Uraba are dripping with blood, misery, and corruption.” The region is where Urapalma is active.

The Nation article goes on to report that in 2003, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights singled out Urapalma for collusion with paramilitaries in these words: “Since 2001, the company Urapalma SA has initiated cultivation of the oil palm on approximately 1,500 hectares of the collective land of these communities, with the help of ‘the perimetric and concentric armed protection of the Army’s Seventeenth Brigade and armed civilians'”, i.e., paras.

All of the above, of course, has gone on by fleecing American taxpayers, courtesy of SOA and USAID.  

Sherwood Ross formerly worked for The Chicago Daily News and other major dailies and as a columnist for wire services. He currently runs a public relations firm for “worthy causes”-. Reach him at sherwoodr1@yahoo.com.

Sherwood Ross has worked as a publicist for Chicago; as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and workplace columnist for Reuters. He has also been a media consultant to colleges, law schools, labor unions, and to the editors of more than 100 (more…)

New Military Base in Colombia Would Spread Pentagon Reach Throughout Latin America May 30, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Latin America.
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Written by John Lindsay-Poland  www.upsidedownworld.org  
Friday, 29 May 2009
Source: Americas Program, Center for International Policy (CIP)

The Pentagon budget submitted to Congress on May 7 includes $46 million for development of a new U.S. military base in Palanquero, Colombia.

The official justification states that the Defense Department seeks “an array of access arrangements for contingency operations, logistics, and training in Central/South America.”

The military facility in Colombia will give the United States military increased capacity for intervention throughout most of Latin America. The plan is being advanced amid tense relations between Washington and Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, and despite both a long history and recent revelations about the Colombian military’s atrocious human rights record.

President Obama told hemispheric leaders last month that “if our only interaction with many of these countries is drug interdiction—if our only interaction is military—then we may not be developing the connections that can over time increase our influence and have a beneficial effect.”1

In this Obama is on point. This base would feed a failed drug policy, support an abusive army, and reinforce a tragic history of U.S. military intervention in the region. It’s wrong and wasteful, and Congress should scrap it.

The new facility in Palanquero, Colombia would not be limited to counter-narcotics operations, nor even to operations in the Andean region, according to an Air Mobility Command (AMC) planning document. The U.S. Southern Command (SouthCom) aims to establish a base with “air mobility reach on the South American continent” in addition to a capacity for counter-narcotics operations, through the year 2025.2

With help from the Transportation Command and AMC, the SouthCom noted that “nearly half of the continent can be covered by a C-17 without refueling” from Palanquero. If fuel is available at its destination, “a C-17 could cover the entire continent, with the exception of the Cape Horn region,” the AMC planners wrote.3

A U.S. Embassy spokesperson in Bogota said that negotiations are not yet concluded for the base.

The SouthCom is also pursuing access to a site in French Guiana that would permit military aircraft to reach sites in Africa, via the Ascension Islands, according to AMC.4 SouthCom apparently sought use of facilities in Recife, Brazil for the same purpose, but “the political relationship with Brazil is not conducive to the necessary agreements,” AMC wrote.

The lease for the U.S. “Forward Operating Location” in Manta, Ecuador expires in November 2009, and Ecuador notified Washington last year that it would not renew the lease. The facility in Manta was authorized to conduct only counter-drug operations. Yet, according to military spokesmen, drug traffic in the Pacific—where aircraft from Manta patrolled—has increased in recent years.5 U.S. forces in Manta also carried out operations to arrest undocumented Ecuadorans on boats in Ecuadoran waters. But public documentation of U.S. operations conducted from Manta does not indicate use of C-17 cargo aircraft, so their use in Palanquero apparently would represent an expanded U.S. military capacity in the region.

The “mission creep” in the proposal for continent-wide operations from Colombia is also evident in President Obama’s foreign aid request for Colombia. While the budget request for $508 million tacitly recognizes the failure of Plan Colombia drug policy by cutting funds for fumigation of coca crops, the White House is asking for an increase in counterinsurgency equipment and training to the Colombian Army.6

Colombian and U.S. human rights and political leaders have objected to continued funding of the Colombian army,7 especially after revelations that the army reportedly murdered more than 1,000 civilians and alleged they were guerrillas killed in combat, in order to increase their body count.8 The Palanquero base itself, which houses a Colombian Air Force unit, was banned from receiving U.S. aid for five years because of its role in a 1998 attack that killed 17 civilians, including six children, from the effects of U.S.-made cluster bombs.9 The United States resumed aid to the unit last year.

Colombian Defense Ministry sources said that Colombia was attempting to obtain increases in U.S. military aid as part of the base negotiations.10 Palanquero offers the U.S. military a sophisticated infrastructure—a 10,000-foot runway, hangars that hold more than 100 aircraft, housing for more than 2,000 men, restaurants, casinos, supermarkets, and a radar system installed by the United States itself in the 1990s.11

Colombian activists also point out that a new base at Palanquero would reinforce the existing U.S. military presence at other bases in Colombia, such as Tres Esquinas and Tolemaida. “The militarization of Palanquero is an obstacle to effective and visionary peace initiatives such as those promoted by communities throughout the country, as well as to the humanitarian exchanges developed by Colombians for Peace,” says Danilo Rueda of the Intercongregational Commission for Justice and Peace.12

“Colombian military bases where there are foreign—especially U.S.—soldiers, provide tangible evidence that in this country there is neither sovereignty, nor autonomy, nor independence,” says the Medellín Youth Network. The Palanquero base, the Youth Network says, “is the political lobby, is the payment and the legal lie so that the armed conflict generated by social inequality may be turned over to others.”13

U.S. law caps the number of uniformed U.S. soldiers operating in Colombia at 800, and the number of contractors at 600. Until last year, a significant number of them were intelligence personnel assigned to the effort to rescue three U.S. military contractors kidnapped by the leftist FARC guerrillas. With the rescue last year of the three contractors, many U.S. intelligence staff left Colombia, leaving space for soldiers to run operations in the prospective new U.S. base or bases.

Former defense minister and presidential candidate Rafael Pardo opposes the base. “That the Colombian government asks for a U.S. base now would be a serious error,” he says.14

Replacing one military base that was set up for the failed drug war with another base to intervene in South America and to support the abusive Colombian army would be a serious error for the United States as well.

End Notes

  1. CNN, “Obama: Summit of the Americas ‘productive’,” 19 April, 2009, at: http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/04/19/obama.latin.america/.
  2. “White Paper, Air Mobility Command, Global En Route Strategy,” p. 22, preparatory document for Air Force Symposium 2009—AFRICOM, at http://www.au.af.mil/awc/africom/documents/GlobalEnRouteStrategy.pdf.
  3. Ibid.
  4. “Global En Route Strategy,” p. 22.
  5. Chris Kraul, “Cocaine Culture Creeps into Ecuador,” Los Angeles Times, October 5, 2007, http://articles.latimes.com/2007/oct/05/world/fg-ecuadrugs5.
  6. Adam Isacson, “First Peek at the Obama Administration’s 2010 Aid Request,” 7 May 2009, http://www.cipcol.org/?p=848; see also: http://www.state.gov/f/releases/iab/fy2010/index.htm.
  7. In February 46 national and regional U.S. organizations urged Obama to terminate military aid to Colombia, while a letter from more than a hundred Colombian leaders urged a reformulation of policy, putting promotion of a negotiated end to the armed conflict at its center. See http://www.forcolombia.org/monthlyupdate/march2009#president.
  8. Nadja Drost, “In Colombia, Suspicious Deaths,” Global Post, 11 May 2009, at: http://www.globalpost.com/print/1280781. See also “426 militares han sido detenidos por ejecuciones extrajudiciales,” Semana, 11 May 2009, at: http://www.semana.com/noticias-justicia/426-militares-capturados-falsos-positivos/123701.aspx.
  9. Congregación Intercongregacional de Justicia y Paz, “Masacre en Santo Domingo, 13 de diciembre de 1998,” at: http://justiciaypazcolombia.com/Masacre-en-Santo-Domingo-Arauca.
  10. “Con traslado de base de Manta,” El Tiempo, 18 April 2009, at: http://www.eltiempo.com/colombia/justicia/con-traslado-de-base-de-manta-eu-tiene-en-la-mira-varias-pistas-del-suroccidente-del-pais_4877714-1.
  11. “De Manta a Palanquero?” Cambio, 2 November 2008, at: http://www.cambio.com.co/portadacambio/779/4234729-pag-2_3.html.
  12. Statement by Danilo Rueda, May 2009, at: http://www.forcolombia.org/rueda.
  13. Statement by Medellín Youth Network, May 2009, at: http://www.forcolombia.org/PalanqueroRed.
  14. “De Manta a Palanquero?”

 

John Lindsay-Poland co-directs the Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean, in Oakland, California. He can be reached at johnlp(at)igc(dot)org.

Colombia: Paramilitary Chief Says He Helped Finance Uribe’s Campaign April 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Latin America.
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www.upsidedownworld.org Print E-mail
Written by Constanza Vieira   
Tuesday, 28 April 2009
 (IPS) – Former Colombian paramilitary chief and drug lord Diego Murillo, alias “Don Berna”, testified in a U.S. court that he helped finance President Álvaro Uribe’s first election campaign, in 2002.

The president’s campaign chief denied the allegation.

“Don Berna” was sentenced Wednesday to 31 years in prison and fined four million dollars for conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the United States.

Murillo, 48, was extradited in a surprise move by Uribe on May 13, 2008, along with 13 other heads of the far-right paramilitary United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC), which formally disbanded in 2007 after engaging in demobilisation negotiations with the government from 2003 to 2006.

They were wanted by the U.S. justice system on drug trafficking charges.

During the trial in a New York courtroom, one of Murillo’s lawyers, Margaret Shalley, read out a statement depicting her client as a victim of Communist violence, a patriot who was left disabled – he has a prosthetic leg – and nevertheless continued generating money to help his people.

The lawyer asked federal U.S. District Judge Richard Berman to take into account, before sentencing her client, that he and the AUC backed Uribe’s presidential campaign in 2002, to which he contributed “large sums of money.”

When she was finished reading the declaration, the judge asked Murillo if he had any objection to what his lawyer had read out, and he said no.

Murillo said that using the money that he derived from drug trafficking was the only way to block the advance of the Communist guerrillas in Colombia.

This South American country has been in the grip of a civil war since 1964, when the leftwing guerrillas took up arms.

Murillo was sentenced to 375 months in prison on drug trafficking charges.

After the trial, Murillo’s Colombian defence attorneys approached Iván Cepeda, spokesman for the Movement of Victims of Crimes of the State (MOVICE), and told him that their client had asked that his support for Uribe be explicitly included in the statement read out by Shalley.

They also told Cepeda that Murillo was prepared to elaborate, before the Colombian justice system, on his allegations that incriminated Uribe, and to present proof, and said they hoped that this could be done as soon as possible.

The manager of Uribe’s 2002 and 2006 campaigns, Fabio Echeverri, said in Bogota that Murillo’s declaration was “false.”

Echeverri, who has been the spokesman for the National Association of Industrialists for 18 years, said the campaigns were financed by donations from companies and individuals, whose checks were deposited in a bank account after the origin of the funds was checked, a process that took between 15 and 20 days.

The Colombian government has not responded to Murillo’s statement.

The U.S. court did not agree to hear the testimony of any of Murillo’s victims.

At the time, the Colombian government promised that the extraditions would not interfere with the legal proceedings carried out under the so-called Justice and Peace Law, which was approved by Congress to facilitate the demobilisation of the far-right militias.

To that end, under an agreement with the U.S. authorities, Colombia’s attorney-general’s office and ministry of the interior and justice were to arrange for judicial cooperation with the U.S. courts.

Under the Justice and Peace Law, which laid out the rules for the demobilisation process, the maximum sentence was eight years for those who gave a full confession of their crimes.

The extradition agreement states that the sentences handed down to Colombians in U.S. courts could be no longer than the maximum penalties they would have faced in Colombia.

The opposition Liberal Party expressed strong concern over Murillo’s declaration. “At this point we cannot make a judgment, but we need to know the whole truth,” said its spokeswoman, Senator Cecilia López, who aspires to become her party’s presidential candidate.

The declaration implicating Uribe “in a U.S. court is extremely serious, and cannot be ignored,” Gloria Flórez, the head of the Minga Association, told IPS.

“The Colombian state has the obligation to open an investigation into the declaration made by Don Berna, in which he openly refers to financing the president’s campaign,” she said.

The constitution establishes that any investigation of the president has to be carried out by the lower house of Congress, and then the Senate. In case the charges involve criminal wrongdoing, the process is to be referred to the Supreme Court.

But Uribe’s supporters have a majority in both houses of Congress.

In any case, said Flórez, “the justice system has to move on this issue.”

“If it is true, he (Murillo) has to show the evidence. If it’s not true, it has to be clarified before society that the presidential campaign was clean and that there was no involvement by drug traffickers,” the human rights defender said. And in order to do that, she added, “legal proceedings must be initiated, to show society the truth.”

Flórez expressed “concern because there are no guarantees in the United States that action will be taken to find out the truth. Failing to listen to the victims of human rights violations in Colombia is part of that lack of guarantees.”

“All the United States is interested in is the drug trafficking issue. So where does that leave the question of reparations for the victims?”

During the demobilisation negotiations with the government, Murillo went by the name “Adolfo Paz”, portrayed himself as an AUC inspector, and wrote to journalists criticising their reports.

Before he became a leader of the AUC, which is accused of committing tens of thousands of human rights crimes, “Don Berna” was a leftist guerrilla in the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), which broke off from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) – the main rebel group – in the 1960s and barely exists today.

In the 1980s he became involved in the Medellín drug cartel, headed by the late notorious kingpin Pablo Escobar. But he then turned on his boss.

“Don Berna” was active in and around the city of Medellín where, according to Verdad Abierta, the biggest Colombian on-line archive on the paramilitaries, “he brought in votes for the candidates he backed.”

His henchmen in the area, who belonged to the Cacique Nutibara Bloc of the AUC, were the first to demobilise, in November 2003, when the government was still doubting whether to recognise “Don Berna” as a paramilitary leader, instead of just a drug lord.

A year earlier, in October 2002, in Operation Orión, troops allegedly acting in collusion with “Don Berna’s” men seized control of a poor Medellín district known as Comuna 13 to “cleanse” the area of FARC and National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas.

After the paramilitary demobilisation, some of the members of the Cacique Nutibara Bloc managed to get elected to Juntas de Acción Comunal, neighborhood councils that play the role of interlocutor with the state.

Verdad Abierta cites the case of William López, alias “Memín”, who was elected in October 2007 as a representative of Comuna 8, another Medellín neighbourhood, but was later arrested and sentenced for forced displacement and aggravated intimidation of voters.

 

Colombia’s desert war March 13, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Latin America.
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  • The Guardian, Thursday 12 March 2009
  • The aerial assault on cocaine funded by the US is wiping out everything – apart from coca plants

    The counter-drugs strategy of the United States is clearly failing. UN figures cited in the Guardian this week show that the cultivation of coca, the plant from which cocaine is derived, has surged in the Andes. The most dramatic rise has been in Colombia, the only country in the region that allows the use of pesticides to eradicate coca leaf – a policy promoted and funded by the US.

    I recently received a disturbing email from southern Colombia warning that the fragile Amazonian soil could “soon be turned to desert”. They were the words of a Catholic priest, so I rang a church worker whose parish lies deep in the Amazonian state of Caquetá. Military planes targeting coca farms, funded by the US, had been spraying mists of pesticides over food crops, grazing animals and even areas where children were playing, she said: locals were complaining of breathing problems and rashes; “strips of skin” have been peeling off cows, and chickens have died; and maize, yucca, plantain and cacao crops have wilted and shrivelled. “We fear there will soon be a very serious food shortage in the region,” she said. The local parish has issued an urgent appeal.

    The US has been funding the spraying campaign for more than two decades, but 70% of the world’s coca leaf is grown in Colombia. Glyphosate is the most frequently used pesticide; its biggest selling commercial formulation is Roundup, made by Monsanto. The company acknowledges that contact with glyphosate may cause mild eye or skin irritation. But independent studies have suggested a far greater range of symptoms, including facial numbness and swelling, rapid heart rate, raised blood pressure, chest pains, nausea and congestion.

    In Colombia, glyphosate is mixed with other chemicals, and because the exact composition has not been made public it has been impossible to test its toxicity. One addition, a surfactant, makes the corrosive liquid stick to the surface – leaf or skin – on which it is sprayed. The pesticide is used at higher concentrations than stipulated in the US, and is sprayed from above the recommended height of 10 metres. Farm workers in the US are advised to keep clear of weedkillers, yet in Colombia aerial spraying takes place with no warning, showering humans and animals with chemicals.

    All Colombia’s neighbours – Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela and Brazil – oppose the “fumigation” policy. The Andean and European parliaments have called for its suspension, as have numerous environmentalists, scientists and politicians in Colombia. But spraying has intensified since the launch in 2000 of Plan Colombia, the US-funded counter-narcotics strategy.

    It was in that year that I first went to meet coca growers in Caquetá. One woman told me a familiar story. Sara’s parents were landless, and had travelled south to set up a farm. In this remote region, with no paved roads, they found that coca was the only crop from which they could make a living.

    Sara showed me the weather-beaten wooden press she uses to grind the coca leaves. Peasants here turn the coca leaves into a paste, which is then sold on to a middleman who takes it to a jungle laboratory to refine it into cocaine.

    Sara also grows maize, yucca, sugar cane and tropical fruit, but these products don’t make much money. It would take days to transport them along rivers or dirt paths to the nearest big market. In contrast, coca paste is easy to transport and, crucially, always in demand. But the peasants here are not rich. They receive just 0.1% of the final street price of cocaine.

    The US focuses on one element of the trafficking chain, the poverty-stricken peasant. But the policy is not even effective. When their land is poisoned, peasants migrate and start growing coca again. They have no alternative. Spraying simply displaces the problem. Despite decades of spraying, coca cultivation in Colombia has grown by 500% since the 1980s, according to US state department figures. US politicians heralded a drop in cultivation after the launch of Plan Colombia, but the area of land covered by coca crops is now larger than when the plan was launched. Perhaps the clearest indication that the policy is failing is the falling price of cocaine, suggesting more, not less, of the drug is entering the US market.

    Back in Caquetá, the church worker described how pesticides have run into rivers and streams, killing fish. Locals wait days before they dare drink the water. One of the most fragile ecosystems in the world “is being poisoned”.

    • Grace Livingstone’s book America’s Backyard: the US and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror is published this month

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