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Last Updated:10/25/01
Speech by Sen. Paul Wellstone, October 24, 2001
Mr. WELLSTONE. Mr. President, I am pleased to join my colleague, Senator Feingold, with this amendment.

Mr. President, I rise today to address disturbing developments in our antinarcotics efforts in Colombia, and to join Senator FEINGOLD in calling for a shift in our fumigation policy.

The motivations behind the Andean Counterdrug Initiative and last year's Plan Colombia are important--stop the flow of illicit drugs into the United States. I, like every other member of this body, am extremely concerned about the effects of drug use on our citizens, particularly our children. That said, I am becoming more and more convinced that the plan advanced for combating this problem targets the wrong source. What's more, I think that the methodology used is neither fair nor effective.

I am talking about aerial coca eradication, which has been the focus of our efforts in Colombia. Last December, the Colombian military began a massive fumigation campaign in southern Colombia, with U.S. support. Under the current plan, pilots working for DynCorp, a major U.S. government military contractor, spray herbicide on hundreds of thousands of acres of Colombian farmland. To date, the provinces of Putumayo, Cauca, and Narino have been most affected, but expansion of the program is imminent. I have a number of concerns about this approach.

First, I have become increasingly convinced that fumigation is an extreme, unsustainable policy causing considerable damage. Since the fumigation campaign started last December, rivers, homes, farms, and rainforests have been fumigated with the herbicide Round-Up. Because

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Round-Up is a ``non-selective'' herbicide, it kills legal food crops and the surrounding forest, in addition to coca plants. Furthermore, farmers and their supporters contend that glyphosate is hazardous. I'm beginning to believe they're right.
Round-Up is classified by its manufacturer, Monsanto, as ``relatively safe.'' However, the EPA classifies Round-Up as ``most poisonous,'' while the World Health Organization classifies it as ``extremely poisonous.'' Directions on glyphosate products, like Round-Up, warn users not to apply the product in a way that will cause contact with people ``either directly or through drift.'' These instructions and warnings are not being taken into consideration.

What's more, according to the Round-Up website, the herbicide is not recommended for aerial application and is not supposed to be applied near or in bodies of water. However, in Colombia, much of the coca cultivation takes place alongside rivers and ponds, and these bodies of water are routinely fumigated. A November 2000 report by the American Bird Conservancy notes that Round-Up is extremely toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms.

Putumayo, where the spraying has been principally concentrated, reports over 4,000 people with skin or gastric disorders, above and beyond normal averages. In January and February alone, over 175,000 animals were killed in that region. All had been sprayed with Round-Up and Cosmo Flux, a Colombian-made mix.

Mr. President, in light of this mounting evience, I don't believe that we can sit idly by as U.S. taxpayer dollars go toward such a policy. The environmental consequences are serious. The health effects are concerning at best, deadly at worst.

This is an especially personal issue for me. As the only United States Senator to withstand aerial fumigation, I feel I have a unique obligation to address this matter forcefully. When I visited Colombia last year, I was sprayed with glyphosate. At the time, I had little idea of the threats that such activity entailed.

Families continue to suffer hunger as legal food crops have been destroyed and livestock have been harmed. No emergency aid has been provided, and economic development efforts have yet to be realized. In fact, according to a report by Colombian Human Rights Ombudsman Eduardo Cifuentes, eleven different alternative development projects were fumigated during the campaigns. We are undermining our own programs.

This brings me to my second point; alternative development aid has not been delivered, even though fumigation has been in place since December.

While fumigation began soon after the passage of Plan Colombia, alternative development programs have yet to get off the ground. Last July, the Center for International Policy held a meeting with experts from

southern Colombia. At that meeting, they reported that those communities who have signed pacts agreeing to eradicate coca in December and January have not yet received aid. These communities--like Puerto Asis and Santa Ana, both in Putumayo--have expressed their willingness to work on the problem. What have they gotten instead? They have gotten babies with rashes, dead animals, ruined food crops, and tainted water.

In addition, the slowness in aid delivery makes farmers lose further trust in the Colombian government and in eradication. As we all know, alternative development takes time to plan and implement. We can expect that USAID will be moving ahead in the future. But it is clear from events in southern Colombia that there was no coordination between fumigation efforts and alternative development. A massive fumigation campaign went ahead when development programs were still in the planning stage. This is the height of irresponsibility.

How are we going to get Colombian peasants to change their practices without viable alternatives?

Under the current plan, the government of Colombia will give each family up to $2,000 in subsidies and technical assistance to grow substitute crops like rice, corn and fruit. We are providing $16 million specifically for these purposes--a mere 1 percent of the total Colombian aid package. Many believe this is not enough, with the average coca farmer making about $1,000 a month. Regardless, these subsidies have yet to take effect. We haven't even tried.

In the USAID ``Report on Progress Toward Implementing Plan Colombia--Supported Activities'' released at the end of last month, these facts become apparent. Of the more than $40 million obligated under Plan Colombia for promoting economic and social alternatives to illicit crop production, a mere $6 million has been spent. Of the 37,000 families who signed ``social pacts'' agreeing to eliminate coca in exchange for alternative development programs, only 568 families had received their first package of assistance.

Moreover, fumigation campaigns without alternative development threaten the very goals they claim to support. They fuel a mistrust in the national government, as communities are forced by the campaigns to flee their homes and move elsewhere in search of food. Individuals in these areas often turn to the guerrillas or paramilitaries in search of security, exacerbating the violent conflict and undermining the rule of law in the region. An abandonment of the fumigation policy will help to strengthen the relationship between farmers in these areas and the national government, which will help eradication efforts in the long term.

A recent study by the conservative think tank, Rand Corporation, rightly notes that the aerial fumigation of coca crops is backfiring politically. They say: ``Absent viable economic alternatives [such as crop substitution and infrastructure development], fumigation may simply displace growers to other regions and increase support for the guerrillas.''

Next, I don't believe that fumigation solves the problem of coca cultivation, but simply shifts the problem from one area to another. In a New York Times interview with Juan de Jesus Cardenas, governor of the Huila province, reporter Juan Forero wrote the following: ``the governor of Huila said regional leaders across the southern area of Colombia believed that defoliation would simply drive farmers to cultivate coca and poppies in other regions. `That is what happened with defoliation of Putumayo, with the movement of displaced people into Narin 6o,' said the governor.'' Likewise, our Ambassador to Colombia, Mrs. Anne Patterson, has acknowledged that coca had appeared for the first time in the eastern departments of Arauca and Vichada.

Fumigation without adequate alternative development programs in place creates a vacuum in the local economy and food supply. This causes coca growers to flee and move deeper into the agrarian frontier, where they replant coca, often twice as much, as an insurance policy. This causes deforestation and instability among residents indigenous to the new areas of production.

This has implications not only on ecology, but also on regional security. Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela, have been and will increasingly be affected by massive population flows caused by aerial eradication. Frankly, I do not want to be responsible for contributing to an already devastating humanitarian catastrophe.

Putting aside these concerns, I must ask: ``to date, just how effective have our efforts been at eradicating coca?'' Regrettably, the answer is--not very good!

Recent estimates by U.S. analysts report that there are now at least 336,000 acres of coca in Colombia, far higher than earlier estimates. The United Nations, using different methodology, put the amount even higher for last year's major growing season--402,000 acres. Although about 123,000 acres of coca plants have been fumigated under Plan Colombia, cultivation increased by 11 percent last year. What are we accomplishing here?

There is a way out. Local governments have pledged to eradicate coca-without harmful fumigation; I think they deserve a chance.

In May, six governors from southern Colombia, the region where most of Colombia's coca is grown, presented ``Plan Sur,'' a comprehensive strategy for coca elimination, alternative development, and support for the peace process. The plan opposes fumigation as destructive and unnecessary. The governors ask that communities have

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the chance to manually eradicate their crops, and call for sufficient alternative development funding.
Twice this year, I have met with these governors, as well as representatives from the Colombian House and Senate, and NGO leaders. They are an impressive, courageous group. In their visit to Washington in March, four of the governors from southern Colombia, led by Ivan Guerrero of Putumayo, denounced fumigation and called for a more humane and sustainable approach to coca eradication. Governor Jaramillo Martinez of Tolima stated: ``fumigation is not working as expected. It is displacing people and continuing to deforest the jungle. We need to give these farmers the opportunity to grow other crops.''

I am in full agreement. The present course is not only destructive, but also ineffective.

Meanwhile, opposition to fumigation continues to mount. Numerous mayors from southern Colombia support the governors in their call to change the policy. And, prompted by these same concerns, other prominent officials like Carlos Ossa, the nation's general comptroller, have called for a suspension of spraying. In July, Judge Gilberto Reyes ordered ``the immediate suspension of the entire fumigation project''; it seems he, too, wants definitive answers on the effects of glyphosate.

However, President Pastrana's government continues to spray large swaths of territory. Frankly, the decision to proceed despite widespread opposition was a disappointment. In a country that has struggled to promote democracy and lawfulness, surely this was the wrong course of action.

Yet I refuse to give up on Colombia and its brave citizenry. I believe there are many positive steps the United States can take to reduce drug production and promote peace and democracy in Colombia and the Andes.

I join Senator FEINGOLD in opposing only those parts of this package that damage human rights and the environment--not the bulk of the assistance for alternative development, judicial support and interdiction efforts through the police.

In concluding, I believe there must be a moratorium on further fumigation until alternative development is implemented. I am pleased that my colleague, Senator LEAHY saw fit to include language that would withhold funding for aerial fumigation without first determining and reporting to Congress on the health and safety effects of the chemicals being used, and the manner of their application. Our decisions should reflect the will of the Colombian people. Colombian governors, parliamentarians, mayors, judges, and activists have all called for an end to spraying. Too much is riding on our decisions, made so far away.

I further believe we should play a more effective role by helping create genuine economic alternatives for the peasant farmers and others involved in the Andean drug trade. As the failure of our current policy shows, the most that can be expected from the strategy of eradication and interdiction is moving the areas of production from one country to another and thereby spreading the problems associated with the drug market.

Finally, we should better combat drug abuse here at home through funding drug treatment and education programs. As long as there is constant demand for cocaine and heroin in our country, peasants in the Andes with no viable alternatives will continue to grow coca and poppies simply to survive.

I will summarize this way. When I look at this Andean Counterdrug Initiative and last year's Plan Colombia, I think the intention is right on the mark and in good faith: protecting our children and our citizens, from drugs. The methodology is absolutely flawed. We would actually be doing a much better job if we focused on the demand for the drugs in our own country.

I remember when I met with the Defense Minister in Colombia, Mr. Ramirez, he said: We export 300 metric tons of cocaine to the United States. As long as we have this demand, we will continue to do it. Someone will do it.

There will come a point when we will look at addiction and make sure we cover this and we will get help to people so they get into treatment programs. We will do what we need to do by way of prevention. That will be far more the answer than this effort.

I will focus on the fumigation. I have become increasingly convinced--and I think Senator Feingold talked about this--that it is an extreme, unsustainable policy which I think causes damage to people. The experts will say that the spraying is classified by Monsanto as ``relatively safe''. But the EPA calls it ``most poisonous'', and the World Health Organization classifies it as ``extremely poisonous''. Talk to the people living there and listen to them. They are the ones saying they have the rashes, headaches, nausea, and are getting sick.

With all due respect, I cannot blame them for being a little skeptical about what all these experts tell them. There is some good language in this foreign operations bill that Senator Leahy worked on saying we have to do a careful study of the health effects of this, which I believe is right on the mark. Talk to the Governors of different regions. They are worried about what this is doing to them. It is easy for us to say it is not a problem. It is easy for Monsanto to say that.

I was kidding around with Senator Feingold, and said: I feel like I have some expertise in that I think I am the only U.S. Senator to withstand aerial fumigation. I was sprayed when I was in Colombia--I don't think on purpose. I don't live there. It was just one time, not over and over and over again.

The second point that this amendment speaks to--and I pressed the Ambassador, who I think is very good; we have a very good Ambassador. I said to her, ``the social development money was supposed to go with this''. Unfortunately, what we are doing, we are also eradicating legal crops. That is part of the problem.

The other part of the problem is we are telling campesinos we are going to do the spraying and eradicate the crops without alternatives for them to put food on the table for themselves and their families. The whole idea was, with the spraying we're going to give campesinos the social development money and the viable alternatives for their families. This amendment speaks to that and makes it clear we have to see that social development money on the ground; that is to say, where people live.

I join Senator Feingold in this focus on what I call environmental justice. We both have tried, to the best of our ability, to raise the human rights concerns. I did that in an earlier statement today. I will not go over it again.

The Leahy language would withhold funding for aerial fumigation without first determining and reporting to Congress on the health and safety effects of the chemicals being used and the manner of their application. It is important that language be implemented. I say that on the floor of the Senate.

Many Colombian governors, parliamentarians, mayors, judges, and activists have called for an end to the spraying. Between the focus of this amendment, with the Leahy language, the emphasis we have on this amendment on the alternative economic developments--and again I say one more time, since I have already spoken to the best of my ability on human rights--it will make a lot more difference when we deal with the demand for it here in our own country. That is what will make a difference.

My hope is this amendment will be accepted. I thank the Senator for his effort. I don't want to hold up the progress of the bill.

I thank Senator Leahy for his statement about this foreign operations appropriations bill. I think it was a very important statement. In particular, I say to my colleagues, I think probably people in the United States of America will no longer be isolationist again. People are painfully aware of the interconnections of the world in which we live. Many of these countries are our neighbors whether we want them to be so or not. I think there is much more of a focus on the world. We understand now that we ignore the world at our own peril.

This is a good piece of legislation overall. I presented my critique of Plan Colombia, and I would like to see some things change. I think we have done our very best through some amendments and speaking out.

As long as we are talking about this world in which we live, I want to mention, and I will do this in 3 minutes, on September 11--everybody has talked

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about it--but I have my own framework for thinking about this and I just want to mention it.
In 1940 and 1941, the Germans engaged in an unprecedented bombing of civilians in Great Britain to weaken civilian opposition to Nazism, and 20,000 citizens were killed, murdered. On September 11, almost 6,000 Americans, innocent civilians, were murdered. Therefore, I think there is absolute moral justification for taking the kind of action we believe we must take so terrorists don't have free rein, to try to prevent this from happening again. That is why I reject the arguments about what were the underlying causes of the hatred or violence.

I said to friends, some who make that argument, you never ask me to give a speech about what caused those men to murder Matthew Shepard, a gay man in Wyoming. How could they have that hatred? They murdered him. Murder is murder. Camus said murder is never legitimate.

Here is the question I have. In trying to achieve this goal, I think that force, unfortunately--and for me, the military option, the use of force, is always the last option--is one of the options that is necessary. In the end, I think the question is: Do we make this a better world, this journey we are taking?

I have spoken of humanitarian assistance. But the other point I want to make is, over and over again, we should speak on the floor, I understand that this is easier said than done, but reports of innocent people being murdered in a nursing home or hospital are concerning. I have no reason to believe that those who are carrying out the military campaign are not making every effort to keep this away from innocent civilians. I have no reason to believe that they are not making every effort. But I will tell you, we have to be concerned every single time our military action, our bombing, leads to the death of an innocent civilian in Afghanistan. These people are not our enemies. Every time it happens, even though it is inadvertent, never on purpose, it is a contradiction of the values we live by. It does us no good when it comes to the rest of the Muslim and Islamic world.

So I would like to continue to make the appeal that in carrying this out with the use of force, the highest priority must be to avoid the loss of innocent life in Afghanistan.

As President Bush said, these Afghans are among the poorest people in the world. They are not our enemies. The terrorists and those who harbor terrorists are our enemies. The Afghans are not our enemies. It is a tragedy, and I deeply regret the fact that there are innocent Afghans who lost their lives as a result of the bombing.

I yield the floor.

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