In the comments thread of this week's cocaine feature ("The Mystery of the Tainted Cocaine, Part II"), some of you have asked questions about this passage:
Aerial coca-eradication programs—spraying herbicide—also showed some results but poisoned big swaths of the countryside. "Where they've sprayed, nothing lives there, nothing grows there," Diego said during our conversations about his time on the cocaine farms. "The water, the rivers, they die. It's killing everything and the people who live there."
"From cancer?" I asked.
"They don't even live long enough to get cancer," he said. "They die that same year. It's really, really strong poison."
Which prompted comments like:
The whole thing about the spraying is shocking and awful and deserves its own story that cites more than one source.
Agreed. There wasn't room to get too far into the spraying in this week's story—which was already long—but there is reporting on the subject.
This great story at Narco News, for example, about an upcoming "industry day" in Colombia, where the U.S. State Department will solicit proposals from corporations—Bell Helicopters, DynCorp International—to help with aerial eradication programs.
It sounds sinister because it is sinister:
It’s clear from the presentation that the program is focused on aerial eradication. NAS reports record seizure and eradication numbers for 2008. The fumigation of these crops is a key component of Plan Colombia, a multi-billion dollar agreement signed in the 1990s where the US government supports the drug war through equipment and training to Colombia. However, the program was started in 1982, according to the presentation, and includes 1,250 members from the CNP. Despite lawsuits and Colombia court ordered suspensions of the fumigation, the NAS document shows that more than 3,000 aerial eradication missions were completed in 2008, the most popular mission type out of the entire program that year.
There are many problems with the usage of herbicides that are sprayed during aerial eradication. They have been shown to poison people, forests, livestock, and other crops, forcing those living in the affected areas to leave. Bell’s UH-1H Huey II helicopters flew the majority of the missions, logging in a total of 4,941 hours, while the Douglas DC-3 aircraft assisted with 830. The DC-3 aircraft are based at the El Dorado airport in Bogotá, and the UH-1Hs at Bogotá ’s Guaymaral airport and in Tuluá, a western city near the Pacific coast, according to the NAS presentation.
NAS notes that “the contractor is responsible for maintaining its own safety, hazmat ,and environmental compliance program and complying with local and [US government] regulations,” implying that the corporations will be in charge of making sure an environmental disaster doesn’t happen. The agency doesn’t appear to be happy with environmental protections that are hampering the aviation project either. In the presentation NAS writes that the agency has encountered numerous obstacles with the program, including environmental protections and miscommunications with the CNP.