War in Colombia
Colombia suffers from a decades old civil war that has become increasingly violent. Human rights violations are widespread and civil society is under constant attack. US military aid only increases the levels of violence and reduces the possibility of finding solutions to Colombia’s economic and social problems.
Using the “war on drugs” and the “war on terror” as twin justifications, the US provides billions of dollars of funding and equipment to Colombia’s military. Colombia’s military has the worst human rights record in the hemisphere and is linked to paramilitary organizations operating terrorist death squads.
Herbicide Spraying in Colombia
A core piece of this US aid program has been a militarized drug crop eradication program. The US government actively sponsors and promotes aerial spraying of herbicides over large areas of Colombian countryside. Ostensibly, the spray programs are intended to kill drug crops: coca, which is the raw material for cocaine, and opium poppy, the raw material for heroin. However, the spray campaigns create widespread damage, killing food crops and destroying delicate rainforest ecosystems. The spray sometimes lands on people’s homes and schools, or directly on people. Significant concerns exist about the effects of the spray campaigns on agriculture, biodiversity, and human health.
Las Lianas works with partner organizations to support Colombian colleagues as they fight to stop the spraying, and to educate US policy-makers and the public about the devastating effects of this US-sponsored policy.
Las Lianas Activities
Over the period 1999 to 2005, the Las Lianas Colombia Project worked to collect and publicize information about the impacts of the aerial herbicide spraying, and to help provide scientific documentation of health and environmental effects experienced by the targeted communities.
Las Lianas board member Rachel Massey has been at the forefront of publicizing the negative effects of the drug eradication program. In 2003, one of her articles on the topic was selected for a Project Censored award as a top story of the year.
Las Lianas produced a series of overviews on the impacts of the spray campaigns, and provided these to partner organizations working to promote human rights in Colombia. Our most detailed report, "Health and Environmental Effects of Herbicide Spray Campaigns in Colombia," (March 2002) summarized existing information on the health and environmental effects of the spray campaigns available from a variety of published and unpublished documents. Previously, this material had not been available in a readily accessible form.
We have also provided expert commentary on US government documents relevant to the spray campaigns.
In 2002, Las Lianas prepared a response to a State Department sponsored health report that purports to show the spray campaigns have created no adverse health effects in Colombia. Designed for use by partner organizations in lobbying efforts, the response outlines the principal scientific flaws in the report, including small sample size, lack of explicit or reproducible methodology, and lack of consistency between data presented and conclusions drawn.
Also in 2002, Las Lianas assisted the Amazon Alliance in writing a detailed letter to the US Environmental Protection Agency urging EPA to request detailed information on the spray campaigns from the US State Department. The letter posed questions on issues including the chemicals used in the spray campaigns, the quantities applied per acre, and the availability of health data on the formulations used, and was a principal resource guiding EPA as it evaluated State Department claims about the safety of the spray campaigns.
Las Lianas was one of several organizations submitting expert commentary to the US Senate, responding to an EPA report on State Department activities in Colombia.
Las Lianas submitted letters, and helped other experts to develop letters, supporting the application of the precautionary principle by a Colombian court.
In addition to producing written materials, we have worked to create networks of science and health professionals concerned about the situation in Colombia. We worked to bring a scientific voice into the debate, for example by helping to create an open letter to the US Senate from scientists concerned about the health and environmental effects of the spray campaigns. More than 150 scientists and health professionals across the US signed the letter.
Since 2005, Las Lianas has not maintained an active program in this area. However, we continue to provide information to journalists, advocates, and others based on our past work.