Pubdate: Tue, 19 Jul 2016
Source: West Hawaii Today (HI)
Copyright: 2016 Associated Press
Author: Joshua Goodman, Associated Press


Government No Longer Conducting Aerial Eradication Efforts With Glyphosate

ESPINAL, Colombia (AP) - Explosives experts wearing heavy body armor 
light a fuse and take cover behind a concrete-reinforced trench. 
"Fire in the area!" a commando shouts before a deafening blast 
ricochets across the Andean foothills and sends a plume of brown 
smoke 100 feet high.

Such drills have intensified for Colombia's military, one of the most 
battle-tested in the world, as it tries to control skyrocketing 
cocaine production that has fueled a half-century of war with leftist 

After six straight years of declining or steady production, the 
amount of land under coca cultivation in Colombia began rising in 
2014 and jumped 42 percent last year to 393,000 acres, according to 
the U.S. government. That's an area twice the size of New York City, 
and after much production shifted to Peru over the past decade, the 
United Nations said recently that Colombia is once again the world's 
largest supplier of the drug.

The military training exercises simulate the charges that troops 
typically use to blow up land mines protecting coca crops in areas 
dominated by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the rebel 
group known as the FARC. Once the mines are destroyed, civilians move 
in to dig up the plants.

Troops have had to wipe out coca plants manually since last year when 
President Juan Manuel Santos ended a two-decade-old aerial 
eradication program over health concerns signaled in a World Health 
Organization-sponsored report reclassifying the chemical herbicide 
glyphosate as a carcinogen.

But amid rising cocaine production, Colombia is being forced to 
rethink its anti-drug strategy again, taking into account the 
possibility of a more stable future now that the government has 
reached a cease-fire deal with rebels that will take effect once a 
final accord is signed, probably in the coming weeks.

If and when that happens, the military is hopeful it will be able to 
shift its energy and resources from fighting rebels to pursuing top 
drug traffickers.

In the meantime, Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas insists that 
Colombia's military is not easing up on eradication, as was suggested 
in June in Senate testimony by the State Department's top 
anti-narcotics official.

"We haven't renounced the war on drugs," Villegas said in an 
interview. "Nobody in the world has produced more dead, more blood, 
or more resources than Colombia."

As proof, he points out the government's scaling up of manual 
eradication to replace the now-grounded crop duster plans that were 
piloted by Americans. In the coming months, Colombia will quadruple 
to around 200 the number of eradication crews, each comprised of 
about two dozen civilians escorted by a much-larger security detail 
of sharpshooters, paramedics and land mine removal teams.

It's dangerous work. In the last 15 years, 153 people on manual 
eradication teams have been killed, the majority from exploding land 
mines or booby traps, according to the anti-narcotics police. More 
than 500 have lost limbs or suffered serious injuries.

It's also costly and slow-going: On an average day, each crew can 
only clear about 2-1/2 acres. That's why the government has managed 
to eradicate only about 22,000 acres of coca fields this year 
compared to the 425,000 acres annually at the height of the 
fumigation program a decade ago.

With some people warning that Colombia will soon be awash in coca 
because the manual eradication process moves so slowly, Santos 
earlier this year decided to bring back pesticides on a more limited 
- - and what he says is safer - basis.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom