HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Colombia Halts Drug Eradication To Do Herbicide Study
Pubdate: Fri, 27 Jun 2003
Source: Miami Herald (FL)
Copyright: 2003 The Miami Herald
Author: Sibylla Brodzinsky


BOGOTA - A court has ordered the suspension of a U.S.-funded drug 
eradication program until the effects of the herbicide on human health and 
the environment can be scientifically established, according to a ruling 
made public Thursday.

Government officials immediately said they would appeal the administrative 
court ruling to the State Council, the nation's highest court for 
government matters. Because the Colombian government is not legally bound 
to comply with the ruling while an appeal is underway, the government said 
it will continue spraying coca and opium crops throughout the country.

''There is an appeal [and] spraying continues,'' Vice President Francisco 
Santos told RCN radio. ``We would hope that the State Council understands 
that the war is the worst health problem here, and what finances the war 
are drug traffickers through the illegal crops.''

Both leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitary groups fighting in 
Colombia's 4-decade-old war reap huge benefits from the drug business, by 
''taxing'' producers and directly engaging the processing and trafficking 
of cocaine and heroin.

The United States, which has poured millions of dollars into the 
eradication program, was not immediately concerned with the ruling. Because 
the appeals process can take months and sometimes years, the possibility of 
any actual suspension in the spray program would be ''quite a ways off,'' a 
U.S. official said.

In the June 13 ruling made public Thursday, the Administrative Court of 
Cundinamarca province ''orders the temporary suspension of aerial spraying 
with the herbicide glyphosate until studies on the effects of the chemicals 
are conducted,'' court president Estela Carvajal told The Herald in a 
telephone interview.

While U.S. and Colombian officials argue that the weed-killer glyphosate is 
safe, farmers and indigenous groups on the ground say it has affected their 
health and has even killed off some livestock. Environmentalists claim that 
the large-scale spray program is also affecting waters sources and wildlife.

Carvajal said that in addition to public health studies in rural areas that 
have been sprayed, the court ordered compliance with an environmental 
management plan to reduce spraying's impact on the ecosystem.

While several court rulings have ordered suspensions of the spray program 
in the past, the government has successfully appealed each ruling and the 
herbicide continues to be used in eradication efforts.

According to newly released figures, the aggressive spray program is 
beginning to make a dent in coca cultivation. A United Nations report 
published Wednesday said Colombia has seen a 37 percent decline in the 
cultivation of coca -- the main ingredient in cocaine -- over the past two 
years, reversing an eight-year trend of steady growth.
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