Colombia's struggle against 'fumigation'

By Chris Knestrick
April 3, 2009

Recently I stood on a hill in the community of Micoahumado, admiring the sky and the countryside of Colombia. I almost forgot that I am living in a war zone. Suddenly five US-made Black Hawk helicopters and two planes appeared.

Flanked by the helicopters the planes began to destroy the fields. I asked the man next to me, "Where is the coca that they are fumigating?" He replied, "There is no coca there... they are just farms with food crops."

During the past month, the Colombian government, with the help of the United States, has been fumigating the communities that Christian Peacemaker Teams accompany in the Magdalena Medio region.

When I am in Barrancabermeja, and I hear the planes and helicopters take off and land at the nearby airport, I cringe and say a short prayer because I know that in a few minutes another small farm family is going to lose its land and livelihood.

The chemical used in fumigations, glyphosate, kills everything it touches including livestock and food crops, which farmers grow to survive.

According to Witness for Peace, "between 2000 and 2007, the US government spent over half a billion dollars for the chemical spraying of approximately 2.6 million acres of land in Colombia-the world's second most bio-diverse country.

Due to US government pressure, Colombia is the only country in the world that allows this spraying - known as fumigation - as an anti-drug practice. But fumigation has completely failed to achieve its stated goal. The production of Coca - the raw material for cocaine and the 'target' of fumigation - has actually increased by 36 percent since US-backed fumigation began in earnest.

The chemical mixture being employed in Colombia has never been adequately tested for its impact on the environment and human health. Yet people on the ground in affected regions indicate that the spray significantly harms both.

At least 10,000 farmers have reported food crops killed by fumigations and the UN Special Rapporteur on Health said there is `credible and trustworthy evidence that fumigations are harmful to human health.'" The effects of fumigation have been documented in a CPT article entitled, "I am cold because I have no skin".

The US and Colombian governments can say that the reason for fumigations is to destroy drugs, but from what I have heard, fumigation is weapon in the Colombian government's war against small farming communities.

If the government is able to destroy the livelihood of these communities, then they can displace the population and open the doors for multinational corporations. I continue to see the growth of large palm oil tree plantations in the region and the fumigation of plantain and yucca farms. I have heard stories of the Colombian government fumigating buffalo farms.

If you are interested in helping end the fumigation in Colombia, you can sign this petition to President Obama asking him to act now.

Christian Peacemaker Teams' ( mission has been defined in terms of "getting in the way" of war and violence. It asks: what would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war? CPT seeks to enlist the whole church in organized, nonviolent alternatives to war and places teams of trained peacemakers in regions of lethal conflict.


(c) Chris Knestrick and Christian Peacemaker Teams.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.