Drug info - The mystery of the coca plant that wouldn't die

Discussion in 'Coca' started by Alfa, Nov 6, 2004.

  1. Alfa

    Alfa Productive Insomniac Staff Member Administrator

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    Jan 14, 2003
    117 y/o from The Netherlands

    The war on Colombia's drug lords is losing ground to an herbicide-resistant supershrub. Is it a freak of nature - or a genetically modified secret weapon?

    By Joshua Davis

    I've got 23 ziplock bags filled with coca leaves laid out on the rickety table in front of me. It's been seven hours since the leaves were picked, and they're already secreting the raw alkaloid that gives cocaine its kick. The smell is pungently woody, but that may just be the mold growing on the walls of this dingy hotel room in the southern Colombian jungle. Somewhere down the hall, a woman is moaning with increasing urgency. I've barricaded the door in case the paramilitaries arrive.

    I drop half a milliliter of water into a plastic test tube and mash a piece of a leaf inside. As the water tints green, I notice that my hands are shaking. I haven't slept for two days, and the Marxist guerrillas have this town encircled. But what's really making me nervous is the green liquid in the tube.

    Over the past three years, rumors of a new strain of coca have circulated in the Colombian military. The new plant, samples of which are spread out on this table, goes by different names: supercoca, la millonaria. Here in the southern region it's known as Boliviana negra.

    The most impressive characteristic is not that it produces more leaves

    - though it does - but that it is resistant to glyphosate. The herbicide, known by its brand name, Roundup, is the key ingredient in the US-financed, billion-dollar aerial coca fumigation campaign that is a cornerstone of America's war on drugs.

    One possible explanation: The farmers of the region may have used selective breeding to develop a hardier strain of coca. If a plant happened to demonstrate herbicide resistance, it would be more widely cultivated, and clippings would be either sold or, in many cases, given away or even stolen by other farmers. Such a peer-to-peer network could, over time, result in a coca crop that can withstand large-scale aerial spraying campaigns.

    But experts in herbicide resistance suspect that there is another, more intriguing possibility: The coca plant may have been genetically modified in a lab. The technology is fairly trivial. In 1996, Monsanto commercialized its patented Roundup Ready soybean - a genetically modified plant impervious to glyphosate. The innovation ushered in an era of hyperefficient soybean production: Farmers were able to spray entire fields, killing all the weeds and leaving behind a thriving soybean crop. The arrival of Roundup Ready coca would have a similar effect - except that in this case, it would be the US doing the weed killing for the drug lords.

    Whether its resistance came from selective breeding or genetic modification, the new strain poses a significant foreign-policy challenge to the US. How Washington responds depends on how the plant became glyphosate resistant. That's why I'm here in the jungle - to test for the new coca. I've brought along a mobile kit used to detect the presence of the Roundup Ready gene in soybean samples. If the tests are inconclusive, my backup plan is to smuggle the leaves to Colombia's capital, Bogota, and have their DNA sequenced in a lab.

    In my hotel room, I put the swizzle stick-sized test strip into the tube filled with mashed Boliviana negra. The green water snakes up the strip. If the midsection turns red, I'll know that the drug lords have genetically engineered the plant and beaten the US at its own game. If it doesn't, it'll mean that Colombia's farmers have outwitted 21st-century technology with an agricultural technique that's been around for 10,000 years.

    I first learned about the possibility of herbicide-resistant cocaine eight weeks before I arrived in South America. I was having a quiet Sunday brunch at home in California with a few friends and their Colombian guest. It was a beautiful day; we sat on the deck and chatted about upcoming vacation plans over waffles and grapefruit juice.

    The conversation changed when the guest began talking about how he'd spent three years working in the military intelligence branch of the Colombian army, which has been waging a civil war against the guerrillas for four decades. His main assignment was to prevent insurgents from importing weapons and military technology.

    After the US helped the Colombian military dismantle the MedellLn and Cali cocaine cartels in the '90s, the guerrillas moved in and took over much of the drug trade. By the late '90s, rebels controlled more than a third of the country and had the financial clout to intensify the war and protect their newfound position as narcotraffickers. It's an extremely lucrative business. The coke habit in the US alone was worth $35 billion in 2000 - about $10 billion more than Microsoft brought in that year.

    But the most intriguing development he mentioned was regular reports of Roundup Ready coca. "We started to hear about this plant three years ago," he said. "We understood then that the spraying was not killing it, but nobody wants to talk about it because it might put an end to American aid money."

    US aid to Colombia totaled more than $750 million last year and has been flooding in since 2000, when Congress approved the Clinton administration's Plan Colombia, a regional anti-narcotics package.

    About 20 percent of the money was devoted to maintaining a fleet of crop dusters and support planes that make almost daily sorties over the Colombian countryside. (The rest of the money went to economic support, military aid, and police training.) The crop dusters fly high, out of artillery range, until they reach a designated coca field, and then descend to spray the plants with a coating of Roundup.

    The concept is simple: Kill the coca and there will be no cocaine.

    The day after our brunch, I looked up the Herbicide Resistance Action Committee and spoke with Ian Heap, the committee's chair. Heap is a global herbicide watchdog. If a farmer in Thailand notes that a certain weed is surviving repeated herbicide applications, local scientists will collect a sample and ship it to Corvallis, Oregon, where Heap runs a private laboratory. He is funded primarily by herbicide manufacturers who want to know how effective their products are. I figured he would know something about the reported resistance in coca. "So they've finally done it," he said with a breezy Australian accent. "I've been waiting for a call like this for a long time."

    Heap explained that few people knew how to genetically manipulate plants until the early '90s. Then suddenly, even undergraduates were learning the techniques. At the same time, scientific papers were published that identified CP4, a gene responsible for glyphosate resistance. By the late '90s, it's easy to imagine the narcos hiring one unscrupulous scientist to tinker with coca. "Cocaine dealers have a lot of money to do the convincing," Heap said. "Genetically modifying the coca plant is the most obvious defense against fumigation. If I were a drug lord, it's what I would do."

    Heap suspects that the US government might keep such a development quiet. The herbicide would still be effective against older, more widely planted coca strains, and, for a while at least, Colombia's eradication campaign would continue to show impressive results. But eventually, as the modified strain spread, coca cultivation would rise again, and spraying would have no effect. In the interim, farmers growing the new strain would get free weeding. "It's critical for the war on drugs that this gets independently checked out," Heap concluded. "But I'm sure as hell not going down there."

    To get another view, I called Jonathan Gressel, one of the world's foremost experts on herbicide resistance and a professor of plant science at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. "The only surprise is that the drug mafia didn't do it sooner," Gressel said when I told him about reports of glyphosate-resistant coca.

    "Privately, my colleagues and I have been predicting this for years."

    Another way to explain the reported resistance, he said, was that over time the plants developed it naturally after repeated exposure. But in the case of coca, he estimated that it would take 20 years of constant spraying before a naturally resistant strain of the plant would establish itself. It was possible that farmers beat the odds and got lucky in the four years of intensive spraying. "But the most reasonable explanation," Gressel told me, "is that the illicit narcotics world has genetically engineered the coca plant to be resistant to glyphosate."

    The only way to know for sure was to find the plant and test it.

    The early evening air at the El Dorado Airport in Bogot7 is thin and rain-scrubbed fresh. Outside, at the curb along the arrivals exit, throngs of people silently hold signs with names on them, but in the murky light it's hard to see. I file quickly past, heading for a line of taxis, until one sign makes me stop. It has my name on it.

    Three days earlier, I'd placed a call to a Colombian geneticist. I explained that I was going to be arriving in Colombia in a few days and would like to talk to him about possible alterations to coca DNA.

    He cut the conversation short and asked for my flight information, saying he would meet me at the airport. I told him that wasn't necessary, figuring I'd call him when I got settled in my hotel.

    Now he steps out of the shadows and introduces himself. "In Colombia, it is always better to talk in person," he says. He is a bookish, bespectacled man and seems distracted. "I'll drive you into town and we can talk."

    We head for the city's central district in his old, messy car. The streets are narrow, and some of the once-grand stuccoed buildings are graffitied over with guerrilla slogans. He's either nervous or doesn't know how to drive, because he keeps stalling at stop signs. The flak-jacketed police that stand on almost every corner swivel their automatic rifles toward us as we lurch past.

    We come to a stop in a historic section of Bogot7, and the scientist leads me into an empty, cavelike bar. He chooses a table in the farthest corner. A soccer game plays on a small TV by the entrance. We get two beers, and the scientist waits for the barkeep to go back to the other end of the bar.

    "I would prefer it if you don't mention that we met," he begins.

    He then asks me what I know. I tell him I'm just trying to figure out if this resistant strain exists, and if so, how it came into being.

    The scientist pauses.

    "Nine years ago," he says, "a friend came to me. He told me that the traffickers wanted someone to modify the DNA. They wanted a glyphosate-resistant plant. The offer was 10 billion pesos. About $10 million."

    "That's a lot of money," I say. "Did you do it?"

    He smiles wanly. "No, I did not do it. I didn't want to invite that trouble into my life. These are not people you want to know. They are not good people. And if this fumigation benefits only them, I think that should be known."

    He takes a sip of his beer. "So listen to me. If you can get me samples of the plant, I will extract the DNA and tell you if they have gotten inside the genetic code. If there are no signs of manipulation, then we will know that the farmers have done it on their own."

    We look at each other for a second. It crosses my mind that he might be working for traffickers and will simply destroy the samples and lie about having done tests. If the local kingpins have created a Roundup Ready coca plant, they have a real interest in keeping that quiet.

    After all, they would be getting a guarantee that farmers will have no choice but to grow their new plant. The scientist's eagerness to help me and his surprising appearance at the airport make me consider this possibility.

    But my guess is that he's genuinely curious to know the answer himself. I decide to trust him. I stick out my hand and we shake. Five minutes later, we leave the bar separately.

    The next morning, I board a DeHavilland twin-engine plane for the two-hour flight into Putumayo province, the country's main coca-growing region. Colombia produces two-thirds of the world's cocaine, and most of it has historically come from this southern jungle. Over the past decade, tens of thousands of spraying missions have been flown here. US and Colombian officials insist that 92 percent of the plants sprayed in the region last year have now died.

    As a result, they say, the guerrillas have been weakened and will soon have to negotiate a surrender.

    But the guerrillas aren't ready to be counted out yet. Just before we board the plane, they announce a paro armado - an armed shutdown of the southern region. If anybody travels, they will likely be shot.

    It's meant to be a show of force, a sign the guerrillas can still go on the offensive whenever they choose.

    Our pilots don't think much of it. Puerto AsLs, the region's capital, is heavily guarded by the military. Two years ago, the guerrillas laid siege to the town for nine months - everything had to be airlifted in, and the pilots became accustomed to running the blockade. Now, with the rebels pushed back into the jungle, our pilots calmly throttle up, and 90 minutes later we bounce to a stop on a jungle tarmac. A phalanx of heavily armed soldiers guards the perimeter, and two men with sawed-off shotguns stand beside a cagelike room that serves as the arrivals lounge.

    The soldiers don't hassle me; one of them unlocks the far side of the cage and lets me out onto a partially paved road. A group of men across the street stop talking and watch me until a stocky man with a lazy eye introduces himself as Campo, the driver I had arranged in Bogot7. We get into his bright-red Toyota pickup, and before accelerating out of town he touches a picture of the Virgin Mary glued to a shiny blank CD dangling from the rearview mirror. On the map at the Bogot7 airport, Puerto AsLs was the last dot at the end of the last road. I watch the town fade behind us as we enter the jungle.

    We drive for an hour before we come across the first evidence of violence. An oil pipeline alongside the road has been bombed, and flaming black sludge oozes out of a twisted metal pipe, sending swirling cumulus clouds of smoke half a mile above the forest. The grass below sizzles loudly. Campo keeps the car in the middle of the road. The guerrillas may have booby-trapped the far side with mines - better to stay closer to the flames, which sting my face like a sunburn.

    Our destination, La Hormiga, is a jungle outpost of 15,000. It was carved out of the forest 40 years ago to house oil workers but in the '80s was transformed into a coca-farming boomtown. As we crest a ridge, the town appears below, bounded by a sharply defined line of trees that tower over ramshackle two-story cinder block and concrete buildings.

    As we drive down the main drag, I see that one of those shoddy roofs covers a faux marble-floored, air-conditioned shopping palace selling imitation Versace jeans. A lady in red hot pants and a halter top window-shops pulling a pet lamb on a pink leash. A casino with rows of slot machines stands next to a dentist's office that doubles as a jewelry shop. Over the din from a half-dozen roadside discos, a man with a 3-foot-long megaphone meanders down the middle of the road reading the local news - an amplified town crier.

    I spend a sleepless night at the inappropriately named 5-Stars Hotel and rise early to meet Miguel Lucero (aka Don Miguel), the local leader of the National Association of Peasant Land Users, a large farmers union. Don Miguel is a short, quiet man with a distinguished, furrowed face. Before he became a peasant leader he farmed coca, and he knows the region's farms well. I ask him if he has heard of Roundup-resistant coca.

    "Yes," he says simply. "It is called Boliviana negra."

    "Can you show me some?"



    We are hiking through the jungle. The path is narrow, overgrown, and muddy. The knee-high rubber boots I just bought keep getting stuck in the muck, and I have to pull them out with my hands. Don Miguel walks fast and confidently. He has assured me that we are well within the government-controlled territory. The guerrillas, he says, haven't been here during daylight hours for at least a couple of years.

    We come to a makeshift bridge. Two slender tree trunks are suspended over a flooding river the color of milky tea. Thin steel cables run above them to give you something to hold on to. Miguel says that the land on the far side belongs to a coca farmer who now grows Boliviana negra. "Everybody is planting negra now," he says and steps catlike over the bridge.

    I follow, trying not to slip into the river 5 feet below. After climbing a small incline, we come upon an arresting sight: 300 yards of devastation. An entire slope of hillside vegetation has disappeared. There's only brown-gray dirt, a half-dead tree, and withered coca plants, which I recognize from photographs. "Peruviana blanca," Don Miguel says, pointing at the dead plants. "Not resistant.

    This slope was sprayed last year."

    We hike up the ridge, and suddenly there are healthy coca plants stretching to the horizon. On one side of an imaginary line, devastation. On the other, billowing, neck-high coca plants dotting hillsides that are denuded of all other vegetation. "Boliviana negra,"

    Don Miguel says, pointing at the large bushes. "They were sprayed as well."

    Over a lunch of pounded chicken and french fries back in La Hormiga, Don Miguel tells me that Boliviana negra appeared in the region three years ago and is now spreading rapidly across the countryside - just as the herbicide experts told me it might. The new strain is disseminated via cuttings; farmers cut off stems and sell them. Some farmers, looking to make more money, travel with their cuttings and peddle them around the region. And once a farmer grows a new plant, he can sell his own cuttings. It's file-swapping brought to the jungle - a highly efficient decentralized distribution chain.

    Don Miguel doesn't know where the strain originated. He has heard rumors of a group of mysterious agronomists who develop better coca plants for the traffickers, but he doesn't know where they are or anything about them.

    He does have a clear sense of how the new plant is affecting his region. At first, he says, the aerial spraying was successful, but now, with the arrival of Boliviana negra, it's affecting only those who are growing lawful crops. "The truth is that the fumigation drives us to the one thing that will survive - and that is Boliviana negra,"

    he says. "Not bananas, not yucca, not maize."

    The Colombian and US governments want farmers to grow legal crops, he explains, and in the past have paid them to eradicate coca. But though American embassy officials insist that the spraying campaign is more than 99 percent accurate, Don Miguel says that almost all the farmers he knows and represents report that legal crops are sprayed as well.

    He says that his own tree farm was sprayed, pushing him to the edge of bankruptcy. If Boliviana negra will guarantee income for farmers, Don Miguel says, they will grow it and have less incentive to discuss eradication with the government.

    Not to mention the financial benefits. One hectare of land in Putumayo will produce $100 of corn. The same plot will produce $1,000 of coca.

    Plus you don't have to transport the coca - the guerrillas will come to your farm and collect it. So why would anyone grow corn? "Because if you grow coca," Don Miguel says, "you deal with the guerrillas or the paramilitaries or both, and they kill whenever they want."

    Don Miguel has another fear. He doesn't believe that the US will tolerate the existence of glyphosate-resistant coca. When the authorities find out that farmers are growing the new coca, he fears it will be only a matter of time before they switch to a new herbicide.

    He has reason for concern. Last summer, documents show, anti-narcotics officials at the US embassy in Bogot7 quietly approached Colombia's president, !lvaro Uribe, and asked him if he'd consider switching from Roundup to Fusarium oxysporum, a plant-killing fungus classified as a mycoherbicide. Some species are known to attack coca; in the early '90s, a natural Fusarium outbreak decimated the Peruvian coca crop.

    But Fusarium is not a chemical - it's a fungus, and it can live on in the soil. A proposal to consider using it in Florida in 1999 was rejected after the head of the state's Department of Environmental Protection found that it was "difficult, if not impossible, to control [Fusarium's] spread" and that the "mutated fungi can cause disease in a large number of crops, including tomatoes, peppers, flowers, corn, and vines." A switch to Fusarium would, at the least, be an escalation in the herbicide war and a tacit acknowledgment of glyphosate's failure. It could also turn out to be the A-bomb of herbicides.

    Still, according to a letter sent from the State Department to Colombia's US ambassador, Uribe was "ready to learn more." The letter, dated October 3, 2003, laid out steps for moving this plan forward, but when I spoke to officials at the embassy, they vehemently denied they are considering a herbicide switch. They stated that they are thrilled with the success of Roundup.

    Don Miguel admits that on one level, the spraying has been highly effective. Almost all the old strains of coca have been eradicated.

    What's left are small plots of Boliviana negra, but these have become more productive, in part because the spraying has killed all the other plants competing for nutrients.

    US officials point to the eradication results of the past three years and argue that the plant could not possibly be resistant. A high-ranking US anti-narcotics official who declined to be identified told me that she had never heard of Boliviana negra, la millonaria, or any Roundup Ready coca plant. Another American official began our conversation by saying, "So you're here to talk about the nonexistent glyphosate-resistant coca?" And then, more forcefully, "These campesinos have zero education. They can't be trusted to know whether a plant is resistant to glyphosate." Nonetheless, I was assured that a helicopter would be dispatched to Putumayo to search for samples. Even amid increasing reports of resistant superstrains, officials have yet to find any evidence of them.

    Perhaps they haven't been to La Hormiga. Everyone I talk to here knows about the resistant plant. Three hours after leaving the coca fields, I attend a meeting of two dozen heads of local farmer cooperatives - they represent more than 5,000 farmers in Putumayo - and they nod knowingly when asked about the new breed. "Nobody listens to us because they think we are dumb farmers," says one man. "The Americans are arrogant. They don't talk to the people who live here. We are the ones who are sprayed. We are the ones who live with the plants."

    That evening, I meet Fabio Paz, the energetic mayor of La Hormiga, at his simple concrete house. Paz is 32 and excited to be mayor, despite the fact that in the past three years guerrillas have assassinated more than 30 mayors. He wears jeans and a baggy shirt and does not look like an important man. But two plainclothes guards stand outside while we talk, and his armor-plated SUV is parked in front of the window, presumably to deflect any gunfire or bomb blasts.

    "Boliviana negra is like goaaaal for the coca farmers," the mayor shouts, jumping to his feet and yelling "goal" like a crazed Latin American soccer announcer. "Maybe the narcos bought someone off at Monsanto. There would be poetic justice in that."

    Paz doesn't know where the strain came from, though he assumes Bolivia, because of the name. He also believes that once refined, it produces a different high than older strains. Either way, he says, farmers are now planting only Boliviana negra: "You can't give away the other types of coca now."

    When I tell him that I am having trouble getting more than a handful of negra samples because of the guerrilla clampdown, he calls in Chucky, one of his bodyguards. Chucky is short and baby-faced, with an emotionless gaze and a handgun tucked in the waistband of his jeans.

    The mayor tells me that his name isn't really Chucky; they just started calling him that after they saw Child's Play, the horror movie about a child's doll possessed by a serial killer named Chucky. Paz pronounces it "Shooky."

    "Chucky can collect samples for you," Paz offers.

    Chucky stares at me blankly and nods. I ask if he can identify the strain, and he nods again. Chucky, the mayor explains, was a coca leaf picker before he became a bodyguard.

    Twenty hours later, Chucky knocks on my hotel room door. From under his shirt, he pulls out a stack of ziplock bags filled with coca leaves. "Boliviana negra," he says and points at some of the leaves that have yellow blotches on them. He says those were sprayed a couple of weeks ago. In some cases, he says, the leaves fall off and then regrow after spraying. In other plants, the leaves stay on. This is an important piece of information. A genetically modified plant would be impervious to glyphosate.

    It takes me a few minutes to arrange a mobile laboratory on the simple wooden table in my room. When placed in water with macerated soybean and canola, a chemical in the plastic test strip will bond with CP4 ESPS, a protein produced by the Roundup Ready gene. If the protein is present, the chemical turns a section of the strip red.

    The problem is, the strips were made specifically to test soybean and canola, not coca. I would rather not travel to Bogot7 with a backpack full of coca leaves, but after a series of the tests fail to detect the gene, I realize I have no choice.

    By the time I get back to the airport in Puerto AsLs, the leaves are giving off a pungent odor of broken twigs even though they're wrapped in a combination of dirty socks and ziplock bags at the bottom of my backpack. Security at the airstrip is almost nonexistent. A stout, mustachioed woman in olive-green fatigues rifles through my bag. No x-rays, metal detector, or even a pat-down. But at the last minute, she demands that my bag be placed in the hold underneath the plane to better balance the plane's weight.

    I am nervous about landing in Bogota and dealing with internal customs agents. But before we reach the capital, the plane stops in a city called Neiva to pick up more passengers. While we're sitting on the runway, the hold is opened and a group of soldiers with a German shepherd approaches. A wave of nausea hits me.

    The dog puts two paws up on a trolley carrying the new passengers'

    luggage. It sniffs around and then drops back down. I watch with terror as the soldiers stand around chatting for a few minutes. I imagine scenes from Midnight Express, where the dumb American drug smuggler wastes away in a Turkish prison. I promise myself that if I make it out of this, I'll never smuggle anything again. The dog casually sniffs the wheels of the trolley, and then the group turns and walks away. The hold is closed and we take off again.

    We land in Bogot7. There are no internal customs officers at the arrivals terminal. I catch a cab and sink into the backseat. The ride into town is blissful.

    The next morning, I take a taxi to the laboratory of the scientist I met on my first night in Colombia. The leaves spent the night jammed among tiny bottles of Chivas Regal in my hotel minibar, and some have turned black. But the scientist assures me that this is not a problem.

    He smells them and his eyebrows go up. "Very good," he says and locks the door to the lab. It will take him a month to complete the tests.

    Four weeks later, the scientist sends me an email saying that he has completed the DNA analysis and found no evidence of modification. He tested specifically for the presence of CP4 - a telltale indicator of the Roundup Ready modification - as well as for the cauliflower mosaic virus, the gene most commonly used to insert foreign DNA into a plant.

    It is still possible that the plant has been genetically modified using other genes, but not likely. Discovering new methods of engineering glyphosate resistance would require the best scientific minds and years of organized research. And given that there is already a published methodology, there would be little reason to duplicate the effort.

    Which points back to selective breeding. The implication is that the farmers' decentralized system of disseminating coca cuttings has been amazingly effective - more so than genetic engineering could hope to be. When one plant somewhere in the country demonstrated tolerance to glyphosate, cuttings were made and passed on to dealers and farmers, who could sell them quickly to farmers hoping to withstand the spraying. The best of the next generation was once again used for cuttings and distributed.

    This technique - applied over four years - is now the most likely explanation for the arrival of Boliviana negra. By spraying so much territory, the US significantly increased the odds of generating beneficial mutations. There are numerous species of coca, further increasing the diversity of possible mutations. And in the Amazonian region, nature is particularly adaptive and resilient.

    "I thought it was unlikely," says Gressel, the plant scientist at the Weizmann Institute. "But farmers aren't dumb. They obviously spotted a lucky mutation and propagated the hell out of it."

    The effects of this are far-reaching for American policymakers: A new herbicide would work only for a limited time against such a simple but effective ad hoc network. The coca-growing community is clearly primed to take advantage of any mutations.

    A genetic laboratory is not as nimble. A lab is limited by research that is publicly available. In the case of Fusarium, the coca-killing fungus and likely successor to glyphosate, there is no body of work discussing genetically induced resistance. If the government switched to Fusarium, a scientist would have to perform groundbreaking genetic research to fashion a Fusarium-resistant coca plant.

    The reality is that a smoothly functioning selective-breeding system is a greater threat to US antidrug efforts. Certainly government agents can switch to Fusarium and enjoy some short-term results. But after a few years - during which legal crops could be devastated - a new strain of Fusarium-resistant coca would likely emerge, one just as robust as the glyphosate-resistant strain.

    The drug war in Colombia presupposes that it's eventually possible to destroy cocaine at its source. But the facts on the ground suggest this is no longer possible. In this war, it's hard to beat technology developed 10,000 years ago.
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2008
  2. GuUg7

    GuUg7 Silver Member

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    Nov 6, 2004
    29 y/o
    Wow that's a good story. I never knew so much was involved in the growing of coca.
  3. BCgirl

    BCgirl Newbie

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    Nov 9, 2004
    this story wants to make me take science courses at school .. my friend's dad is a botanist...too bad he's not into this kind of scene.. heheh
  4. leftovers

    leftovers Silver Member

    Reputation Points:
    Aug 15, 2008

    Thanks so much for making the journey Alfa, how wonderful is nature.
    Spraying natural growing plants on the earth is absolutely wrong, its not an answer, I so hope it doesn't go any further with the fungus type sprays you mentioned. Thanks so much for this post I really learnt alot. How long ago did you make that journey Alfa?
  5. ncsponger

    ncsponger Silver Member

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    Jun 18, 2007

    Fantastic story Alfa. The story gives you a nice warm fuzzy feeling inside. Viva La Coca!!
  6. Alfa

    Alfa Productive Insomniac Staff Member Administrator

    Reputation Points:
    Jan 14, 2003
    117 y/o from The Netherlands
    U.S. hunts for evidence of supercoca plant

    Originally published 10:23 p.m., September 3, 2004, updated 12:00 a.m., September 4, 2004

    BOGOTA, Colombia — Authorities suspect a new threat is lurking in the mountains and jungles of Colombia. Not a new rebel cadre, but altered coca plants that are bigger, faster-growing and produce more of the compound that gives cocaine its kick.

    U.S. drug agents are trying to confirm the existence of the rumored plant in this Andean nation, the world's prime supplier of cocaine. The U.S. Embassy said it has seen no evidence that it exists.

    But a scientist who advises Colombia's narcotics police says he has already spotted it in prime coca-growing regions, with the new plants towering over conventional ones, which typically reach heights of 5 feet. Others say that they also have seen the bigger, more robust plant.

    "What we hadn't been able to do is find evidence of the plant, but now we are finding it," said Camilo Uribe, the scientist.

    Mr. Uribe said that he found the new plants, rising 7 to 10 feet, in the Sierra Nevada in northern Colombia and in La Macarena, a region of savannah and jungle in central Colombia.

    "They were giant bushes, with really big leaves," Mr. Uribe said, adding that the leaves produce higher concentrations of alkaloid, the compound that gives cocaine its high.

    Giant coca plants also have been spotted in the state of Putumayo, historically a major coca-growing region in southern Colombia, where locals call the new varieties White Bolivian and Black Bolivian.

    In a recent forum in Bogota, Eder Sanchez, a peasant leader from Putumayo, said that the Black Bolivian variety is more resistant to herbicides than Tingo Maria, which for years was a favorite among coca growers.

    If an herbicide-resistant plant has appeared, it could weaken a pillar of Washington's multibillion-dollar counternarcotics effort in Colombia — the massive aerial fumigation of Colombia's coca plantations that aims to keep cocaine off U.S. streets by attacking its source.

    "We are currently looking at allegations of leaves that are more resistant to spray," a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration official said from Washington.

    Peasants who grow coca, which is "taxed" by rebels and their right-wing paramilitary foes, have for years tried to fend off the effects of herbicide by glazing the leaves with sugar water before the spray planes arrive, or by cutting the bush near ground level after spraying, in hopes that it will grow back.

    While it is not clear whether drug traffickers have created an herbicide-resistant coca bush, Mr. Uribe said that he has seen unofficial reports that suggest they are investing to develop such plants.

    Experts say scientists theoretically could manipulate coca bushes to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, which is used in the fumigation campaign in Colombia and a version of which is sold commercially by the U.S. company Monsanto under the name Roundup.

    Brent Sellers, an expert in weed science at the University of Missouri, said that a new strain of coca plant could be developed that is resistant to Roundup, based on the fact that Monsanto sells corn, soybeans and canola that are bio-engineered to resist it. Such products, called "Roundup ready," permit farmers to spray for weeds without harming their food crops.

    Mr. Sellers also said that even without manipulation, "if you spray any plant species over and over and over again," it can develop resistance to the herbicide.

    Phyllis Powers, director of the U.S. Embassy's Narcotics Affairs Section, said yesterday there is no evidence of attempts to genetically engineer coca plants.

    "We regularly hear rumors that narco-traffickers are working to create a transgenic form of coca, but there is no scientific proof that they have undertaken such research, nor that they have produced a coca plant that produces a higher concentration of alkaloid and is glyphosate-resistant," she said.

  7. Alfa

    Alfa Productive Insomniac Staff Member Administrator

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    Jan 14, 2003
    117 y/o from The Netherlands
  8. Benga

    Benga Platinum Member & Advisor

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    Aug 15, 2005
    from japan
    yes. only harms those who eat the said food crops....
    as for war on coca plane spraying, it's so precise it only focuses on coca, right, and never reaches the earth, never makes it to water supplies and anything else, right ?


    Colombia: Chemical Spraying of Coca Poisoning Villages
    by Hugh O'Shaughnessy, The Observer (London)
    June 17th, 2001

    Bogota -- Franci sits on the veranda and whimpers. The little girl is underweight. Her armpits are erupting in boils. Like most of her people, she has suffered from respiratory problems and stomach pains since the aircraft and the helicopter gunships came over at Christmas and again at New Year dropping toxic pesticides on their villages.
    The tiny indigenous Kofan community of Santa Rosa de Guamuez in Colombia had it hard enough with pressures from settlers on their reservation, without Roundup Ultra containing Cosmoflux 411F, a weedkiller that is being sprayed on their villages in a concentration 100 times more powerful than is permitted in the United States.
    Aurelio, a Kofan village elder, shows us around his village. The Kofan have been here 500 years. Now it looks as though their time is up. Pineapples are stunted and shriveled. The once green banana plants are no more than blackened sticks. The remains of a few maize plants can be seen here and there, but the food crops have been devastated. There is hunger at Santa Rosa. He is close to despair.
    Colombian babies and children are falling ill. Peasants, already miserably poor, are getting hungrier. Indigenous tribes are being torn apart and whole communities pushed into exile.
    The reason is the US-sponsored Plan Colombia, conceived by President Bill Clinton and roundly embraced by President George W Bush, designed to eliminate all cocaine production in Colombia. A key element is the spraying from planes of a highly concentrated chemical toxin on the coca bushes, whose leaves provide the raw material for the drug.
    The coca bushes have generally survived. In the front line of America's war on drugs it is humans and the environment that have become the victims.
    Investigations by The Observer have revealed for the first time the extent of the damage which both the Colombian and the US governments have tried to keep secret since the scheme started in late December. Against a growing mass of evidence to the contrary, they claimed last month: 'The aerial spraying did not cause any injury or significant damage to the environment.' The reality is that the results on the ground are disastrous.
    The small farmers in this rich tropical valley don't believe the official accounts as they wonder how they can replace their crops and the chickens and fish that have been poisoned in their farmyards and ponds.
    Meanwhile coca bushes are sprouting anew. Wherever the farmers have been able they have cut off the poisoned leaves to prevent the toxins reaching the bushes' roots and the coca is reviving. On the hills of Putumayo their lime-green leaves are holding the promise of new thrice-yearly harvests from which the narcotic will be manufactured again: their flourishing presence mocks the politicians and soldiers in Washington and Bogota.
    At a village outside La Hormiga, a group of sick children are gathered by their mothers at the gates of the school whose small garden was ruined by the poison that rained on it early in the mornings on 22 December and 6 January. 'The planes came over at the height of a palm tree accompanied by helicopter gunships which circled around,' said Juana, a young teacher at the school. 'The plants the children were tending in the school garden withered and the pullets they were looking after all died.'
    Like other Colombians, she did not want her real name used for fear of reprisals by government forces or their allies, the 'paracos' - the paramilitary death squads.
    Children from local schools are showing signs of serious skin infections, which heal over but continually recur.
    Gloria, a teacher at the school at El Placer, reports similar illness. 'About 230 of the 450 pupils at our school have gone down with diarrhea, and respiratory and constantly recurring skin infections,' she said.
    Domestic animals have fared even worse. The tilapia that have brought a new prosperity to farmers who had built fish ponds are dying in their thousands as are dogs, pigs and other livestock.
    Plan Colombia, promoted by the US and Colombian governments and gingerly accepted by the British and other European Union countries, is dissolving in failure, death and vast pollution of the Amazonian forest within months of its launch in December.
    Under the plan, the Colombian armed forces are being given US weapons and training. These are same troops who over the decades have accumulated honors and medals for their battles with unarmed civilians and have frequently committed atrocities with Western help.
    Now Colombians, disillusioned alike with politicians, the increasingly aimless guerrillas and the death squads, are becoming enraged at America's 'war on drugs' whose front line is in their villages.
    Thousands have fled the Putumayo for neighboring Ecuador, adding to the estimated 2,100,000 Colombians who have been displaced within the country by war.
    Those who stay - and who dare to criticize the war on drugs - complain that Washington is seeking to halt the production of cocaine and heroin while doing nothing to stop the drug trade in the US itself where the bulk of the profits are made - letting senior racketeers go free while filling US prisons with minor offenders from the ethnic minorities.
    But what is scaring them most is what the chemicals are doing to them. Consignments of the poison being used in Colombia contain labels warning that it causes damage to crops, which must be 'shielded with screens from aerial spraying to prevent droplets falling on the green parts of useful plants'. The warning also says that application must be done on windless days.
    The people who do the spraying in this valley do not supply screens and the peasants couldn't afford them if they could find them. Nature does not often provide windless days in the tropical Andean valleys. And the coca bushes are often planted among other crops.
    The chemical, based on the compound glyphosate, is manufactured by the US Monsanto Corporation using British ingredients, hexitan esters, supplied by ICI Specialty Chemicals, and liquid isoparafins manufactured by Exxon. It damages the human digestive system, the central nervous system, the lungs and the blood's red corpuscles. Another constituent causes cancer in animals and damage to the liver and kidneys of humans.
    The villagers' fears about the chemicals appear to be well founded. The World Health Organization has found that glyphosate is easily transmitted to humans through foods such as raspberries, lettuces, carrots and barley - with traces of the chemical found in crops sown a whole year after the soil had been dosed with it.
    Elsa Niva, a Colombian agronomist who works with the Pesticide Action Network, ridicules the US government's claims that Roundup Ultra is safe and no more poisonous than aspirin or table salt.
    She has written that in the first two months of this year local authorities have reported 4,289 humans suffering skin or gastric disorders while 178,377 creatures were killed by the spraying including cattle, horses, pigs, dogs, ducks, hens and fish.
    According to Colombian NGOs, the government, backed by Washington, has done its best to discredit reports of damage from Roundup Ultra, accusing complaining peasants of being in league with the drug traffickers and guerrillas. The first Blair government adopted a similar attitude to the complaints: during and after several flying visits to Colombia, Mo Mowlam, the Minister then in charge of drug problems, belittled reports of the damage Roundup Ultra was causing. 'She kept on saying, "Where's the evidence?" when we told her of the effects of the poison,' remarked one senior member of a UK aid agency.
    Human rights workers have expressed dismay at their treatment by British officials. 'One official visited me. He was very aggressive, dismissing our reports from the Putumayo of the damage done as "rubbish". I felt insulted. He was trying to intimidate me,' said one.
    Luis Fernando Arango, a conservative lawyer and university teacher who opposes the spraying, said: 'Anyone who protests about this is labeled a drug dealer. Years into the future a lot of old men with dandruff will get together in Geneva and talk about it. But by then there will be no countryside left.'


    Monsanto, US 'War On Drugs'
    Poisoning Columbia's Environment
    By Brian Hansen - Environment News Service

    WASHINGTON, DC - The aerial fumigation program that has grown out of the U.S. government's so-called "war on drugs" is endangering the fragile ecosystems and indigenous cultures of Colombia's Amazon Basin, a coalition of groups warned today at a news conference on Capitol Hill.

    The fumigation program, which the U.S. finances as part of a $1.3 billion Colombian aid package approved this summer, is designed to eradicate coca and other plants used to manufacture illicit drugs.

    But critics say the program indiscriminately wipes out legitimate subsistence crops as well as natural plants, and kills birds, mammals and aquatic life.

    The chemicals are applied by aircraft and frequently fall on Columbia's indigenous peoples, subjecting them to a variety of health afflictions, critics add.

    "This spraying campaign is equivalent to the Agent Orange devastation of Vietnam - a disturbance the wildlife and natural ecosystems have never recovered from," said Dr. David Olson, director of the World Wildlife Fund's conservation science program. "And it is occurring on the watch of the current Congress and [executive] administration, supported by taxpayer dollars."

    Though carried out by Colombian police and military authorities, the aerial fumigation program utilizes U.S. government aircraft, fuel, escort helicopters and private military contractors.

    The herbicide approved for the program, glyphosate, is manufactured by the U.S. based Monsanto Corporation and is commonly referred to by the trade name Roundup.

    Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide, meaning that any plant exposed to a sufficient amount of the chemical will be killed. The chemical has been sprayed over tens of thousands of acres in Colombia since the early 1990s, but the eradication program has done little to curtail the supply of cocaine that comes into the U.S. every year.

    Still, Colombian officials - at the request of U.S. policymakers - are once again gearing up to dump thousands of liters of glyphosate on Colombia, this time targeting the country's southern state of Putumayo.

    Emperatriz Cahuache, president of the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon, came to Washington today to voice her opposition to the plan.

    "Fumigation violates our rights and our territorial autonomy," the indigenous leader said. "It has intensified the violence of the armed conflict and forced people to leave their homes after their food crops have been destroyed."

    As many as 10,000 Colombians could be displaced when the spraying begins next month, noted Hiram Ruiz, a senior policy analyst with the U.S. Committee for Refugees, a non-governmental group based in Washington. Ruiz, who toured the Putumayo region in June, said that the fumigation program will make local residents vulnerable to the guerrillas and paramilitary groups that were spawned from Colombia's long running civil war.

    While the social repercussions of the fumigation program were perhaps the most poignant aspect of Monday's news conference, other issues - such as the program's environmental consequences - also generated a great deal of concern.

    The World Wildlife Fund's Olson noted that the defoliating chemicals will be applied by aircraft flying high above the forests, thus increasing the likelihood that unintended areas will be poisoned.

    "For every hectare of forest sprayed, another is lost to [pesticide] drift and another to additional clearing of displaced crops," Olson said. The destruction is extensive."

    Olson said that wildlife will be directly affected by the application of the chemicals. Frogs and insects will be impacted immediately, and larger animals will suffer weakening and sickness, he said.

    "If and when our [human] species matures, we will rightfully view such practices as abominations, crimes against our planet and ourselves, Olson said.

    Olson's point was echoed by Dr. Luis Naranjo, director of the American Bird Conservancy's international program. Naranjo noted that Colombia has more species of wild birds than any other country, but he said that scores of them are vulnerable to extinction because of U.S. led efforts to eradicate illegal drugs.

    "Bird conservation is at the crossroads of the armed conflict in Colombia," Naranjo said. "Unless the current policies to face the drug problem in the country are revised, we will be facing the extinction of many of the organisms that make the country's biota so distinctive."

    Naranjo noted that as a non-selective herbicide, glyphosate will reduce plant cover and food supply for many forest dependent birds. And because of the drift effect that occurs with aerial applications, the destruction of plant cover will extend far beyond targeted areas, he added.

    "It has been estimated that for every hectare of coca sprayed, two hectares of forest are affected," Naranjo said.

    The fumigation program will also drive rural communities that now grow illegal crops to migrate even deeper into the forest to clear new patches of land in order to reinitiate their activities, further worsening the region's environmental problems, Naranjo warned.

    The environmental consequences of the fumigation program were also criticized by Francisco Tenorio Paez, president of the Regional Indigenous Organization of Putumayo. Paez delivered an impassioned condemnation of the program, calling it an "attack against human life, the community and the environment."

    Putumayo elected officials earlier this year declared their "overwhelming and unanimous rejection" of the Colombian government's fumigation policy. The local leaders called on the national government to consider "manual and voluntary" methods to eradicate coca grown in the region. The leaders supported their argument by citing Article 79 of the Colombian constitution, which declares that "All people have the right to enjoy a healthy environment."

    Appeals to stop the fumigation policy have also been made to President Bill Clinton, who was sent a letter today signed by representatives of nearly three dozen environmental, human rights and public policy groups. The letter urges Clinton to cancel the fumigation program, saying its "long term ecological effects could be severe."

    "The herbicide glyphosate has been blamed for destroying acres of trees and contaminating wells, streams and ponds," declared the letter, which was also sent to Colombian President Andres Pastrana Arango.

    Today's press conference was sponsored by a host of non-governmental groups, including the Amazon Alliance, the Institute for Policy Studies, the Lindesmith Center, the U.S./Colombia Coordinating Office and the Washington Office on Latin America.

    Toxic rain kills more than the coca Nelson Fredy Padilla Castro, chief investigative reporter of the magazine Cambio and correspondent for the Argentine daily Clarín

    The so-called “war on coca” in Colombia, backed by the United States, is destroying jungles and forests, and threatening the health of half a million peasants and indigenous peoples

    At first sight, a coca leaf is nothing more than an ordinary light-green leaf that grows on a rather ugly bush. But if you hold one up to the light, it turns yellow and a system of veins appears that seems to carry a substance towards the centre. This is the narcotic over which 15,000 leftist guerrillas and 8,000 far-right paramilitary troops are fighting in Colombia. Each side’s secret military structure rests on the underground economy of growing and refining coca leaves. Drug trafficking has set off a war in Colombia just as diamonds have in Sierra Leone.
    Over the last 15 years, trafficking has turned Colombia into a top national security issue for the United States, the world’s largest consumer of cocaine. As such, the U.S. has a direct influence on Colombia’s fight against drugs through hefty budgets, military hardware and other aid, along with the threat of political and economic sanctions. American involvement has increased to the point that the so-called Colombia Plan, the main programme of President Andres Pastrana’s government, now receives $1.3 billion in U.S. aid.
    According to Pastrana’s reasoning, if all the coca planted in the country is destroyed, there will be no money left to fight the war, allowing peace to be negotiated with the outlawed groups. No more cocaine would be sold on the streets of American cities. Washington supports this scenario. To achieve the goal within five years, a military offensive was drawn up, including the creation of three anti-drug battalions and a fleet of planes to spray the plants with a poison called glyphosate.
    Is this a good thing? Environmental NGOs such as Acción Andina see it as a scorched-earth policy and the European Union criticizes the programme because it provides no long-term solution for the survival of communities that live off growing coca. The government says at least half a million people–450,000 peasants and 50,000 indigenous people–depend directly on the crop for their livelihood. Yet last December, the authorities began large-scale secret spraying of coca plantations with glyphosate, a pink liquid herbicide used against all crop diseases.

    A desolate scene
    Colombian officials from the antinarcotics directorate of the national police say 30,000 hectares of coca were sprayed with the poison last January. Glyphosate has been used since 1984 to kill marijuana plants. A decade later, the government authorized its use in the Andean highlands to eradicate a violet poppy whose buds produce a thick white liquid that forms the rubbery substance from which opium, morphine and heroin are refined.
    Although glyphosate is banned in several U.S. states, including Florida, where it was rejected as a way to eradicate marijuana plants in the Everglades region “because of its unclear effects on the environment,” the Colombian authorities cited research funded by the country’s national farming institute that ensures the chemical does not pose a health risk to humans and is only slightly toxic for animals and plants.
    To appease the growing chorus of criticism, the authorities promised to implement an environmental management plan that would limit use of the chemical to destroying illegal plants, without harming the rest of the environment or people. Six years later, this plan remains a draft document on the desk of environment minister Juan Mayr. Meanwhile, the poisonous rain has now been sprayed over more than 300,000 hectares of jungle and forest.
    National watchdog bodies such as the office of the ombudsman have since shown that glyphosate causes irreparable harm to people and the environment wherever it is used. The ombudsman’s most recent study was of the Colombia Plan’s launch in Putumayo province, which borders Ecuador and where half the country’s coca is grown.
    Representatives of four indigenous communities protested last January 11 against the damage glyphosate had done to their staple crops (maize, bananas, manioc and other vegetables), their health and the lives of their animals. A delegation from the ombudsman’s office, along with experts from the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), visited the area between January 15 and 25 and reported on what they described as a “desolate scene.” There had been “indiscriminate destruction of the jungle, legal crops, medicinal plants and fish-ponds. There is clear evidence that wildlife has fled, rivers are contaminated and production in the region has fallen.”
    Skin and gastro-intestinal problems, fevers, headaches, nausea, colds and vomiting were common among the inhabitants, the mission observed. The police and the national anti-narcotics authority, which are in charge of the spraying, argue that the herbicide is dropped very accurately thanks to satellite imagery and aerial photography that pinpoint the exact location of the coca plantations. But wind and the weather means that the chemical can overshoot the fields by up to 150 metres, the ombudsman said.
    The social consequences of this are huge. Villages have been abandoned and about 20,000 people have fled their land in the face of the military campaign against coca. Anticipating the arrival of refugees, the UNHCR set up camps in the border area of Lake Agrio (Ecuador) halfway through 2000. “The evidence is strong, so we’re calling for an immediate halt to the spraying and for the compensation of the victims whose livelihoods are seriously threatened,” says ombudsman Eduardo Cifuentes. There is no effective coordination, he observes, between the various state bodies involved in the government’s anti-drug campaign and those whose job it is to protect the environment.
    Peasants like Aicardo Loaiza have to live in the 35-degree heat of the coca plantations and under the constant threat of the guerrillas, the paramilitaries and the crop-spraying planes. Loaiza, 48, came to Putumayo in 1968 drawn by fortunes to be made out of rice growing. Today, he has a wife, 13 children and has had enough of growing coca “for the big shots.” He lives in the Santana district and is trying to persuade 500 of his neighbours that the only solution is to sign an agreement with the government to pull up the coca plants by hand themselves in exchange for an end to spraying and subsidies to grow legal crops.
    “Look at us. We’re the embittered children of this damn coca thing,” he says. “We’ve been doing it for 20 or 30 years. It’s left some of us ruined and others in jail or in the cemetery.” He has the hands of an expert coca gatherer, a raspachín, as the drug traffickers call them, and they were the first to sign an accord with the government to destroy the coca plants “voluntarily and not under threat of the poison.” For Loaiza, this is the only solution.
    In recent months, 5,000 families–small-time growers with no more than 10 hectares of coca–have chosen this path. These are people who harvest the leaves between three and six times a year, pack them in bags and take them by river to the nearest processing plant. Amid or alongside the coca bushes, they grow bananas, manioc, maize, fruit and medicinal plants. If these crops are sprayed from the air, the families’ lives are destroyed in one stroke.
    The agreements signed by the farmers stipulate that they must uproot all their coca plants within a year in exchange for being included in alternative development schemes. The deal works in Loaiza’s village, where a factory to process palm-oil and fruit has been set up to enable the villagers who carry out the deal to earn a living.
    This would seem to be the ideal solution for getting rid of coca without further damaging the eco-system, at least in the eyes of peasants and environmental organizations. But the funds set aside in the Colombia Plan for such alternative development are small compared with the amount for military operations and spraying. The U.S. is supplying only $300 million for social and economic substitution compared with $1 billion for military purposes.

    A new strategy?
    Another obstacle to the agreements with the peasants is that they do not attract the big-time coca growers, those who have 100 hectares or more planted, with hidden arsenals to protect them. Gonzalo de Francisco, an aide to President Pastrana, runs the Colombia Plan in Putumayo province. There, he says, “the government has no choice but to use military means and aerial spraying.”
    The head of the national anti-narcotics authority, Gabriel Merchán, told the Unesco Courier that “the drug-traffickers are the ones who damage the environment and nobody protests against that. The arguments are all about condemning the use of glyphosate despite the fact we’ve used it in accordance with national law and international rules.” Environment minister Juan Mayr agrees, and both men insist the “drug traffickers have deforested 600,000 hectares of jungle and forest land and use 75 chemicals more poisonous than glyphosate.”
    Tomás León Sicard, a Colombian National University researcher and expert on the environment and development, thinks the parties involved should stop being politicians for a moment and get to the heart of the matter. This is urgent, he says, because the fighting is taking place in very fragile and biologically diverse rural eco-systems, such as Amazonia. He calls on the combatants to save them since “there is enough room for everyone on land in the agricultural regions.”
    Implementation of the Colombia Plan, massive spraying and peasant protests have spurred the environmentalists to intervene. After a lot of pressure, the U.S. State Department recently admitted for the first time that “errors” were perhaps being made in the spraying operations and that a new eradication strategy might be considered if an effective one could be found.

    Court action
    For the time being, the figures used by the anti-narcotics officials themselves show that the more land is sprayed, the more new land is planted with coca. The plantations simply move from one province to another because the conditions for growing it are still all there–poverty, unemployment, absence of the state, social conflict and a growing demand for cocaine from foreign markets.
    In these circumstances, one non-repressive solution is the law. Environmental lawyers Claudia Sampedro and Héctor Suárez have persuaded a Colombian administrative court to allow a demand from a grassroots group for the government to take responsibility for the damage the spraying has done to the environment and to people.
    “For the first time, Colombian society is using the law to check that the government respects the environment, not just by recognizing the damage caused, but by suspending the spraying and taking preventive measures,” says Sampedro, an expert in international environmental law.
    How can the authorities have been spraying for more than 15 years without taking any steps to protect the environment? Who will take responsibility for that and for the irreversible damage that has been done? The court will try to answer that very soon because the debate is moving onto a legal plane. The protesters’ next step will be to make an international complaint against the anti-narcotics authorities for damaging a region that is the heritage of all humanity, Amazonia.
  9. leftovers

    leftovers Silver Member

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    Aug 15, 2008
    slip of the old eyeball, please excuse. thanks Alfa
  10. Benga

    Benga Platinum Member & Advisor

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    Aug 15, 2005
    from japan
    yes. only harms those who eat the said food crops...
    or happen to live in the sprayed areas...
    as for plane spraying, it's so precise it only focuses on coca, right, never makes it to water supplies and anything else, right ?


    and many more stories on the spraying campaigns

    Last edited: Oct 26, 2009
  11. higher than u can imagine

    higher than u can imagine Newbie

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    Oct 9, 2008
    60 y/o
    Yes alfa, that was a very intriguing story, I'm puzzled though how a person of your age could have made that trip and climbed those hills. Your mind is still very sharp but the motivation factor from a setting as you have puzzles even me. I would have been content to let the whole thing slide. As for eradication of the plant there may still be a way to get that done, and I want to challenge you Benga, because you seem to be all over this forum and I'm certain you consider yourself to be a great thinker. So I would like to read your response before divulging my secrets. There is a great need to rid the planet of this scourge and probably turn it into a indoor scene for her under regulated circumstances, but as for him, well enjoy it while you can for it shall soon be gone.
  12. leftovers

    leftovers Silver Member

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    Aug 15, 2008
    hi Higer than you can imagine, Joshua davis made the trip, I mad the same mistake as you on my first reading.

  13. higher than u can imagine

    higher than u can imagine Newbie

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    Oct 9, 2008
    60 y/o
    Hi there, Well its writen in the first person, so if alfa and joshua are not the same person then I am confused.
  14. Benga

    Benga Platinum Member & Advisor

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    Aug 15, 2005
    from japan
    this is a Joshua Davis article originally posted in "wired", from what i remember

  15. Sloop

    Sloop Newbie

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    May 13, 2006
    from solomon_islands
    I am sorry to be a potential source of deflation to this authors balloon, but the reality is too loud to let journalists get away with these fairy stories mixed with a little reality and present it as serious investigative journalism.

    To argue that authorities are seriously worried about coca mutations or applied genetic engineering by the various mafias to produce a roundup ready coca plant is laughable. Does the journalist think that coca would not succumb to the myriad of other herbicides used for defoliation of woody evergreens in the tropics and produced by USA companies (ie their aid money recovery policy).

    I suggest that Monsanto (an it's investors) alone is the only group worried by roundup ready coca.

    The USA government has had plenty of experience at defoliating the tropics with 24D, 245T, agent orange (sin or con dioxin), various herbicides ending in ...quat and the list goes on and on. Does the journalist suggest they would not resort to an alternative herbicide if glyphosphate is no longer effective?

    Or does the journalist suggest that genetically mediated gyphosphate tolerance will provide cross tolerance to other effective herbicides. Evergreen tropical perennials probably have a larger selection of effective knockdown herbicides than any other plant morphological group.

    I seriously wonder about the references to the Israeli scientist claiming it is a wonder the mafia never developed this roundup ready coca before. Where his comments taken out of context? If not one could dismiss him as another academic that cannot see the forest due to the trees.

    Most importantly this journalist seems to work on the same old ridiculous hypothesis that there is a serious real war to wipe out cocaine production and supply.

    Sorry but this hypothesis has long been shot to pieces.
  16. 120daysofpoppy

    120daysofpoppy Newbie

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    Jul 26, 2009
    58 y/o
    What was the price of a gram of coke before spraying and after?..Price is the only gauge of how effective prohibition programs are..The scourge on this earth is not the coca leaf or cocaine but governments.