The Washington Times
January 25, 1993, Monday, Final Edition
SECTION: Part E; COMMENTARY; Pg. E4
LENGTH: 999 words
HEADLINE: Poisonous fallout from the drug war
BYLINE: James Bovard
DATELINE: GUATEMALA CITY, GUATEMALA
BODY: GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala - The Bush administration set in motion a major expansion and militarization of the U.S. drug war in Latin America.
Last June, plans were disclosed to send a dozen Black Hawk military helicopters to Guatemala, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic to support U.S. government efforts to destroy local farmers' coca and marijuana crops. But, as Guatemala illustrates, U.S. anti-drug activities are wrecking the environment, terrorizing the people, and subverting the market economies that the United States loves to champion. Luckily, the Clinton administration has an excellent opportunity to end the abuses.
In November 1991, a group of Guatemalan beekeepers filed suit against the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), claiming that the spraying had destroyed half of their industry. Last February, the Peasant Unity Committee of Guatemala sued the DEA for damages in connection with the death of a child and extensive crop destruction caused by DEA spraying. The committee's spokesman asserted that herbicides had contaminated local drinking water and that many residents had required hospitalization after exposure to the chemicals. Andres Giron, president of a Guatemalan human rights commission, declared in 1991 that herbicide spraying had destroyed so many farmers' corn and bean crops that serious food shortages could result in the San Marcos region of the country.
The impact of the herbicides sprayed by drug warriors on crops may not show up for several days or longer. A manager of a large farm in Central Guatemala told me that many of his shipments of yucca cane to Europe have been rejected because his plants arrive in Rotterdam and are slowly dying as a result of DEA's drug spraying.
One U.S. diplomatic official in Guatemala said the herbicide solution being sprayed - Round-Up - is not deadly: "Even if it were drunk straight, it could not kill achild." The official asserted that Guatemalans' complaints about the adverse impact of the spraying should be discounted because the complaints come from "illiterate Indians" and amounted to "drug war disinformation." But, a Peace Corps volunteer, who had spent 18 months working with Guatemalan farmers, said the pilots are spraying much more toxic concentrations than the U.S. Embassy admits. U.S. Embassy denials of the adverse effects of foreign herbicide spraying carry ominous echoes of previous U.S. denials of adverse impacts - such as in Vietnam in the 1960s. (A leading Mexican paper asserted last year that the U.S. government was also spraying Paraquat - a highly
The Washington Times, January 25, 1993
toxic carcinogen - in Guatemala.)
Though Round-Up, manufactured by Monsanto, is widely perceived to be one of the less toxic herbicides, Japanese medical professionals reported in 1988 that inert ingredients in Round-Up may have been responsible for nine deaths in Japan and more than 40 other illnesses since 1984. According to environmental toxicologist David Monroe, runoff from Round-Up use "poses a substantial risk to the Salmon fisheries" in the Northwest United States." According to Susan Cooper of the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, the National Park Service has banned the use of Round-Up in some areas because it poses reproductive hazards to people doing the spraying.
The United States is giving $65 million a year to the Guatemalan government, including more than $1 million for the military to aid its role in the anti-drug effort. But, giving the Guatemalan army more weapons to fight marijuana growers is like giving the Mafia bazookas to combat jaywalking in New York City.
Last April, the Latin American Institute at the University of New Mexico reported that "specially-trained brigades now comb regions where drug farms are concentrated to rip out the plants by hand and round up drug farmers in mass arrests." It is likely that the Guatemalan anti-drug brigades, like many American police forces, are more interested in "body counts" - maximizing thenumber of suspects arrested - than in being fair to the accused. The specter of "mass arrests" is especially disturbing in a country where mass arrests have often been followed by "mass disappearances."
DEA agents have often behaved acted as if the drug war gives them a right to impose martial law on foreign nations. In Bolivia, DEA agents have donned black masks and gone out and destroyed newly paved roads in the jungle in order to prevent drug traffickers form utilizing them. In Mexico, Guatemala, and elsewhere, DEA agents have kidnapped those accused of drug crimes and taken them to the United States. Guatemalan farmers' exports to the United States are routinely destroyed during Customs Service searches for illicit drugs - and the Customs Service has refused to compensate any Guatemalans for the damage. The Customs Service apparently believes that, because some Guatemalans have smuggled drugs, the U.S. government has a right to mutilate any import from Guatemala.
The U.S.-financed attacks on Guatemalan farmers are especially hypocritical because U.S. agricultural policies have destroyed the profitability of other crops that Guatemalan farmers could grow. We poison their farms if they grow marijuana but, thanks to strict U.S. import quotas, refuse to allow them to sell us more than 55,972 tons of sugar per year. U.S. export subsidies have driven down the world prices for grains, poultry and other farm products, thereby making it much more difficult for Guatemalan farmers to compete in third markets against the United States.
Exporting our drug war to Guatemala and other Latin American nations is Yankee Imperialism at its worst. Rather than poison Guatemalan farmers' crops, we should open our markets to their bounty.
James Bovard, the author of "The Fair Trade Fraud" (St. Martin's Press, 1991), recently visited Guatemala.
Copyright 1993 News World Communications, Inc.
The Washington Times
February 18, 1993, Thursday, Final Edition
SECTION: Part G; COMMENTARY; EDITORIAL; LETTERS; Pg. G2
LENGTH: 548 words
HEADLINE: Columnist sprays tons of misinformation over your pages
BODY: I read with great interest James Bovard's Jan. 25 column, "Poisonous fallout from the drug war," concerning drug eradication efforts in Guatemala. Unfortunately, the article had little basis in fact and contained many inaccuracies. Let me correct the record.
First, the spraying of herbicides to destroy drug-cultivation areas is conducted by the government of Guatemala under a program sponsored by the Department of State's Bureau of International Narcotics Matters, not the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), as indicated in Mr. Bovard's column. In addition, the spraying of herbicides in Guatemala is primarily directed at opium poppy crops from which heroin is derived, not at coca and marijuana cultivation areas, as described by Mr. Bovard. In 1992, aerial spraying eradicated 350 hectares (864.5 acres) of opium poppy in Guatemala.
The herbicide Round-Up, widely used in the United States and other countries for agricultural and home-garden applications, has been studied extensively in the United States. About 25 million pounds of Round-Up are sold in the U.S. annually. Adverse human health and ecological effects are virtually nonexistent if applications are carried out in the manner consistent with guidelines approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the DEA. These guidelines are strictly followed in Guatemala.
The EPA estimates that acute oral toxicity of Round-Up to humans to be 10 ounces per day for a 110-pound adult. The same quantity of table salt would be more toxic. In other words, the herbicide is widely used in the United States and other countries without ill effect to humans, animals or the environment.
In addition, the DEA is not facing lawsuits from individuals or groups in Guatemala concerning the spraying program. Mr. Bovard's assertions that several lawsuits have been filed against the DEA, including one involving the death of a child, are false.
The DEA, along with the government of Guatemala, is actively fighting drug traffickers operating in that country. However, we certainly are not behaving as if the "drug war gives us the right to impose martial law on foreign nations," as Mr. Bovard contends. The DEA and the rest of the U.S. Embassy staff in Guatemala are working in concert with the government of Guatemala, at its request, in order to alleviate drug production and trafficking.
Contrary to Mr. Bovard's description of the DEA's work in Guatemala, our primary focus is on the use of Guatemala as a transshipment area for cocaine bound for the United States and on the growing influence of the Columbian drug cartels operating within the country. Counter-narcotics cooperation between
The Washington Times, February 18, 1993
the U.S. and Guatemalan law-enforcement officers resulted in the seizure of about 15.5 metric tons of cocaine last year.
I suggest Mr. Bovard check his facts before setting himself up as an expert on a subject as important as our relationship with other countries. When he fails to check even basic information, he does a great disservice to your readers.
ROBERT C. BONNER
Administrator of Drug Enforcement
Drug Enforcement Administration
U.S. Department of Justice