(Translated by CSN volunteers Aurelia Chandler and Susan Tritten)
The farmers association of Catatumbo (ASCAMCAT) has categorically rejected the plans reported on Thursday, March 12, in the city of Cucuta by the commander of the Colombian Armed Forces. General Freddy Padilla announced the onset of glyphosate aerial spraying over the next few days in the Catatumbo region, which borders Venezuela.
Glyphosate aerial spraying of illicit crops serves only to intensify hunger and poverty in the region, increasing displacement of a defenseless population and the necessity of social investment by the State. The area needs more schools and teachers to educate the children and hospitals and health centers to promote rapid treatment of numerous tropical diseases seen daily in the area.
But the only government investment is military: it acts as a repressive mechanism, not against insurgents, but, through Plan Colombia, against the rural population of Catatumbo. All the repressive measures within the framework of the misnamed Policy for Democratic Security have benefited only the political cronies of the Colombian government, multi-national companies like Monsanto, and arms traffickers, among others.
The implementation of glyphosate aerial spraying not only directly affects the rural populations of Catatumbo on the Colombian side, but also inhabitants of Venezuela. Over and above the environmental impact, it will once again further damage border relations between Colombia and Venezuela, just as it has with Colombia’s other neighbor, Ecuador.
We Catatumban farmers believe that this measure is completely mistaken. We continue proposing gradual crop substitution as the only way to guarantee peace and to keep farmers on their land.
Repressive government policies only intensify internal conflict and encourage forced displacement. With these measures it seems that the government is interested only in encouraging the uprooting and eviction of farmers with no guarantee of their land rights. The land is then left vacant to ensure the arrival of multi-national and transnational companies such as the Compania Minera Rio de Oro, Compania Minera La Esmeralda, Promexco, Sopromin, Carbo Fuels and Mineral, Geofisin EU, Prominorte, Mora y Mora Multinversiones Mineras, and Carbon y Progreso, which are interested only in the exploiting open-pit mines. The reserves here are superior to those in El Cerrejon (La Guagira). This would affect an area greater than 25,000 hectares in the municipalities of Convencion, Tibu, Teorama and Eltarra.
The only investment promised by the government is the construction of a major highway dubbed "The Carbon Trunk Road," which will run from Tibu to La Mata (Cesar). This will not be constructed to ease the mobility of farmers with their basic forms of transport such as mules, horses, and donkeys, but to facilitate the transportation of dump trucks loaded with the riches that belong to the Catatumbo region and the ancestral lands of the indigenous Bari.
Although the government constantly denies claims that glyphosate harms people, livestock and food crops, we hold the government responsible for the physical and moral wellbeing of the rural population and the Bari community, historical inhabitants of these lands. We hold it responsible for the outbreaks of hepatitis, skin diseases and diarrhea that are caused, particularly in children, pregnant women and the elderly, every time that aerial spraying is carried out. Every drop of glyphosate that falls on food crops, livestock and into drinking water, harms the environment, causes hunger, and destroys hope. We have lived without hope of cultivating our land again for over seven years.