ISSUE #438, JUNE 21, 1998
LAFAYETTE ST., NEW YORK, NY 10012 (212) 674-9499 


A June 20 article in the New York Times reports that under heavy 
pressure from the US, the Colombian government has agreed to use 
the granular herbicide tebuthiuron--sold commercially as Spike 20P-
-in aerial fumigations against coca crops. In the US tebuthiuron is 
used mostly to control weeds on railroad beds and under high-
voltage lines, far away from food crops and people. The US 
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires a warning label on 
tebuthiuron that says it could contaminate ground water. Colombian 
environmental officials fear its use could prevent peasants from 
growing food where coca once grew. 

Washington has been lobbying Andean governments to accept 
tebuthiuron for more than a decade. For four years, Colombian and 
US police officials have used a liquid toxin, glifosate, to destroy coca 
plants, at a cost of millions of dollars to the US. Glifosate has 
reportedly destroyed some 30% of the plants sprayed, although the 
total amount of coca being grown has increased. Luiz Eduardo Parra, 
environmental auditor of Colombia's anti-narcotics squad, said the 
glifosate has mostly been washed away in the heavy rainfall of the 
Amazon region. But the main reason officials want to switch to 
tebuthiuron pellets is because they can be dropped from higher 
altitudes in virtually any weather, thus providing greater protection 
from rebel gunfire for pilots, who are currently forced to fly low to 
fumigate in the early morning hours, when winds are calm and 
temperatures are lower. [NYT 6/20/98]

According to an article in the conservative weekly magazine US News 
& World Report, the FARC has attacked crop-spraying planes 159 
times in the past three years, killed 44 anti-drug agents, and 
wounded 75 others. [USNWR 5/11/98] US pilot Robert Martin died in 
January 1997 when his plane crashed while on a flight to spray 
glifosate on coca crops in Guaviare department. Martin was working 
for the Colombian police under a US State Department contract. At 
the time, National Police director Gen. Rosso Jose Serrano admitted 
that the police had lost two fumigation planes and five fumigation 
helicopters to accidents or guerrilla attacks during anti-drug 
operations over the previous two years. [See Update #363.]

Dow AgroSciences, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Co. and the 
manufacturer of tebuthiuron, strongly opposes its use in Colombia. 
"Tebuthiuron is not labeled for use on any crops in Colombia, and it is 
our desire that the product not be used for coca eradication as well," 
the company said in a statement. Tebuthiuron granules should be 
used "carefully and in controlled situations," Dow cautioned, because 
"it can be very risky in situations where terrain has slopes, rainfall is 
significant, desirable plants are nearby and application is made 
under less than ideal circumstances."

Dow, which faced years of lawsuits and public protest over the use of 
its Agent Orange defoliant during the Vietnam war, said that if 
approached, it would refuse to sell tebuthiuron for use in Colombia. 
However, US officials note that Dow's patent on the chemical has 
expired, allowing others to manufacture it legally. 

Colombian environmental minister Eduardo Verano also argues 
against using tebuthiuron on farming areas, arguing that its health 
effects are unknown and that its use will only increase deforestation 
by pushing coca growers deeper into the jungle. But US officials, 
backed by Colombian police, say the benefits outweigh the 
environmental risks. Based on its research in Hawaii, Panama and 
Peru, the US Agriculture Department claims that tebuthiuron would 
persist in Colombian soil for less than a year.

In March, the State Department's acting assistant secretary of state 
for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, Rand Beers, 
outlined a plan to increase fumigation in the southern provinces of 
Caqueta and Putumayo, and asked Congress to pump $21 million 
more into the $30 million counter-narcotics budget for Colombia this 
year. The new strategy draws the Colombian military further into the 
war on drugs, while sharpening US attention on the Colombian 
military's main priority: its 40-year counter-insurgency war against 
leftist rebels, particularly the Revolutionary Armed Forces of 
Colombia (FARC). "The kind of thing you want to do is go after the 
rebels' base of support," explained an unnamed US intelligence 

Col. Leonardo Gallego, counter-narcotics chief of the Colombian 
National Police, denied that increased fumigation was part of any 
plan to strike at the guerrillas. The "primary objective" was 
destroying coca and recovering the environment destroyed through 
coca farming, he said. "Whatever other goals are achieved through 
these operations is completely secondary, and would be solely the 
result of any ties between guerrillas and growers," said Gallego. 

Leonardo Garcia of the FARC's international commission warns that 
intensive eradication in the group's strongholds will lead to open 
warfare. Garcia claims that the rebels support coca growers out of 
political necessity: "The campesino has the right to defend himself 
and to defend the only thing he has to survive on- -his plot of land," 
Garcia said. "People themselves go in search of weapons. So what can 
we do? We're going to fight." [NYT 6/20/98]

A classified report by the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) 
noted that the Colombian military recently suffered a series of 
humiliating defeats at the hands of the FARC, and warns that if the 
military continues to lose ground, the Colombian government may be 
forced within five years to make an unfavorable "accommodation" 
with the guerrillas, such as recognizing the FARC's control over the 
southern half of Colombia and effectively partitioning the country.

This specter has provoked the administration of US president Bill 
Clinton to push for an increase in anti-narcotics aid to Colombia, up to 
what US News & World Report says would be about $100 million a 
year. Some Republicans in Congress also want to send three more 
UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters, at a cost of about $50 million. [USNWR 


On June 21, Colombians go to the polls to choose a new president in a 
runoff election. The two candidates are Horacio Serpa Uribe of the 
ruling Liberal Party and Andres Pastrana Arango of the Conservative 
Party. Both candidates claim they support efforts to end Colombia's 
armed conflict, and both say they have accepted a three-point 
proposal made by the National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombia's 
second-largest leftist rebel organization. The proposal commits each 
of the two candidates to support concrete measures for peace, 
whether they win or lose. The measures include acceptance of a FARC 
demand to pull the military out of five municipalities in southern 
Colombia. Colombian president Ernesto Samper Pizano had previously 
refused to consider this demand; on June 12 he announced he was 
willing to discuss pulling the military out of one of the five 
municipalities. [El Diario-La Prensa 6/18/98 from AFP]

In a June 15 communique from the "Mountains of Colombia," the 
FARC-People's Army (FARC-EP) scorned Samper's announcement as 
an electoral ploy designed to gain votes for Serpa. Serpa has done 
nothing for peace while serving in Liberal governments for the past 
12 years, the FARC says, and he "was the first to get up and leave the 
dialogue in Tlaxcala (Mexico)." [FARC Communique 6/15/98]

Former Antioquia governor Alvaro Uribe Velez announced on June 
14 that he is backing Serpa. The news sparked a controversy, since 
Uribe was the creator of the legalized paramilitary groups known as 
"Convivir," and he opposes all dialogue with leftist rebels. Many 
observers feel that Uribe's support may cost Serpa votes. [ED-LP 
6/15/98 from AP]

ISSN#: 1084-922X. The Weekly News Update on the Americas is 
published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater 
New York. A one-year subscription (52 issues) is $25. To subscribe, 
send a check or money order for US $25 payable to Nicaragua 
Solidarity Network, 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012. 
Please specify if you want the electronic or print version: they are 
identical in content, but the electronic version is delivered directly to 
your email address; the print version is sent via first class mail. For 
more information about electronic subscriptions, contact 
wnu@igc.apc.org. Back issues and source materials are available on 

If you are accessing this Update for free on electronic newsgroups, 
we would appreciate any financial support you can contribute. We 
are a small, all-volunteer organization funded solely through 
subscriptions and contributions. Please also help spread the word 
about the Update. If you know someone who might be interested in 
subscribing, send their email (or regular mail) address to 
 and request a free one-month trial subscription to 
the Weekly News Update on the Americas. 

Feel free to reproduce these updates, or reprint or re-post any 
information from them, but please credit us as "Weekly News Update 
on the Americas," and include our full contact information so that 
people will know how to find us. Send us a copy of any publication 
where we are cited or reprinted. We also welcome your comments 
and ideas: send them to us at the street address above or via e-mail 


1996 INDEX OUT NOW!!! ANNUAL UPDATE INDEX available for each 
year from 1991 through 1996. Ascii text versions free to subscribers 
via electronic mail. Send your request to  (specify 
which year or years you want--each is over 100kb). Each index will 
be sent as a separate text message (not an attached file) unless you 
request otherwise.

STILL AVAILABLE: "Immigration in the USA One Year After 
Proposition 187," a Weekly News Update on the Americas special 
report, dated March 1996, accompanied by a resource list and 
organizing leaflet. Ascii text version free to subscribers via email. 
Send your request to  

1996 SOURCE LIST STILL AVAILABLE: A list of sources commonly-
used in the Weekly News Update on the Americas, along with 
abbreviations and contact information. Free to subscribers. Send your 
request to 
Weekly News Update on the Americas * Nicaragua Solidarity 
Network of NY 339 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012 * 212-674-
9499 fax: 212-674-9139 
http://home.earthlink.net/~dbwilson/wnuhome.html *