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COLOMBIA / ECUADOR
Spraying: Three years later
12/23/2003
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Civil organizations insist on request for suspension of spraying with toxic herbicide.

A new technical report published in Quito on Nov. 10 adds to a series of proofs that environmental and human rights organizations have presented to authorities showing damage to health and the environment caused by a Colombian program of chemical eradication of coca plants in the zone of Putumayo on the frontier with Ecuador (LP, Oct. 16, 2000).

The report was requested by the Ombudsman’s Office and carried out during July and October by Adolfo Maldonado, a Spanish doctor in tropical medicine who works with Ecological Action, a Quito-based non-governmental organization, and César Pazmiño, a doctor at the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics of the Pontific Catholic University of Ecuador (PUCE). It shows the existence of genetic damage in blood samples taken from 22 women in Ecuador and Colombia who live near the border and received the direct impact of the aerial spraying in which a mixture of glyphosate, POEA and Cosmoflux 411F is used.

Maldonado also took blood samples of a group of 25 women who lived in the Amazon, some 80 kilometers from the site of spraying and said they did not smoke or drink alcohol. These women lived in the same phyto-sanitary conditions as the group of 22 women directly affected.

The results were also compared with a third group comprised of women workers in the flower farms in the Ecuador highlands and who are affected by pesticides. This control group is maintained by the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics of PUCE to compare it with different investigations.

The conclusions of the study were dramatic.

“The totality (100 percent) of the women studied who received the impact of the fumigations and showed symptoms of intoxication present genetic lesions in 36 percent of their cells. The genetic damage in these women is 800 percent greater than that of the control group set up by the Catholic University laboratory (workers on flower plantations) and 500 percent above the damage encountered in the population of similar characteristics in the Amazon region, 80 kilometers from the zone of study.

If the persons with genetic damage remove themselves from exposure to the fumigations, after six months or a year their genes can return to normal. But while the damage lasts, they run the risk of suffering from cancer, sterility, mutations and important embryonic alterations. The population has indicated an increased number of miscarriages in the zone. Ecological Action is carrying out an extensive study on this issue.

The mixture sprayed, which the US manufacturing company Monsanto calls RoundUp Ultra, and not used commercially, is composed of 43.9 percent glyphosate to which the surfactants POEA and Cosmoflux 411F are added, Maldonado said.

In its report, Maldonado verifies findings of previous researchers: RoundUp Ultra is used in a concentration of 26 percent to 74 percent water, when the concentration recommended by Monsanto and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is one part RoundUp to 99 parts water.

With respect to quantities, Maldonado confirmed that 23.4 liters per hectare are used. “In 2002, 150,000 hectares were sprayed, which assumes the use of 3.51 million liters of glyphosate and in 2003 it is expected to reach 4.68 million liters for the 200,000 hectares to be sprayed.”

Although the coca plantations are the goal of this spraying, other crops that grow in the area like coffee or bananas are affected (LP, May 1, 2000).

The monitoring of the impacts of Colombian aerial spraying in Ecuadoran territory is not new (LP, Aug. 20, 2001).

Ecological Action and the Inter-institutional Committee Against Aerial Spraying (CIF) have been conducting this monitoring since 2001, carrying out verification visits in the zone in July 2001, October 2002 and last July and August.

These reports served as the basis for the civil organizations grouped in the CIF to file an appeal for constitutional protection last January before the First District Court of Administrative Contentiousness, in which it charged that the Ecuadorean state was negligent in meeting its constitutional mandate of providing protection to its citizens. This court accepted the demand of the organizations and on Jan. 22 ruled in favor of the plaintiffs; nevertheless, the Ecuadoran government appealed to the Constitutional Tribunal of Ecuador — controlled by the judges of the rightist Social Christian Party (PSC) and the official party Patriotic Society — which rejected the lower court ruling on July 11 and exonerated the state of all responsibility.

“The decision was strictly political, it was not based on the proof presented nor the legal arguments that backed the complaint,” said Rodrigo Trujillo, lawyer for the Regional Foundation of Advice in Human Rights (INREDH) and member of the legal group of the CIF.

Similar legal arguments gave substance to the June 13 sentence handed down by a court in Cundinamarca, Colombia, in response to the lawsuit of social organizations there and which ordered suspension of the aerial spraying. This sentence was also appealed by Colombian president Alvaro Uribe and is currently pending in the State Council (highest level of appeal) awaiting a definitive sentence.

“The important thing is that we are not intimidated by the complicity of the Colombian and Ecuadoran governments in the face of our commitment to protect the rights of the people affected by the chemicals, and for this we are preparing big social protests with the participation of indigenous groups,” Trujillo said.


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Spraying of coca plants also affects other crops like coffee and bananas. (Photo: Ruta Pacífica)
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