August 3, 2001

Colombian and Ecuadoran Bishops Plead for an End to Aerial Fumigation

Baltimore, July 26, 2001 - As the Senate Appropriations Committee prepares to vote on the FY02 Foreign Operations spending bill, Catholic Relief Services partners in Ecuador and Colombia have called on the U.S. Congress to use the process to end indiscriminate fumigation in the southern region of Colombia. Earlier this week, the U.S. House voted in favor of allocating $676 million within the foreign aid bill for the Andean Counterdrug Initiative, which includes continued support for aerial spraying in the region as a means to eradicate illegal drug crops.

A statement released by Bishop Fabio de Jesús Morales of Putumayo, Colombia asks for an end to the indiscriminate fumigation as an eradication strategy and called on Congress to consider the environmental and social consequences of the practice.

"The damage caused to the fauna, flora, water sources, animals, human lives, and social fabric have not been calculated," Bishop Morales said in his statement. "Displacement is growing, as people are left without means of subsistence because the aerial spraying levels everything, making the innocent pay for the wrongdoings of others. In effect, not all the families have illegal crops."

In a separate statement, Bishop Gonzalo López of Sucumbios in the northernmost region of Ecuador near the Colombian border also addressed the need for the U.S.-backed Plan Colombia to abandon aerial spraying as part of the Counterdrug Initiative. "We condemn indiscriminate fumigation of any kind which would seem to form an essential part of Plan Colombia," said Bishop López. "The deadly effects [of the fumigation], which already affect the environment and all living beings and people in our territories, give us the authority to unequivocally condemn this disgrace....I do not doubt that the noblest people of your admirable country openly condemn these procedures."

While the bishops applauded and encouraged efforts to rid society of the terrible drug problems in Colombia, they cautioned that the process should follow "appropriate means" to achieve the goal. "With aerial fumigation, the remedy has become worse than the disease," Bishop Morales said.

In their statements, Bishops Morales and López emphasized their support for alternative programs to the current eradication strategy, yet pointed out that the present level of support for such programs falls far short of what is necessary. Bishop Morales called for a redistribution of the funds assigned for fumigation to support more realistic and effective alternative programs "in tune with the environmental reality of [the region]." These programs would augment civil society in the region by offering plans for land reform and introducing an infrastructure for health, education, roads, electrification and water systems.

The bishops' statements were developed to inform the U.S. Congress about the realities of current U.S.-backed initiatives in Colombia based on their first-hand experiences living with the aerial fumigation, and to encourage a U.S. foreign policy in the region that emphasizes human development over military support.

Catholic Relief Services has worked in Colombia since 1954 and currently runs its programs there from Ecuador, where the agency has worked since 1955. As an agency of the U.S. Catholic bishops, CRS launched its program In Solidarity with Colombia in response to requests by Colombian Catholic Church organizations to address the injustices in the country occurring as a result of the illegal drug trade and more than 30 years of civil war. Catholic Relief Services stands with its Colombian brothers and sisters in their advocacy for a peaceful end to the crisis.

For information about In Solidarity with Colombia or any of our other programs around the world, visit their website at http://www.catholicrelief.org.

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