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1 December 2005 Edition

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Books

Chemical Warfare in Colombia: the costs of Coca Fumigation

By Hugh O'Shaughnesssy

and Sue Branford.

Published by

Latin American Bureau

This admirable exercise in investigative journalism shows how aerial fumigation of coca, considered a key weapon in the US-sponsored 'war on drugs', is both ineffective and dangerous to humans and animals, as well as poisoning a precious environment rich in bio-diversity.

In November 2000 the US Congress passed Plan Colombia, a $1.3 billion plan to fight cocaine production in Colombia. Eighty percent of the money in the package was earmarked for military aid to the governments of Colombia and its neighbours.

Chemical spraying is used in Colombia to destroy illicit coca crops — the basic ingredient in cocaine. The State Department hired Dyncorp, a private company based in Reston, Virginia, to carry out a crop fumigation programme in Colombia. The chemical used is Monsanto's product Roundup Ultra. Monsanto began to dominate the herbicide market in the late 1960s when it marketed the Lasso herbicide better known as Agent Orange. When this was banned Monsanto developed Roundup.

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, has been linked to non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a particularly deadly form of cancer. The "inert" ingredients in Roundup Ultra can cause rashes, vision problems, headaches, and respiratory problems. In extreme cases exposure has caused kidney failure and loss of red blood cells.

It has been alleged that Dyncorp hires mercenaries to head up Colombian teams flying crop dusting planes. Food crops and wild plants are being killed off throughout the region. Worse still fumigation doesn't reduce coca production. The primary effect is to drive coca producers deeper into the rainforest, destroying more land.

In the 1980s and 1990s people began to clear the forest to grow coca. The coca economy brought armed groups into the region. The military came to fight the FARC, largest of the leftist armed groups, followed by right-wing paramilitaries.

Part of the Plan Colombia package is to support efforts to develop other crops to substitute coca and other employment opportunities for the coca farmers. Initially, they were promised $4,000 each if they destroyed coca plants and agreed to plant something else. The figure is now only $1,000. In return, the government pledged not to fumigate their land.

Amanda Romero, a Colombian working for the American Friends Service (the Quakers), who works with women's groups in Putumayo explained that the money only reaches those groups that have managed to get organised and only after the cost of the civil servants who run the programme has been deducted and corrupt politicians take their cut. "But what people do not know is that after they get the money, the so called alternative or substitution projects are also going to be fumigated; there are examples of projects paid by the EU that have been destroyed by fumigation".

Ironically coca seems to be the only plant that resists the effects of fumigation.

Right wing paramilitaries, responsible for the vast majority of killings and disappearances in Colombia, terrorise communities. Drug traffickers backing them seize land left behind after people are murdered or displaced and establish coca plantations or to set up cattle ranches to launder cocaine profits.

Through first hand investigative reporting Branford and O'Shaughnessy paint a damning picture of a futile and indiscriminate chemical war, waged largely on the poor.

Green Suede Shoes:

An Irish Odyssey

By Larry Kirwan. Published by Brandon.

Larry Kirwan should have the look of an ageing rocker but somehow manages to defy stereotypes and the ravages of the rollercoaster journey he has made and which he chronicles in this book.

Kirwan is the founder and lead singer of the Irish-American band Black 47. For thousands of young Irish who emigrated to New York in the 1980s this band was a magnet and Kirwan's lyrics reflected the experience of the Irish in the US. But this was a new and different generation from previous exiles and brought with them the conflicts of a changing Ireland. Kirwan himself crossed the Atlantic with an earlier and smaller wave of emigrants and in this book he traces his journey from Wexford.

It is the early part of the book telling of his childhood in Wexford that I found most enjoyable. With humour he describes the '60s in a town still dominated by the Catholic clergy but with a life of its own and beginning to sway to American influences. From his grandfather he got a deep interest in Irish history and politics and developed his own take on Irish republicanism which he later reflected in his songs. Black 47 stuck to their principles, even when that closed doors commercially to them. At least one prominent radio DJ in Ireland refused to play their records.

Some of the chapters in this book are good enough to stand alone as short stories. The one where he tells of a car journey up North with his missionary priest uncle is hilarious. The priest is just one of many weird and wonderful characters we meet. Much of the book concerns the minutiae of the music business and this is its weakest point as all but the closest adherents of the band will lose interest, so perhaps some judicious editing was in order.

Nonetheless this is a unique book and is written in a lyrical style that befits a songwriter. Kirwan manages that rare combination of being a keen-eyed observer of a time in history while also being a player and a participant. He is still committed, as he made clear at the Dublin launch of this book when he emphasised the need to stand up to the war-mongering Bush regime.

Looking Back... Sinn Féin Dublin City Councillor Christy Burke makes a presentation at Looking Back, an exhibition of photographs of Dublin's North Inner City, which opened on 25 November in the Belvedere Club on Buckingham Street. The photographs, stretching back over eight decades, were compiled and collated by Terry Fagan of the North Inner City Folklore Project, which receives no official

chemical used is Monsanto's product Roundup Ultra. Monsanto began to dominate the herbicide market in the late 1960s when it marketed the Lasso herbicide better known as Agent Orange. When this was banned Monsanto developed Roundup.

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, has been linked to non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a particularly deadly form of cancer. The "inert" ingredients in Roundup Ultra can cause rashes, vision problems, headaches, and respiratory problems. In extreme cases exposure has caused kidney failure and loss of red blood cells.

It has been alleged that Dyncorp hires mercenaries to head up Colombian teams flying crop dusting planes. Food crops and wild plants are being killed off throughout the region. Worse still fumigation doesn't reduce coca production. The primary effect is to drive coca producers deeper into the rainforest, destroying more land.

In the 1980s and 1990s people began to clear the forest to grow coca. The coca economy brought armed groups into the region. The military came to fight the FARC, largest of the leftist armed groups, followed by right-wing paramilitaries.

Part of the Plan Colombia package is to support efforts to develop other crops to substitute coca and other employment opportunities for the coca farmers. Initially, they were promised $4,000 each if they destroyed coca plants and agreed to plant something else. The figure is now only $1,000. In return, the government pledged not to fumigate their land.

Amanda Romero, a Colombian working for the American Friends Service (the Quakers), who works with women's groups in Putumayo explained that the money only reaches those groups that have managed to get organised and only after the cost of the civil servants who run the programme has been deducted and corrupt politicians take their cut. "But what people do not know is that after they get the money, the so called alternative or substitution projects are also going to be fumigated; there are examples of projects paid by the EU that have been destroyed by fumigation".

Ironically coca seems to be the only plant that resists the effects of fumigation.

Right wing paramilitaries, responsible for the vast majority of killings and disappearances in Colombia, terrorise communities. Drug traffickers backing them seize land left behind after people are murdered or displaced and establish coca plantations or to set up cattle ranches to launder cocaine profits.

Through first hand investigative reporting Branford and O'Shaughnessy paint a damning picture of a futile and indiscriminate chemical war, waged largely on the poor.

Green Suede Shoes:

An Irish Odyssey

By Larry Kirwan. Published by Brandon.

Larry Kirwan should have the look of an ageing rocker but somehow manages to defy stereotypes and the ravages of the rollercoaster journey he has made and which he chronicles in this book.

Kirwan is the founder and lead singer of the Irish-American band Black 47. For thousands of young Irish who emigrated to New York in the 1980s this band was a magnet and Kirwan's lyrics reflected the experience of the Irish in the US. But this was a new and different generation from previous exiles and brought with them the conflicts of a changing Ireland. Kirwan himself crossed the Atlantic with an earlier and smaller wave of emigrants and in this book he traces his journey from Wexford.

It is the early part of the book telling of his childhood in Wexford that I found most enjoyable. With humour he describes the '60s in a town still dominated by the Catholic clergy but with a life of its own and beginning to sway to American influences. From his grandfather he got a deep interest in Irish history and politics and developed his own take on Irish republicanism which he later reflected in his songs. Black 47 stuck to their principles, even when that closed doors commercially to them. At least one prominent radio DJ in Ireland refused to play their records.

Some of the chapters in this book are good enough to stand alone as short stories. The one where he tells of a car journey up North with his missionary priest uncle is hilarious. The priest is just one of many weird and wonderful characters we meet. Much of the book concerns the minutiae of the music business and this is its weakest point as all but the closest adherents of the band will lose interest, so perhaps some judicious editing was in order.

Nonetheless this is a unique book and is written in a lyrical style that befits a songwriter. Kirwan manages that rare combination of being a keen-eyed observer of a time in history while also being a player and a participant. He is still committed, as he made clear at the Dublin launch of this book when he emphasised the need to stand up to the war-mongering Bush regime.

Looking Back... Sinn Féin Dublin City Councillor Christy Burke makes a presentation at Looking Back, an exhibition of photographs of Dublin's North Inner City, which opened on 25 November in the Belvedere Club on Buckingham Street. The photographs, stretching back over eight decades, were compiled and collated by Terry Fagan of the North Inner City Folklore Project, which receives no official

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

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