Illegal drug use destroys rainforests
November 18, 2008

Colombian officials have re-iterated their claim that cocaine use in rich countries is driving deforestation in Colombia, reports The Guardian.

Speaking to a conference of police officers in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos Calderon said that 133,000 hectares of rainforest are cleared each year for coca cultivation. Coca is the raw ingredient for cocaine production.

"Colombia has lost more than two million hectares of rainforest in the last 15 years to plant coca. If you snort a gram of cocaine, you are destroying 4m square of rainforest and that rainforest is not just Colombian — it belongs to all of us who live on this plant, so we should all be worried about it," Santos said, adding that the drug trade is also driving crime and contributing to a rising death toll from land mines buried to defend plantations.

"The money that you use to buy the cocaine goes into the hands of FARC [and other] illegal groups that plant mines, that kidnap, that kill, that use terrorism to protect their business."

Santos said that Brits who use cocaine should be more aware of the environmental impact of their actions.

"For somebody who drives a hybrid, who recycles, who is worried about global warming — to tell him that that night of partying will destroy 4m square of rainforest might lead him to make another decision."

"There is a sense of frustration, because here drug use is seen as a personal choice and to some extent cocaine is seen as the champagne of drugs which causes no effect and is a victimless crime," he continued. "It is not victimless."

Santos echoed comments he made this past May during the launch of a campaign to link cocaine use to destruction of the Amazon rainforest. The "Shared Responsibility" drive, a joint initiative by the British and Colombian governments, featured a collection of photographs showing the destruction of rainforest for coca plantations.

Deforestation in the Colombian Amazon - photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Despite a series set-backs for FARC in recent months, the narco-trafficking group backed by Venezuela still controls vast swathes of Colombian rainforest. Still their presence is one reason why more of Colombia has not been logged or converted for industrial agriculture. Colombia presently has one of the lowest deforestation rates in Latin America.
The campaign estimated that 2.2 million hectares of forest have been cleared for cocaine production in Colombia. Pollution from production — kerosene, sulfuric acid, acetone, and carbide are used to process the leaves — has fouled waterways while armed groups operating in forests areas have decimated wildlife for food and target practice.

"The real price of cocaine is not just among communities and on the streets here, but in communities and on the streets of Colombia," British Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker was quoted as saying by during a May press conference.

Coca eradication also takes a toll

Anti-drugs efforts have also harmed ecologically sensitive areas in Colombia.

Colombia has long battled a cocaine-fueled insurgency in its remote regions. In an effort to destroy the rebels' chief source of income, the Colombian government has targeted coca fields with aerial spraying of herbicides. Coca provides the key ingredient in cocaine and its eradication is a fundamental part of the US-backed war on drugs.

Much of Colombia's coca is grown by poor farmers because it generates more income than any other crop. Typically farmers convert the plant into coca paste and sell it to groups — including paramilitaries and Colombian rebels — who refine it into cocaine and export the narcotic to markets like the United States, Europe, and increasingly, Brazil.

Drug eradication efforts have focused on aerial fumigation programs where herbicides (a mixture that includes Monsanto Corporation's Roundup and Cosmo-Flux 411F) are dropped by crop-duster planes on suspect vegetation. Since the concoction is a non-selective herbicide, surrounding vegetation — including subsistence crops and native plants — are killed as well. Environmentalists, indigenous rights' groups, and even the government of Ecuador have complained that widespread spraying of herbicides could pose health threats to locals as well as damage to the environment. Local reports suggest that farmers often replant coca seedlings soon after spraying, making the whole exercise somewhat futile.

In 2005 a report from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy showed that a massive aerial spraying offensive in 2004 failed to reduce the area of coca under cultivation in Colombia. Drug eradication efforts in the country have lately resulted in the shifting of large-scale coca production into the extensive rainforests of Chocó state, a biodiversity hotspot in northwest Colombia.

This article uses excerpts from a previous post.

CITATION: (November 18, 2008).

Illegal drug use destroys rainforests.