Biowarfare in the Andes

Hostile intentions toward the  people of another country. Deployment of chemical weapons and biological agents. Pursuit of a scorched earth policy. Sound like Saddam’s Iraq? Think again. This neatly capsulizes the Bush administration’s ongoing depredations in Colombia, all under the shady banner of the war on drugs.
Indeed, as Bush offers pious homilies on Iraq’s possible hoarding of so-called Weapons of Mass Destruction, his administration and its backers from both parties in Congress are poised to unleash a new wave of toxins in the mountains of Colombia, including a dangerous brew of biological weapons its proponents rather quaintly call mycoherbicides, a.k.a. Agent Green.
Agent Green is a fungal pathogen conjured up by the US Department of Agriculture’s experiment station in Beltsville, Maryland. It is now being produced with US funds by Ag/Bio Company, a private lab in Bozeman, Montana, and at a former Soviet bioweapons factory in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The labs are brewing up two types of killer fungi, Fusarium oxysporum (for use against marijuana and coca plants) and Pleospora papaveracea (to destroy opium poppies).
The leading germ-war hawk in the congress is Rep. Bob Mica (R- Florida). In mid-December, Mica fumed, “We have to restore our mycoherbicide. Things that have been studied for too long need to be put into action.”
Even the perpetually conflicted Colin Powell is on record supporting the use of biological agents as a key part of “Plan Colombia.” Anne Peterson, the US ambassador to Bogota, testified recently that she believed bioweapons had already been deployed in Colombia. Bizarrely, she later retracted this chilling observation, saying that it had been made under duress. Ms Peterson didn’t say who had applied the thumbscrews.
Back in the late 90s, Rand Beers, now one of the few Clinton holdovers at the State Department, was all for using germ weapons on crops in drug-producing countries. As Assistant Secretary of State for narcotics, Beers is forced to defend against charges that the US violates, among other treaties, the Biological Weapons Convention. Beers often says that the toxic weapons are needed to fight international crime syndicates.
So, as in Macbeth, sin plucks on sin.
The problem is that both fungi are indiscriminate killers, posing threats to human health and to non-target species. When sprayed from airplanes and helicopters, Agent Green will inevitably drift over coffee plantations, fields, farms, villages, and water supplies.
Agent Green also threatens the ecology of the Colombian rainforest, one of the most biologically diverse on the planet, already under frightful siege from gold mining, oil extraction, logging, and cattle ranching. By one count, Colombia has already lost more than a third of its primary forest and continues to lose forest at a rate of 3,000 square miles (nearly 2 million acres) a year.
So it’s likely that Amazonia could become collateral damage in the Bushites’ biowar adventurism.
This grim prospect may place the US squarely in violation of yet another international treaty with which Bush, the former cocaine tooter, is charmingly unacquainted: the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other  Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques (ENMOD). ENMOD grew out of worldwide outrage at the use of Agent Orange and other malign potions plastered across Southeast Asia during the Vietnam war. Adopted by the UN in 1976 and signed by the US, ENMOD prohibits using the environment as a weapon of war.
Like the pesticides and fumigants already dropped, the US bio-bomblets will inevitably stray across the border into Ecuador and Peru. Both nations vehemently oppose the US biowar plan and charge that it violates international law; they cite a non-proliferation section of the Biological Warfare Convention that prohibits the transfer of germ weapons and technology from one nation to another.
Back in Clintontime, none other than Rand Beers swore that spray-and-burn tactics would “eliminate the majority of Colombia’s opium poppy crop within three years.” Congress bought it, approving $1.3 billion for Plan Colombia. (As a pre-condition for receiving the money, Congress required Colombia to begin operational testing of bioweapons.  Bowing to world pressure, Clinton waived the requirement.)
In the past five years, nearly a million acres of land in Colombia has been blitzed by pesticides and fumigants, rendered as sterile as the fields of Carthage after Scipio Africanus’ last cruel visit. But over the same period production of cocaine in Colombia has more than tripled. Opium production is also soaring, increasing by more than 60% since 2000.
The reason for this will be obvious to anyone who has read our book Whiteout: the CIA, Drugs and the Press. War, especially covert war, and drugs go hand in hand. Colombia is mired in a three-way civil war, with guerrillas, paramilitaries, and government troops funding their operations from drug proceeds. The bloodier the conflict, the greater the flow of drugs.
Don’t say the toxic warriors in the Bush administration aren’t bibliophiles. Obviously they’ve read Silent Spring. Only not as the stark warning Rachel Carson intended, but as a war plan which they are now bent on putting into global action.

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