The campesinos of Putumayo, in southern Colombia, have endured what truly cannot be described just as numerous hardships. From massacres, committed by all armed actors, to devastating poverty that has led them to grow coca, to the fumigations meant to eradicate that coca (and their food crops with some regularity), the Putumayan campesinos know not an easy life. In 2000, with the passing of Plan Colombia, alternative development came to Putumayo with the goal of alleviating, at least some of, the povery that has forced campesinos to grow coca. Unfortunately, that alternative development has been disastrous to say the least. Numerous projects have failed, some crops were not sustainable, poor quality animals that were part of some projects died, and many social pacts were not fulfilled. In light of all of this, the campesinos of Putumayo decided to hold a large campesino meeting in Orito in which representatives from all 13 municipalities of Putumayo were to take part, to announce their proposals for alternative development projects so that they would not have to continue growing coca. At the meeting, they asked me to speak and so I did briefly, and at the end my speech, I asked the campesinos in attendance that if they had a chance to write a letter, or message, to the government of the United States, to write down the message and give it to me at some point. These letters are what I got:
May the great Jesus Christ bless you
SeÃ’ores of the US:
United, we donâ€™t want you to continue fumigating us like cockroaches. We need the Colombian Government to listen to us because we want to negotiate with them. But they [the Colombian Govâ€™t] donâ€™t listen to us, us campesinos, us from Putumayo. We are meeting and we are inviting Doctor Uribe to negotiate, but he left us waiting. Help us negotiate. We donâ€™t want to grow this death [coca] because we know that this brings violence but for us, there is no other exit because we are in families and we donâ€™t have support from out government.
May the great Jesus Christ blesses you
No to fumigation
No to forced eradication
Yes to manual, gradual substitution
August 27, 2006
Members of the US Government
In order to tell you that in the municipality of Sibundoy, (valley) of Sibundoy, belonging to the department of Putumayo that despite that we are not coca growers but we are in the center of illicit crops, we are affected and are hurt as each day, our land is threatened with so much contamination, and because of this, we are against the fumigations. But we are also against the illicit crops, and we ask for support from the US government, that resources be invested in productive projects, in cattle-raising, conservation of the environment, productive projects, and support for the campesinos and indigenous, in their different necessities, like their housing, education, health and food security.
Us, as indigenous Kamentsas, natives of the valley of Sibundoy, ask for special consideration for being natives of this beautiful land, and we hope that you collaborate with us, with subsidies, conservations of our custom, strengthening of our traditional small farms (chagra), traditional medicine; support for our mayors who are the ancestral knowledge for youth; support for the children who are the future of our community.
We wait for you and extend to you the invitation that you visit us since we want you to realize that reality and necessity that we have as Kamentsa indigenous inhabitants, and natives, of this department of Putumayo.
Luz Elvira Tez
Indigenous Sibundoy, Putumayo
Territorial Counsel President of the Municipality of Valle Del Guamuez,
The Colombian campesino has been seen surrounded by illicit crops because of state abandonment. It was as much the carelessness of these [illicit crops] that it has arrived to the point of becoming a problem first national, now international.
It is possible to note that the carelessness not only was from Colombia but that the consumer countries did not make the respective control in their countries against the entry of narcotics into their territory. Today after 25 years the campesino culture has returned to the illicit crop, and day by day itâ€™s wanted that another day is given so that this crop can be removed, as the international burden has returned too.
I think that just as the problem gradually grew, the problem could be removed in the same manner but for this, the campesino requires certain help.
The government of the United States is implementing policies of fumigation that, as has already been seen, has been an abuse that generates more hunger, poverty, displacement that goes against the objectives of the millennium drawn up by all countries.
This is how today, our Colombia, is immersed in a confusion of violence and increasing production of illicit crops.
During these days, we, the Putumayan campesinos, meet to say to the United States, “No more fumigation that has not been useful, but only has created more problems.
We are trying to abandon the illicit crops and replace them with licit crops but this has not been possible because of the fumigations. We need time to change. There already is a clear proposal but we will not be able to carry it out if the fumigations continue.
The United States should direct their resources to the improvement of the campesino standard, technology for the rural areas and resources that would serve and arrive to the campesinos. In the first phase of Plan Colombia, in the United States, it is thought that the campesino did not follow through but it was not like thisâ€¦
The resources, in value of 2,000,000 pesos, given as animals of poor quality or in agricultural sums never calmed the expectations of the campesinos and the fumigations ruined many of the productive projects that were moving forward. It is only asked of you that the fumigations are stopped since not only do damage to Putumayo, but the entire world.
Honorable Members of the US Government,
A Cordial Hello,
The Afro-Colombian communities of Putumayo, of Cimmarron, and the Indigenous town presidents of the municipalities of Putumayo:
We reject the fumigations because they are attacks against our diversity, our surroundings, out wealth and our co-existance.
No to the Fumigations
No to the Imposition of Productive Crops
We extend to you our invitations to speak directly with the people of Putumayo.
Proposal to the US Government on the part of the campesinos of Putumayo,
1) Makes us the direct participants with the resources of Plan Colombia in the second phase, instead of fumigating us, so we can carry out projects like the established ecological and industrialized cattle-raising, our palmito crops, and sugarcane, and with all of your tools for industrialization, roads for secondary and tertiary penetration, and projects of health and well-being.
From the campesinos of the municipality of Orito, department of Putumayo, Colombia
Members of the US Government,
The following is to familiarize you with our problem in our Putumayan region. We lack economic resources because we donâ€™t have access to roads or productive projects, nor can we rely on a good education or good health, and because of this, nor can we rely on the power to improve the quality of life in our communities. We Putumayans reject the fumigations since this has brought us violence, poverty, misery and forced displacement, as we leave our parcels of land where we live despite the help that comes from the UN. We have been deceived because you donâ€™t come directly to us as campesinos, but by middle-men and “NGOs” that have used lies and deceit, in order to suspend aid. We want to negotiate directly, campesino and government. We donâ€™t want more organizations. These only lead us to failure. Our region is rich in water, forests, fauna and flowers. Therefore it continues to act as the lung of the world.
We are grateful for your valuable attention and lending collaborations.
Government of the United States,
Puerto Asis has accepted the eradication of illicit crops, in exchange for what you have given us. But unfortunately, it didnâ€™t arrive to us, the ones it should have come to. For that reason, we have returned to coca cultivation. In this second phase, we want you to make us the administrators and like this, we can act as a good compliment.
From a campesino leader
NO TO THE FORCED ERADICATION!
YES TO THE GRADUAL AND VOLUNTARY SUBSTITUTION!
FREE OF COCA
Orito, Putumayo, August 26
Honorable President of the United States,
The campesinos of Putumayo, NariÃ’o, Cauca and other departments like Caquet·, and the Macarena National Park, we reject the fumigations. As campesinos, we are the tools of the rural areas, with what we know, how we work the soil and how we treat nature, the water, the forest from which we humans and animals live.
Esteemed President of the United States,
In appreciation, we hope that you take time out in your daily labors,
We ask you that you do not fumigate anymore because it is destroying food crops and that puts an end to our seeds. We are more than 50 families that are affected by these sprayings. If you continue these fumigations, you will have the obligation of our food, and this is what you should do instead of spraying.
The municipality of Orito asks you,
From the vereda of El Prado
Kyle Johnson is a student majoring in journalism and political science, while minoring in Spanish and human rights at UCONN. He was a member of a Witness for Peace delegation (August 15-25) that traveled to Putumayo, and then went a second time, to cover the campesino meeting and see the affects of fumigation, on his own from August 26th-30th.