Displacement

The displacement of thousands of people and the immense suffering that this causes, as a direct result of the US fumigation program, has already occurred and the numbers can be expected to increase as the fumigation effort it stepped up. Exact figures are very hard to calculate although the State Department itself has estimated that the number of people displaced by the actions of the Counter-Narcotics Battalions in Putumayo will be in the tens of thousands and, logically, this estimate is obviously going to be an extremely conservative one. It is believed that approximately 10,000 Colombians have already crossed into Ecuador and a much larger number than that into the departments of Narino and Caqueta which border Putumayo.

Very little financing has been allocated to help these displaced people and only a minuscule amount of what has been promised has actually materialized. This leaves the majority to fend for themselves, or else to rely on small and under-financed local NGO’s and charities, and, as Putumayo farmer Senor Livardo explains, far from solves the problem, "If they fumigate here, I will go elsewhere, Ecuador or wherever. We have to do what we can to bring our kids up." Officials in neighboring countries, particularly those in Ecuador and Peru, worry that the concerted push against Putumayo’s coca farmers will force thousands more refugees into their territory, and regionalize many of Colombia's problems. In the last seven months alone an estimated 3,000 Colombian refugees have arrived in Ecuador and recently the Ecuadorian army have found at least two cocaine processing plants in the northern province of Sucumbios that borders Putumayo.

There is also evidence that Colombian paramilitaries have begun operating over the border in Ecuador and last year there was actually combat in northern Ecuador when guerrillas interrupted a paramilitary death squad that was committing a massacre in Putumayo and subsequently pursued them over the border into Ecuador and attacked. However this appears to be the objective of the US, as the Secretary of State Colin Powell stated in March this year "The new administration will try to regionalize the Colombian conflict." The political ramifications of regionalization, will give the US precedence to involve themselves more closely in the internal affairs of other Andean nations.

The effects of the fumigation, and particularly the government’s broken promises to aid the victims, have further soured the already stretched relations between the authorities and the campesinos. Families that agreed to join voluntary manual eradication programs, pulling up their coca and replacing it with other food crops, have, according to Lisa Haugaard of the US-based Latin American Working Group "not received a penny of the promised subsidies". Indeed, hardly any aid has actually reached those who have been affected most severely by the fumigation part of Plan Colombia and many are doubtful if it will ever appear. As one campesino leader in Putumayo put it, "They were quick to come up the massive amount needed for the planes, the helicopters, the troops and the chemicals but when it comes to the money for helping people, which costs much less, they just seem to have forgotten about it. Nobody here really believes they are ever going to come up with it. It was all just empty promises."