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Saturday, December 9

Yesterday I went to a seminar at the George Washington University (GWU) Andean Seminar on Culture and Politics, which had Jeremy Bigwood talk about "The Drug War's Fungal 'Solution' in Latin America." Really interesting stuff once we got past the opening bio-chemistry introduction. He told how a secret (CIA) program developed the use of toxic fungi -- we'll skip the Latin names here -- to attack coca plants. In the past year, the US has tried to convince Colombia to start testing the fungi to see if it's useful in the War against Drugs.

Bigwood pointed out that this use of biological warfare is opening a Pandora's Box because the fungi does not only attack coca plants, but all other flora. It is also highly toxic to human beings and little testing has been done to evaluate the environmental impact. Bigwood was very compelling in his explanation of how dangerous it is.

Bigwood also made it clear that there are commercial interests that are pushing this option, both in Congress and the Executive. The regional governments may be caught unprepared to evaluate an issue of such scientific and environmental complexity.

A few points. The world cocaine market is already destroying wide areas of the Amazon foothills in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia. It is an environmental disaster of huge proportions. Coca is not an environmentally friendly plant when grown in essentially mono-crop systems on steep slopes without tree cover. But using toxic fungi to erradicate coca (perhaps, the whole species) may worsen the situation, with unforeseeable consequences. Fungi are very robust and mutate rapidly so it could be the equivlaent on unleashing the plague.

To state the obvious, the drug issue is like a huge black hole whose gravitational pull affects practically everything in the Andean region, from plant life to high finance.

For more information, check the "WOLA’s concerns regarding use of Fusarium to fight drugs in Colombia" for one perspective on the issue. I will try to put together a set of links as an introduction to the drug war on La Lista.

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