April 7, 1999

Colombia cites ecological damage from drug trade

                  CARTAGENA, Colombia (Reuters) -- Drug traffickers have destroyed lush
                  rain forests and other areas of Colombia, covering more than twice the size
                  of the U.S. state of Delaware, to plant illicit drug crops, President Andres
                  Pastrana said Wednesday.

                  Citing what he described as "immense ecological damage" from the drug
                  trade, Pastrana said drug lords had cleared vast tracts of jungle and
                  mountain cloud forests to plant both coca, the raw material for cocaine, and
                  opium poppy.

                  Pastrana gave no specific time frame for the destruction that he said had
                  been wrought across Colombia, including in many of its parks and nature
                  reserves which he described as "unique."

                  But he said a total of more than 4,145 square miles (10,750 sq km) had
                  been irreversibly damaged by traffickers, who dump what he said was an
                  estimated 316,000 gallons (1.2 mln liters) of dangerous chemicals into
                  Colombia's ground and waterways every year to cultivate and process their
                  drug crops.

                  Pastrana, who spoke at the start of a two-day international seminar on the
                  cocaine trade in this Caribbean port city, did not refer in his speech to the
                  environmental cost of Colombia's U.S.-backed drug crop eradication

                  But environmentalists have long complained about collateral damage and
                  potential health risks to humans from the herbicides used in the aerial
                  spraying of the country's drug crops.

                  Colombia supplies an estimated 80 percent of the world's cocaine and has
                  the most extensive illicit drug plantations in Latin America, covering more
                  than 196,000 acres (79,500 hectares), according to U.S. drug experts.