Letters: Cocaine and the rainforest

Fighting the cocaine trade means raining poison on the rainforest
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The Independent Online

Sir: The article on the real cost of cocaine (13 April) was misleading regarding the problems eradication poses by suggesting that only the cultivation of the plant is destroying the rain forest and omitting to mention the destruction caused by aerial fumigation.

In November 2005, a court in Colombia ordered the suspension of fumigation until the human and environmental impacts are properly assessed. According to US-FDA regulations, glyphosate-based herbicides (such as Roundup) cannot be used for aerial sprayings because there is evidence that they can be toxic to humans and animals, and that they contaminate water.

The version used in Colombia, Roundup Ultra, is "enriched" with a substance called Cosmoflux 411F, with makes it four times more potent, and more toxic.

The government has chosen to ignore this sentence, and continues to spray on the grounds that manual eradication is not economic. Aerial fumigation is not only more expensive, but also less targeted and less effective.

In addition, it carries enormous security costs. The craft directly employed to do the spraying are escorted by military helicopters, and when they touch ground, special commando units trained by Britain protect the crew. The security costs are paid to a considerable extent by US and British taxpayers. At the same time, big multinational corporations are cashing in by supplying the aircraft and the pesticides. In 2001, it cost more than $50m (£28.5m) to spray 90 thousand hectares of land, of which only 20 thousand were planted with coca. A small portion of the other 70 thousand was planted with the subsistence crops of peasant and indigenous communities; the greatest extension was rainforest.

Aerial eradication is helping to destroy the Amazon and Putumayo jungle for other economic ventures. It has spread to Ecuador, and become more intense in regions where oil is sought. Not only cocaine costs lives in Colombia and Ecuador. Driving your car also contributes.



Our ancient liberties are being eroded

Sir: There is a common thread to many of the issues raised in the excellent Good Friday edition of The Independent (14 April), from the story of Flight-Lieutenant Dr Malcolm Kendall-Smith as a prisoner of conscience, to the ban on glorifying terror, to the arrest of an adviser to 10 Downing Street on the cash-for-peerages affair, and to the series of letters concerning discrimination against the English, and that common thread is the wide-spread and continuing threat against ancient liberties that we have long (perhaps complacently) taken for granted.

Flt-Lt Kendall-Smith must be prepared to accept imprisonment if he is to take his case to the bar of public opinion, where he will find many, like myself, long convinced of the illegality and immorality of our participation in the war in Iraq. Siegfried Sassoon was right in objecting to the continuation of the First World War in 1917, but his reward was a visit to Craiglockhart Hospital near Edinburgh.

The absurdity of the ban on the glorification of terror is underlined by the presence of the British ambassador at the Easter Parade in Dublin, for it would surely be unpardonable (as well as absurd) for him not to be present.

The fact of an unelected second chamber entrenching ancient privilege and newly acquired wealth is a scandal in a modern democracy.

All these evils are the outcome of an unrepresentative House of Commons of a kind that we have had to endure for many years. How can we possibly stomach the hypocrisies of bringing so-called democracy to Iraq when we are denied aproperly functioning democracy in our own country?



Sir: I congratulate you over the coverage of the mis-trial of the unfortunate Flight-Lieutenant Dr Malcolm Kendall-Smith. I note that at his trial, the Judge Advocate did not even wash his hands.

I see that Kendall-Smith is being made to pay his legal costs and would be glad to help him. I wish to know his postal address or that of his legal advisers.

While being trained as an officer cadet at Sandhurst, I was made aware of my duty to challenge any orders I might be given that I thought might be illegal, and to refuse to obey them if that was my considered conclusion. It was made crystal clear that the Nuremburg Principles negated absolutely any defence of "obeying the orders of a superior officer".

The United Kingdom appears, through lack of principle in its government, to be on the slippery slope to totalitarianism.



Sir: I hope I shall be the first of many to pledge a contribution to any fighting fund set up to help Flt-Lt Dr Kendall-Smith with his legal costs.

First, to provide practical help to an honourable officer and gentleman. And, second, to express my total contempt for Tony Blair and his pusillanimous lackeys who made up the RAF court-martial panel.

No doubt these five officers are now looking forward to their just reward ... replacing the rejected candidates on the Government's honours recommendations would seem fitting somehow.



Fundamental flaws in taxation

Sir: Stephen Pritchard is right to point out the problems faced by first-time buyers because of stamp duty ("First-timers still hit by tax", 29 March). But although it is true stamp-duty rates are not keeping pace with house-price inflation, the real issue is that the taxation system itself is fundamentally flawed. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors has long called for the raising of the threshold to £150,000 which would take a further 17 per cent of home-buyers out of the reach of stamp duty and would result in more than 50 per cent of house purchases falling outside the tax.

But the most important impact the Chancellor could have on the market would be through changing the nature of the tax. If Gordon Brown switched from a "slab" tax to a marginal taxation system, such as income tax, he could remove the distortions in the market, ensure those who can pay do pay and preserve revenue neutrality.

The RICS proposal for a marginal rate of stamp duty tax charged at 5.5 per cent would enable him to create more movement in the market while eliminating the artificial protection of one particular group. It is time to rethink fundamentally the oldest tax administered by HM Revenue and Customs.



The language of Chaucer

Sir: Etymology is an important aid, not only to the origins of words, but also to their spelling and pronunciation, which makes me question how Professor John Wells (Letters, 30 March) chose his examples.

"Friend" is derived from the Old English "fre-ond" (with a long "e"), the present participle of the verb "fre-on" (to love). The rule of i-before-e would indicate "friend" is pronounced "freend", which is how Chaucer spelt it.

"River" comes from the Latin "rivus" with a long "i" (pronounced "ee"), but the "i has been shortened over the centuries. Like "friend", it should be pronounced differently rather than spelt differently.

"Dive(r)" is again Old English in origin, from two similar verbs - "dufan" and "dyfan" - so the pronunciation is correct. "Twelve" is a linguistic development of the Old English "twelf", which is again how Chaucer spelt it. Simply to cut the "e" off is an inadequate solution.



Renewable energy our best investment

Sir: Dr John Etherington (Letters, 7 April) believes the additional cost of £1bn a year by 2010 of generating 10 per cent of the UK's electricity from renewable energy represents a "huge per-unit subsidy".

I disagree. The additional cost for domestic consumers would be about £15 per year on average electricity bills based on the present renewables obligation buyout price of just over 3p per kWh.

In comparison, the privatised nuclear sector got a subsidy of 9p per kWh for six years in the 1990s. In addition, taxpayers face a £160bn bill for cleaning up and storing the radioactive waste from existing reactors, including those in the private sector.

With the rapidly increasing global cost of climate change and suffering and death in developing countries due to extreme weather, the small additional cost of renewable energy is the most sensible investment we can make, considering the UK's present GDP is over £1,000bn a year.



Street Pastors

Sir: In the story "Church shows way forward 25 years after Brixton riots ", (Report, 11 April) I would like to point out that the Street Pastors Initiative was the brainchild of Rev Les Isaac who runs a charity called Ascension Trust. Although members of Ruach Ministries may be involved in this initiative, it was launched and is run by Mr Isaac with the help of many in the church community.



Different song

Sir: If it is true that belly-dancing has been taken up with such gusto in the West by "feminists who love its celebration of the natural female body", as Joan Smith says ("Hamas, and the sexual power of real women", 7 April), then can we also expect a revival of "The Birdy Song" with flocks of old birds collectively jerking their turkey necks and flapping their bingo wings, complete with hairy armpits and unshaven legs? And will these same feminists, who love the natural female body so much, also make it a principle to boycott make-up and perfume? Or is this feminist celebration conditional on them making themselves sexually attractive to superficial men?



It's only a novel

Sir: So now the Archbishop of Canterbury has joined the chorus of condemnation, led by the Pope and other senior Roman Catholics, of Dan Brown's best-seller, The Da Vinci Code. I find it fascinating that the very people who dismiss the novel as fanciful, unbelievable nonsense, are the same people who expect us to believe every word in another book that tells of 5,000 people being fed with five loaves and three fishes, of water being turned into wine and of people being raised from the dead. I know which of these works I find the most fanciful.



Meaning of Easter

Sir: I was intrigued to read the "facts" about Christianity (" Faith: The facts", 14 April). The Bible teaches me that I can do nothing to reach heaven by my own efforts. The whole point of Easter is that Christ has done it all for me. Perhaps the authors need to check their facts.



Art worth a visit

Sir: In Robert Macdonald's obituary of Bert Isaac ("Painter of the Welsh landscape", 7 April) he says there is no Welsh Museum of Contemporary Art. But there has been for some years the Museum of Modern Art, Wales, at MacHynlleth, in Powys. I recommend a visit.



Wash weeds away

Sir: You report that it is illegal to use a hosepipe to water a garden but legal to use it for, among other things, cleaning garden furniture, dustbins and bicycles (Report, 12 April). So if I distribute these items around the garden and give them a thorough hosing down, does that mean I'm in the clear?