Duque’s ‘chemical warfare’ against coca ‘fuel for more war’ in Colombia

President Ivan Duque

Colombia’s justice minister took another step towards the aerial spraying of coca, which scholars believe will condemn the country to a new cycle of extreme violence.

The decree that regulates the use of the herbicide glyphosate is far-right President Ivan Duque‘s latest push to resume the aerial spraying of coca.

Justice Minister Wilson Ruiz stressed that the decree does not allow the immediate resumption of the controversial counternarcotics strategy.

Instead, the government is trying to comply with a 2017 Constitutional Court ruling that allowed the resumption of aerial spraying using the poisonous chemical only as a last resort and under strict conditions.

Opponents fiercely oppose the resumption of aerial spraying as they fear that the government’s “stubborn” denial of of reality will quickly escalate armed conflict.

The decree is a defiant act of stubbornness that demonstrates that they are not interested in listening to the international community, nor to the academic community, and much less to the communities that would be affected by the spraying.

Counternarcotics expert Isabel Pereira

Duque and his ministers have been trying to blame “drug trafficking” for the violence in Colombia, contradicting evidence indicating that illegal armed groups are taking advantage of Duque’s misrule to take control over the countryside.

“Chemical warfare”

According to counternarcotics think tank Indepaz, Ruiz’s restrictions on the use of glyphosate are so vague they effectively constitute “chemical warfare” and allow the aerial spraying of pretty much anything.

It is very symptomatic that when indicating the areas excluded from aerial spraying operations with herbicides, neither the Forest Reserve Zones as a whole, nor the areas of subsistence crops, agricultural activity, homes, schools, etc., are included.

Think tank Indepaz

Duque is desperate, however, as his refusal to implement a peace deal and his pursuit of notoriously ineffective forced eradication have so far only strengthened illegal armed groups, including drug traffickers.

Potential cocaine production soared to a record high in 2019 and global cocaine seizures went through the roof in 2020, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The government is desperately downplaying a surge in massacres and political violence that is terrorizing the countryside.

This decision taken by the government is another ignition for war and not to the search for peace, and we are concerned that this could trigger complex situations in the region.

Coca growers federation COCCAM

Doubling down

Instead of implementing peace policies and resuming the crop substitution program agreed with farmers, the president has been trying to double down using aerial spraying.

Experts have repeatedly warned this will further escalate violence without this affecting the drug trade .

Doubling down on eradication and potentially aerial spraying could intensify violence by pushing farmers into the clutches of armed groups, without stopping the replanting of coca.

International Crisis Group

Whether the Constitutional Court will allow Duque’s strategy is entirely unknown, which could result in the president’s biggest humiliation since last year when press revealed Duque was elected with the help of a drug trafficking organization in 2018.

According to Indepeaz, Duque’s self-proclaimed counternarcotics strategy resembles “a territorial, populational and national security control strategy” rather than a “a policy to dismantles drug trafficking mafias” like the one that helped him become president.

The drug traffickers will find their business “only marginally affected” while Duque will only weaken himself even further, according to the Study Center for Security and Drugs of the Andes University.

The drug traffickers’ business is only marginally affected, but it generates major social impacts such as the displacement of vulnerable communities that are forced to resettle in new areas to replant in order to earn income for their families. This further intensifies the social conflict and tensions between communities and the State, weakening its image and legitimacy in the territories.

Study Center for Security and Drugs

“The government has been completely deaf to criticism,” according to counternarcotics expert Isabel Pereira.

Consequently, Duque is likely to further “weaken the legitimacy of the State” and increase “the violence and intensity of conflict, both on the short and the long term” according to Los Andes’ Study Center for Security and Drugs.

By the time this results in a significant increase in guerrilla attacks and the assassination of civilians, “Colombia’s worst-ever president” would long have left office.

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