Governors reject government plans to resume aerial fumigation of coca in Colombia

Coca field in Tambo, a municipality in Nariño. (Image: Kyle Johnson / International Crisis Group)

The governors of the provinces where most of Colombia’s coca is grown have rejected the national government’s intentions to resume the aerial fumigation of coca, the base ingredient for cocaine.

The new governors of Antioquia, Nariño, Cauca, Putumayo and Norte de Santander all have expressed their support to use rural development and voluntary crop substitution to curb cocaine production.

The administration of President Ivan Duque published a draft decree last month that would allow it to resume the aerial fumigation using the possibly carcinogenic chemical glyphosate.

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The governors’ opposition further complicates President Ivan Duque’s attempts to resume aerial fumigation that is advocated by the US government, but rejected by almost everyone else.

The governors want Duque to implement the 2016 peace deal with demobilized FARC guerrillas that includes a counter-narcotics strategy based on voluntary crop substitution and rural development.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, this strategy has proven to be more effective in other countries.

Colombia’s top coca producers

Source: UNODC

“We gain nothing with fumigation”

“The long-term solution is in the substitution of crops. We gain nothing with fumigation,” Antioquia governor Anibal Gaviria told Blu Radio on Wednesday.

“Crop substitution efforts must be strengthened. If people are not given a different alternative, many are likely to relapse,” Gaviria said.

Nariño governor Jhon Rojas said that the use of glyphosate has yet to produce a “substantial reduction” of coca and other illicit crops.

“We need to strengthen and focus our response on substitution and eradication,” Rojas echoed his counterpart from Antioquia.

In an interview with W Radio, Norte de Santander‘s governor Silvano Serrano said that “we want to encourage alternative crops, I think we have an opportunity to review the project on crop substitution.”

Cauca governor Elias Larrahondo told Semana that “the communities reject the use of glyphosate in Cauca,” which would make its use impossible as the government requires the consent of local communities to resume.

Ahead of his election in October, Putumayo governor Buanerges said that he would “ensure the national government complies with the 23,523 coca-growing families” taking part in the peace process’ counter-narcotics program.

Crop substitution and rural development most effective in counter-narcotics, UN tells Colombia

The failing crop substitution program

The voluntary crop substitution program supported by the UN is widely believed to be considerably effective, but is failing.

This is partly because of the growing industrialization of coca cultivation, but mainly because the government has refused to execute the program.

Two months after taking office in August 2018, the Duque administration refused to allow coca-growing families to sign up for the so-called PNIS program and, according to the Inspector General’s Office, has not formulated any strategies that would allow it to come to a good end.

The almost 100,000 PNIS farming families who were able to sign up have reported to be growing a little more than 60,000 hectares, almost one third of the 169,000 hectares estimated to be grown in Colombia in 2018.

Two thirds of the reported hectares have been voluntarily eradicated since May 2017, but only 40% of the families have received the assistance that would allow them to effectively substitute crops, according to the UN.

The Inspector General’s Office warned Congress in August that the government has no strategy that would allow the program to come to a good end for those who registered and much less to continue.

The governors are now adding strength to the political forces in Congress that want the government to comply with this part of the peace deal and formulate and finance strategies to combat the production of cocaine through rural development and crop substitution.

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