Unable to curb a boom in cocaine production by manually eradicating coca, Colombia’s Prosecutor General asked counter-narcotics authorities to return to the highly controversial aerial spraying of coca fields.
The proposal is a desperate attempt to combat the cultivation of coca, the plant used to make cocaine, which has gone up dramatically in the past three years.
Encouraged by the United States, Colombia used aerial fumigation against coca until last year the International Health Organization said the Monsanto-produced weedkiller glyphosate was possibly carcinogenic.
The aerial spraying of glysophate has been decreasingly used to eradicate coca since 2006 and was banned entirely last year after farmers for years had complained about health issues and said the weedkiller was killing all crops, not just coca.
However, manual eradication has also fallen out of grace because landmines laid to protect the fields were killing civilian eradicators. Additionally. coca farmers often confront the eradicators who are no members of the security forces but just people doing a job.
Consequently, the effective removal of coca has gone down while cultivation, spurred by Colombia’s failing rural economy, has gone up.
Coca in Colombia
Colombia’s authorities have increased manual eradication of coca with 70% in the first half of 2016 compared to that the year before, but are waiting to fully implement a new policy, crop substitution.
This method has proven largely successful in Peru, the world’s second largest coca producer.
It was also made a key counter-narcotics element in a chapter on “The Problem Of Illicit Drugs” that is part of a peace deal agreed with leftist FARC guerrillas, who control much of the territory where coca is grown.
In this agreement, the government vows to prioritize voluntary crops substitution for a period of two years and to focus police efforts on drug producers and traffickers, not coca farmers.
The military has stepped up efforts to target cocaine factories and arrest traffickers, but until peace with the FARC is signed, the implementation of crop substitution programs is just in its pilot phase.
Fortunately for Prosecutor General Nestor Humberto Martinez, the deal does not ban aerial fumigation entirely and the top official found an alternative to the controversial Monsanto chemical: Ammonium salt, or Glufosinate as it’s officially called.
This drug is far less controversial than glysophate, legal across the globe and a genetically modified version is produced by Monsanto.
However, also this chemical is not harmless to humans and animals if directly exposed.
Nevertheless, in his letter to the Justice Ministry that was obtained by newspaper El Tiempo, Martinez said that without extra intervention coca cultivation figures will grow further this year.
If so, this would mean that “Plan Colombia,” the $10 billion US-funded plan to reduce coca cultivation would have literally produced an opposite effect in the 15 years since its inception.