A court in southwest Colombia ordered the National Army to halt the forced eradication of illicit crops and prioritize crop substitution on Thursday after farmers from a war-torn area filed a lawsuit.
The ruling from the Cauca administrative tribunal is a major setback for the government of President Ivan Duque, who vowed to step up forced eradication to historic levels while neglecting to implement a 2016 peace deal with demobilized FARC guerrillas.
Farmers from the towns of Caloto, Cajibo and Piamonte sued the army for forcibly eradicating their coca, poppy and marijuana after they had expressed their interest to take part in the crop substitution program that is part of the peace deal.
According to the court, the army is not allowed to carry out any forced restitution operations in these areas unless crop substitution has failed.
If the army does carry out forced restitution operations, it will be in violation of the communities’ right to due process, according to the court.
While the ruling only applies to the three municipalities in Cauca, it could set a legal precedent as communities throughout Colombia have objected to the government’s counternarcotics policy.
Duque’s hard-line policy has been hampered by court decisions that forces the government to implement peace policies.
The president’s expressed intention to resume the aerial fumigation of coca, the base ingredient for cocaine, is on hold because the Constitutional Court also ordered to prioritize voluntary crop substitution.
If the national authorities appeal the Cauca verdict they could see the ban be applied nationally, which would leave Duque with no legal option but to implement the peace deal.