Colombia’s Congress on Thursday outlawed the use of glyphosate, a controversial pesticide used to eradicate coca, the plant used to make cocaine.
The National Narcotics Council (CNE) outlawed the aerial fumigation following a recent study published by the World Health Organization (WHO) showing that glyphosate holds dangerous quantities of carcinogens, and thus spraying it on a massive scale may put healthy people at a heightened risk of contracting cancer.
The push to outlaw the pesticide has been developing for some time, gathering support from throughout the Santos administration.
The recommendation from the Ministry of Health is based on a study that was released by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which categorized glyphosate as being “probably cancerous,” said the director of the Center of Studies on Security and Drugs (CESED) Daniel Mejia.
Experts from IARC have concluded that exposure to glyphosate has been associated with non-hodgkin lymphoma, hemangiosarcoma, renal tubular carcinoma, skin tumors, and pancreatic adenoma.
The legislation remains a controversial topic, however, as Prosecutor General Ordoñez Maldonado claimed the government did not sufficiently undergo the necessary legislative process.
“The government must tell the country honestly the purpose of this political decision, which meets a repeated request of the terrorist group FARC,” said Maldonado.
The guerilla group FARC has been in peace talks with the government since 2012 over an armed conflict that has lasted over 50 years and claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands. Most of the armed conflict, which has involved various paramilitary and guerrilla groups, has been funded by drugs.
“The consequence will be that the country will sink into a sea of coca and citizens will suffer the dire effects of the strengthening crime in cities and countrysides…the fight against illegal crops, regardless of the mechanism used, is a legal duty, not a political one,” warned Maldonado according to a report by Colombian newspaper Espectador.
Maldonado was the only one to vote against the Ministry of Health’s proposal to seek alternative means of destroying the crops, while the other six members of the council endorsed it. But Maldonado is not the only naysayer to the proposal.
The US’ stance
The United States reportedly opposes the decision to halt fumigations also, which may put strains on relations between the two nations, as the US has invested large quantities of financial and military aid to help combat the drug war in Colombia for several years.
American officials said the amount of land used to grow coca plants grew in Colombia by an estimated 39% last year, according to an annual survey from the New York Times. This comes in accordance with the decline of fumigations, as the possibility of outlawing glyphosate has been in discussions for some time now.
A large part of the fumigation is carried out by US contractors such as DynCorp, perhaps revealing a financial interest in the continued use of glyphosate in coca eradication.
The substance is also produced by Monsanto, the US agricultural biotechnology corporation known to have produced other controversial agrochemicals such as DDT, PCBs, and Agent Orange.
Some think this could lift tensions between the Colombian government and the FARC, while others firmly believe it will only afford dangerous access to funding, thus perpetuating more violence. Peace talks are expected to continue indefinitely in Havana, Cuba.