Colombia’s Minister of Health on April 27, 2015 recommended that his nation’s counternarcotics agency immediately suspend the use of aerial spraying to eradicate coca, the plant used to make cocaine. This move followed the announcement in March that the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer had determined that glyphosate, the chemical herbicide used in the spraying, was a “probable carcinogen” for humans.i The Colombian government is currently considering this recommendation. In the meantime, Colombia’s National Police director called for spraying to avoid houses and food crops in response to the health minister’s recommendation.
We applaud the minister of health’s recommendation and urge the Colombian government to suspend the aerial spraying program intended to eradicate coca and poppy. For over fifteen years civil society organizations in the United States and Colombia have called for an end to this inhumane and environmentally damaging program. The chemical spray used in the program damages delicate ecosystems and destroys food crops. The chemicals are routinely sprayed on people’s houses, farm animals and water sources. The food security of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities and small-scale farmers has been affected, and the many health claims raised by people affected by fumigations have been ignored. By destroying drug crops without adequately helping farmers transition to food crops, aerial spraying causes displacement and environmental damage as people, and coca growing, move from one area to the next.
Despite the high human and environmental cost, for nearly a decade it has been apparent that spraying does not bring nationwide reductions in coca cultivation. Growers adapted to the spraying in numerous ways, and the U.S. government measured as much coca planted in Colombia in 2007 as it did in 2001. The reductions measured since then are the product of greater government presence on the ground in some traditional coca-growing zones. They took place during a period of steadily reduced spraying.
Moreover, the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas, currently negotiating a peace agreement to end over fifty years of conflict, have already agreed to a drug policy accord that limits aerial fumigation to a tool of last resort, emphasizing instead joint cooperation with rural farming communities to transition away from coca and poppy to food crops and other economic activities. Both the Colombian government, and the U.S. government which has provided material and political support for the aerial spraying program, should use this moment to begin adhering to this accord’s proposed reforms. It is long past time to move towards more humane and sustainable solutions.
Latin America Working Group (LAWG)
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA)
Oxfam Environmental Investigation Agency Center for International Policy (CIP)
Open Society Foundations Global Drug Policy Program and Latin America Program
Institute for Policy Studies, Drug Policy Project
Jesuit Conference, National Advocacy Office
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Drug Policy Alliance
Colombia Human Rights Committee
Witness for Peace
Mennonite Central Committee U.S., Washington Office
Yira Castro Legal Foundation
Colombian Platform for Human Rights,Democracy and Development
José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective
Congress of the People, Organizations and Processes
Intereclesiastical Commission of Justice and Peace Communities Constructing Peace in Territories (CONPAZ)
Censat Agua Viva of Colombia
Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination (CCEEU)
Institute of Studies for Development and Peace (INDEPAZ)
The Environment and Society Association (AAS)