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News > Latin America

Colombia: Reinstates Roundup Fumigations, This Time By Drone

  • Raspachines, workers who collect coca leaves, harvest leaves at a small coca farm in Guayabero, Guaviare province, Colombia, May 23, 2016.

    Raspachines, workers who collect coca leaves, harvest leaves at a small coca farm in Guayabero, Guaviare province, Colombia, May 23, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

Published 26 June 2018

With pressure from the United States, Colombia will reinstate its practice of spraying glyphosate to eradicate coca crops. 

Colombia’s Minister of Defense says the country will reinstate the policy of eradicating its coca production with glyphosate, this time with the help of drones.

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Luis Carlos Villegas announced on Monday that the government will reinstate its practice of fumigating the illicit crops with glyphosate, an herbicide that Colombia’s Constitutional Court prohibited in 2015 arguing it threatens the health of local communities and the environment.

Villegas, trying to quell fears regarding the chemical’s negative health impacts, said that by using drones to disperse the Roundup creates “half the concentration of the poison that the planes had," saying that "the risks to people and the environment are quite mitigable."

In 2015 the U.N. cancer research center labeled the potent weed killer, devised by Monsanto, as a probable carcinogen.

Tractors will also be used to rid areas of the crop, said the defense minister.

Villegas added on Tuesday that the National Council of Narcotic Drugs still needs to authorize the drone use, but that 10 teams will start the practice by next Wednesday. 

Even though he hasn't taken office yet, Colombia’s president-elect Ivan Duque said Monday he welcomed U.S. President Donald Trump’s support for his planned "head-on fight against drug trafficking," and eradication of the leaf.  

James Carroll, acting director for the U.S. National Drug Control Policy said in a press statement Monday, "President (Donald) Trump’s message to Colombia is clear: it must reverse the record growth in cocaine production," adding that the country "must do more … to improve its eradication efforts."

The strong statements come just as the White House released a report showing that coca leaf cultivation grew by 11 percent over last year and is at an all-time high. Coca production has been on the rise since 2012.

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos said on Monday that "there is a smaller (coca production) increase than expected."

Referring to the 2016 accord he signed with the former FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) the head of state said, "The important thing is to have a strategy and for the first time you have something viable and effective to combat this scourge more effectively."

The Colombian president added, "For the first time we have a plan, a vision and we can be effective thanks to peace, and we have to be very honest: without that peace, a structural solution to illicit crops would not have been possible."

Santos went on to describe the fight against drugs, as a 'static bicycle', since "we fumigate one day and the next day he was back on his feet."

For decades small-scale farmers, particularly those located in Colombia's coastal regions where the state was largely absent, produced coca in order to make a living wage. Santos’ peace agreement with the FARC was supposed to provide coca farmers about US$400 a month for two years of coca-free farming followed by a one time $US3,000 lump sum to help them start a new crop or business, according to the L.A. Times.

However, his administration has hardly been able to keep up with the pledge. Neither has it been able to protect small coca farmers and activists who are being killed by paramilitaries hoping to grab their coca production and land.  

The president also pointed out that the problem of drugs is not only the responsibility of Colombia but that "consumers continue to consume and now legalize the consumption of many of the drugs," which is why it must be a global struggle "to combat that scourge".

According to the L.A. Times, the U.S. government has spent some US$10 billion in its Plan Colombia to counter coca and cocaine production and trafficking in the South American country since the year 2000. At the same time, U.S. consumers make up  92 percent of Colombia’s cocaine market.

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