Colombia’s Widespread 2021 Coca Eradication Plans Using Toxic Aerial Spraying

The South American country, Colombia, has announced its plans to repeat the previous year’s widespread coca eradication for 2021. With the use of a banned herbicide, glyphosate, manual eradication will be replaced with aerial spraying and will wipe out 321,237 acres or more of coca crops. Coca leaves are used to produce cocaine, an illicit drug that is widely grown and sold in the country. The shadow economy of the coca trade has caused consistent strife between the government, armed forces, and civilians for years.

According to Reuters, Colombia’s drug trafficking situation has led to more than 260,000 deaths, many of these incidents held between the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) and farmers. With the rapid expansion in coca cultivation, especially in recent years, the eradication events have been a priority of the national government. Glyphosate was first suspended from usage in 2015 by the World Health Organization. The chemical is known to cause extreme environmental harm and is a possible cancer risk factor. However, the Trump administration has urged the Colombian government to take part in aerial spraying methods for coca eradication. Also mentioned by Reuters, in 2020 alone, eradication numbers by the acre were 30 per cent higher than 2019’s.

Colombian President Duque’s bilateral meeting with Donald Trump, on March 2, 2020, came with strong pushes to initiate widespread coca eradication with the use of glyphosate. “You’re going to have to spray. If you don’t spray, you’re not going to get rid of them.”

Trump’s robust urges were followed by the South American country following through with these wishes. This year, the Colombian Defense Minister, Carlos Holmes Trujillo, spoke in Tumaco regarding the coca eradication, “…taking into account all the available tools. These 130,000 hectares eradicated translate into an affectation of about the U.S. $301 million to drug trafficking organisations if the average price of a hectare of coca is taken as a reference, [it] represents about 115,440 kilos of cocaine that were no longer produced.”

There is an urgent call for eliminating all of the coca crops present in the country, but these initiatives only skim the surface. In 2016, a peace agreement was formed between the Colombian government and the FARC, the former rebel group that advocated for social equality and contributed to the internal displacement of millions over nearly five decades. The agreement contains a chapter, termed “Solution to the Illicit Drugs Problem” with coca substitution guidelines, but the government has not completely adhered to the main goals this section lays out.

Farmers are given cash compensation and agency support if they agree to uproot their coca crops, however, civilians are given a 60-day time limit to dig up all of the plants, or else they are put at risk of being arrested. As coca crops are very difficult to uproot and a lack of community support exists outside of these procedures, these rules place more distance between leaders and Colombians.

Many people, especially those living in rural communities, many feel forced to join the coca industry in order to provide for their families. For the government to stop coca cultivation, to begin with, higher rank members must understand those stricken by poverty, the causes of economic disparities, and provide necessary programs to assist in manual eradication without implementing the listed penalties. Alongside this, fumigation has been proven to be ineffective in halting coca production, as farmers and workers often reallocate back into lands sprayed down to restart their coca production. The move towards chemical spraying will only serve to cause detrimental effects on the surrounding population’s health.

Apart from civilians, many Colombian social leaders have faced the consequences of the coca market. According to the non-governmental organization, the Institute of Studies for Development and Peace, there were 71 total leaders killed in the country during the first three months of 2020 due to the drug trafficking conflict. The Catatumbo Bari National Park, which harbors the large rainforest that contains the only Amazonian vegetation and animals north of the Andes, has experienced 6.2 per cent of tree coverage lost over the past two decades. 90 per cent of the lost land has been used to harvest coca, according to the news outlet, Mongabay. These statistics are concerning yet still do not fully represent the matter at hand, as they do not consider the additional effect of glyphosate spraying on the land.

As of now, the Colombian government works with the Constitutional Court to receive permission to undergo aerial spraying for this year. There continues to be a disregard for the historical 2016 peace agreement and its main points. In order to address the social issues affecting the country, leaders must walk hand-in-hand with the agreement’s goals and find ways to provide more support for low socioeconomic status individuals.