Christopher Sabatini is a lecturer at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, executive director of Global Americans and senior fellow for Latin America at Chatham House in London. Victoria Gaytan is program manager at Global Americans.
Four years after Colombia suspended the controversial policy of aerial fumigation to kill coca plants, President Iván Duque is hoping to restart it. His government is making the case (with the not-so-subtle support of the U.S. government) against a backdrop of historically high levels of coca production and the hobbled 2016 peace plan, negotiated by his predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos, to end a 52-year civil war. And although on Thursday, the Constitutional Court decided to uphold its decision—dictated through sentence T-236, prohibiting the government of resuming aerial fumigation unless six specific protocols are met—the interpretation of the ruling leaves an open door for Duque to resume spraying.
Santos’s peace deal was intended to provide a legal route for farmers and former combatants to leave behind a life of narcotics production to engage in the legal economy, but so far it has failed. Without the resources and attention promised by the plan’s Comprehensive Rural Reform, even aerial fumigation won’t be enough to bring coca levels back down to the pre-Santos levels.
Providing legal options for Colombian farmers who cultivate coca — the base ingredient for cocaine — is essential. As of 2017, an estimated 200,000 families received a direct income from growing coca, according to Daniel Mauricio Rico Valencia, a former anti-narcotics policy adviser at Colombia’s ministry of defense. For these subsistence farmers, killing those crops from the air by spraying glyphosate, a concentrated form of the weedkiller Roundup used in the United States by weekend lawn warriors, will wipe out their main cash crop and often other legal crops due to the chemical’s dispersion through the winds.
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