Possible resumption of fumigation programme fuels protests in Colombia

UNODC report claimed that Colombia is experiencing an annual increase of coca cultivation of 44%, in conjunction with a 52% of production of cocaine. Reportedly, this data have forced the Colombian government to take under serious consideration resuming glyphosate fumigation programme to eradicate coca crops. The programme was suspended in early May after the World Health Organisation labelled the pesticide as potentially carcinogenic to humans. In fact, experts declared that exposure to heavy quantities of glyphosate may provoke non-Hodgkin lymphomas, hemangiosarcomas, renal tubular carcinomas, skin tumors and pancreatic adenomas.

Following this rumour, the representative of the Association of Catatumbo Farmers, Olga Quintero, declared that the moment the fumigation resumes, the peasants and the farmers throughout the North of the Santander department will start striking and protesting. Despite the declaration of Juan Fernando Cristo, Minister of Internal Affairs, that the Government did not authorize the resumption of the fumigation, 1,200 riot police and 1,200 local officers were reportedly sent to Catatumbo region in preparation for a potential uprising from the local farmers and residents.

Nevertheless, it is important to highlight that, despite the ban of the Ministry of Health, communities living in the basin of the Naya River, in the department of Valle del Cauca, are reportedly still hit by continuous waves of glyphosate, sprinkled by the spray planes of the Colombian Drug Enforcement Police. Several regions of Putumayo department had the same experience on 19 and 20 July, when thousands of litres of glyphosate were reportedly sprayed on the crops located in the rural areas around San Miguel and Valle del Guamuez.

According to the leader of the Community Council of the Naya River Basin, Isabelino Valencia, the government is still realizing indiscriminate perfusion of glyphosate not only on the few coca crops present in the area, but also on the alternative crops of cocoa that the farmers have been cultivating to substitute illicit cultivations, thus heavily affecting the lives of the 20,600 people living in the basin of the river.

The Colombian government hangs in the balance about the decision of resuming the fumigation programme. The declaration of the WHO obliged the political establishment to suspend the programme and an increase of coca production had to be expected. Nonetheless, resuming the programme might not be the best solution, not only because of the possible protests and the negative impacts the fumigation can have on the population, but also because Colombia would be considered uncaring in the eyes of the international community. On the other hand, as the 2015 UNODC Word Drug Report recounts, local population should be financially and logistically supported to start alternative cultivations.