EL ESPECTADOR, March 29, 2021


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

In a letter they sent to the White House, 25 international and Colombian organizations asked the United States government not to finance aerial aspersion in Colombia. It would send campesinos from poverty to extreme poverty, they warned.

Once again the possibility that the Iván Duque administration will resume the fumigations with glyphosate to attack the coca plantings has caused voices to be raised in opposition to that, not just in Colombia, but also at the international level. This time, 25 organizations, both international and Colombian, sent a message directly to the White House in Washington, asking that President Biden not finance that program, as the United States has done in the past.

This new document, sent to the White House last Friday, March 26, emphasizes the living conditions of the families that grow coca in Colombia, of which there are between 119,000 and 215,000 in the whole country, to affirm that supporting fumigation, “sends a message of cruelty and lack of sensitivity. The United States ought not to be associated with that.”

“The majority of Colombians who produce the bushes of coca are not criminals connected to organized crime, nor members of illegal armed groups. They are families living on small parcels,” reads the document, signed by international organizations such as the Center for International Environmental Law; Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America; Drug Policy Alliance; Elementa DD.HH (Human Rights Element); Oxfam America, Institute for Policy Studies, Drug Policy Project; and Washington Office on Latin America.

According to the statistics furnished by the organizations in the letter, the homes that subsist on the coca earn around $1,000 per person per year, “which converts them into the worst-paid link in the cocaine supply chain.” Besides that, they tell President Biden, these are families that live in areas that don’t have paved roads, don’t have a national electric grid, don’t have potable water or titles to their property, and where they do their shopping with coca paste; they live in areas where, “there is very little evidence of the existence of the government of Colombia.”

“These people need to be governed and protected by their government. A plane that flies over them anonymously, spraying chemical products over populated areas, is exactly the opposite of that,” they maintain in the letter that is also signed by the Colombian organizations, Viso Mutop Corporation; the Center for the Study of Security and Drugs in the University of the Andes; the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement; ILEX Legal Action; and the Black Communities Process.

The letter also recalls that between 1994 and 2015, the United States supported the program that fumigated 1.8 million hectares of Colombian territory, “a land surface three and one-half times the size of the State of Delaware.”

In the document, the organizations reaffirm other arguments against aerial fumigation; arguments that have also been raised in other forums along with a spate of communications in recent weeks to the administrations of both Biden and Duque to oppose this method. Among those were seven United Nations human rights rapporteurs or the letter from 150 academics from different countries. For example, they argue that aerial fumigation could reduce the number of hectares where coca is planted, but that is limited to the short term, or that it has “enormous costs and terrible results”.

Among the consequences that this strategy will bring back, say the organizations, is the further weakening of governability in those regions, and worsening security; sending the families that subsist on coca planting from poverty to extreme poverty; a high probability that the coca will be replanted; and a wave of protests on a grand scale, recalling the coca planter mobilizations in 1996. “These days, those who plant coca are even better organized than they were 25 years ago,” the letter emphasizes.

But besides the arguments against aspersion, the organizations are forceful in their letter: “We know what has to be done.” According to the document, the campesinos that have title to their property, or who live close to paved roads, don’t raise coca. Therefore, they emphasize that the program of substitution of coca planting that was agreed on in Havana, and the Integrated Rural Reform in the same Agreement, are the road to follow for the long run.

In the letter, the organizations say that they have hope that the Biden administration will not support the fumigations. Since the President of the United States was inaugurated, there has been speculation about the position he would take on the war against drugs. Some have indicated that he might make a change, as some state governments have done, with a new focus on drug consumption as a public health issue, rather than a punitive focus. Nevertheless, others have recalled that the current President was one of the protagonists of Plan Colombia, which intensified the war on drug trafficking.

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