EL ESPECTADOR, April 13, 2021

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

This Monday we learned of the Decree issued by the national government, with the signatures of 11 Ministers and President Iván Duque, marking one more step toward the reactivation of aspersion with glyphosate. In 2015, Minister Ruiz warned of the damage produced by the herbicide. Six years later, he signs that Decree.

As with any other human being, it’s normal and not erratic to change one’s opinion in the face of reality, but when it’s an official, the variance in his view on a subject is overlaid with political weight, since it will be examined and analyzed depending on which side he was on. And that is what’s happening to the Health Minister, Fernando Ruiz, on the posture that he had with regard to glyphosate in 2015, when he was Vice Minister of Health in the Santos administration, and the posture he has now, when he signed the Decree that gives the green light to aspersion on coca plantings with glyphosate.

Six years ago, in a program with the retired journalist Darío Arismendi, Ruiz noted the doubts about the use of the herbicide, and like the physician that he is, he pointed out the consequences that it would bring to the health of the people if they were exposed to it. His exact words were, “From the point of view of health, the probability that exists here is long term damage. The principal cancer that is attributed to glyphosate is Hodgkin’s lymphoma; it’s a type of cancer of the lymphatic system that can develop 15 or 20 years after the person is exposed.”

That, of course, he classified as a problem for the future. He pointed out that there would likely be lawsuits against the government for using a product that had been identified by international health authorities as probably carcinogenic. “This is a very important fact,” he stressed. His arguments against its use were not just formulated from his position as a physician, but rather looking at the relation of benefit to cost.

At that time, it’s understood that he represented the position of the Santos administration with relation to glyphosate. During that time, aspersion was suspended until it could be assured that the product would not affect the environment and the health of the people.

The Duque administration, since coming to power, has made clear that it wants to open the door to the use of the herbicide, as “one more tool” in the all-out battle against drug trafficking. Since Ruiz came to occupy the direction of the Health Ministry, he knew the posture of the administration he would be representing, because there had been numerous statements on glyphosate, not just from the President, but also from the Ministers of Defense and Justice. 

When he took on the Health portfolio in February 2020, the attention of the public and of the country was concentrated entirely on the pandemic, and Ruiz became the person mainly responsible for managing that as Health Minister and, especially as a physician with postgraduate studies in public health. Even though his work has been questioned and criticized by the opposition and other sectors, because of the delays in reaching agreements with the laboratories for the vaccines, with the arrival of the vaccines and the promises of vaccinations, the controversy now revolves around Ruiz because he signed a Decree calling for renewal of aspersion with glyphosate when, six years before, he had claimed that there was no reason to eradicate coca plantings with that method.

Politics are dynamic, some people say; however, in the framework of this contradiction between Ruiz, Santos’ Vice Minister, and Ruiz, Duque’s Minister, many doubts remain. In an interview with W Radio on Tuesday morning, the high official limited his response to saying that he could not state a position on the subject because he was waiting for a decision as to whether he had a conflict of interest and needed to recuse himself from acting on the issue.

“I can’t make a statement because a claim that I have a conflict of interest and am required to recuse myself has been filed with the Juridical Secretary in the President’s Office, and there has not yet been a decision on that by the Council of Ministers. Therefore, I am waiting for that decision before I will be able to make a statement on it,” he answered repeatedly to the repetitive questions about his current position on the use of glyphosate.

Even though he said that it was about conflict of interest, it can be understood, in context, that it’s about his functions as Vice Minister at that time, when the use of glyphosate for aerial eradication was suspended. His response, as well as the Decree itself, does not dispel the doubts, but instead, the doubts among the citizens are increasing. Why does the administration issue a Decree without having resolved the Health Minister’s conflict issue? Why did the Minister sign the Decree, giving it the support of his position as Health Minister, knowing that there was a pending request for his recusal? Why did the rest of the Cabinet, including the President, allow the Minister to sign something when it could later be decided that his recusal is required?

Even though the Minister has assured us on W Radio that the Decree does not mean that aspersion will be renewed, and that it will have to be approved by other entities, there is a risk for him and for his remaining as Minister because of the fact that he signed something when he had a conflict of interest or an eventual nullification of an administrative act, in case there is a ruling that his recusal was required. Time will tell.

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