A new ruling by Colombia’s top court may open the way for a resumption of glyphosate spraying to wipe out coca crops, which was suspended in 2015 due to health concerns—in defiance of much pressure from Washington.
In the May 25 decision, a two-judge panel of the Constitutional Court did order that the suspension of the fumigation program be continued. But it also ordered the government to conduct a “prior consultation” with campesino communities to establish acceptable terms for spraying.
Ironically, the case was brought by the municipality of Nóvita, in the Pacific coastal region of Chocó, back before the program had been suspended. The Afro-Colombian peasants of Nóvita charged that the spraying was poisoning their lands and waters and demanded it be halted.
Perversely, the ruling could result in it being resumed after more than a year. It may be doubtful that the government can actually come to terms with the Nóvita residents, but the ruling could establish a precedent for elsewhere in the country.
Authorities in March announced a new plan for forced eradication of at least 50,000 hectares of coca across the country this year. Indicating the heavy hand Washington maintains in Colombian anti-drug efforts, the plan was jointly announced by Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas with U.S. assistant secretary of state for counter-narcotics William Brownfield and the U.S. ambassador in Bogotá, Kevin Whitaker.
This came just as the White House Drug Czar’s office finally confirmed figures that had been leaked to Colombia’s press weeks earlier, showing a massive increase in coca cultivation in the country. The record figure of 188,000 hectares under cultivation in 2016 is over twice that for 2013.
The new eradication plan is certain to be met with resistance.
Colombia has seen mounting peasant mobilizations against coca eradication in recent months, and this March saw the formation a new movement, the Mujeres Cocaleras del Sur de Colombia (Women Coca-Growers of the Colombian South). At their founding meeting in the jungle town of Puerto Asís, in the Putumayo region near the Ecuador border, the gathered women demanded that the government find alternatives to eradication, as demanded by terms of the new peace accords with the FARC rebels. The meeting was attended by cocalera leaders from the regions of Caquetá, Cauca, Meta and Nariño, as well as Putumayo.
But the Colombian military now claims that with the demobilizing of the FARC’s Southern Bloc in Putumayo, coca cultivation in the region has come under the control of “Bacrim” (criminal bands), the official euphemism for right-wing paramilitaries that have resisted demobilization.
And indeed these outlaw militias are fighting for control of coca zones across the country.
On May 10, new clashes were reported between the warring Bacrim factions Los Rastrojos and the Clan del Golfo, leaving at least five dead in the peasant community of San Faustino, in the Cúcuta municipality of the Norte de Santander region.
The recent moves toward peace in Colombia are certainly a sign of hope.
But there is plenty of potential for backsliding into the drug war dystopia that has meant generations of pain, bloodshed and ecological destruction in the Andean nation.