Fumigation and Conflict in Colombia

In the Heat of the Debate
20 September 2001
Policy briefing

The second issue of our series is dedicated to the controversial topic of Colombia’s aerial fumigation of coca and opium poppy fields.

Colombia began an intensive campaign of massive aerial spraying in December 2000, under the aegis of Plan Colombia. The programme has set in motion strong opposition by the peasant communities involved and national and international civil society organisations. The number of voices speaking out against using chemical herbicides to eradicate illicit coca and opium poppy crops has grown spectacularly this year, fostering an even broader debate about this Latin American country’s entire drug policy.

Right now, the debate focuses on the consequences of fumigation for health and the environment. The various positions taken range from questioning the technical aspects of how fumigations are being handled, to the frontal rejection of aerial spraying combined with alternatives such as decriminalising small peasants and undertaking manual eradication procedures in a gradual, negotiated and voluntary manner.

Colombia has enjoyed little autonomy with respect to the management of illicit crops, as a strong link exists between aerial spraying and the war dynamics. A decision to suspend fumigation, therefore, is not likely to be based on technical arguments but depends largely on policy considerations with respect to the course the armed conflict is taking. On the other hand, escalation of the conflict will not be avoided simply by suspending aerial spraying. It will also depend on other factors involved in the crisis that Colombia’s peace process is reaching.

The peace talks, though tenuous, still form part of Colombia’s present panorama. The direction that these conversations take will be of paramount importance for the immediate future. Either the efforts to find a political solution to the conflict can be continued or a generalized intensification of war will occur. The search for peace and the need to re-evaluate current antidrugs policies have thus become inseparable.

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