The government of Colombia rejected a major tool in the American-backed antidrug campaign — ordering a halt to the aerial spraying of the country’s vast illegal plantings of coca, the crop used to make cocaine, citing concerns that the spray causes cancer. The decision ends a program that has continued for more than two decades, raising questions about the viability of long-accepted strategies in the war on drugs in the region.
For more than two decades crop dusters have buzzed the skies of Colombia showering bright green fields of coca with chemical defoliant as part of a US-funded effort to stem the country’s production of cocaine. Farmers across the country have long complained that indiscriminate spraying also destroys legal crops, and that the chemical used – glyphosate – has caused everything from skin rashes and respiratory problems to diarrhoea and miscarriages.
A new UN study showing a steep rise in the cultivation of the leaf used to make cocaine offers fresh support to Colombia’s recent decision to end the aerial spraying of drug crops with herbicides. Justice minister, Yesid Reyes, said the report showed that the aerial aspersion strategy was ineffective. After spraying 1.5m hectares in the past 12 years, the total reduction of coca crops was just 12,000 hectares, Reyes said. Paraphrasing Albert Einstein, he added: “Insanity is to continue doing the same thing and expect different results.”
A recent analysis on the relationship between local drug markets and violence and crime in Colombia illustrates the dynamics driving the domestic drug trade, and provides recommendations for comprehensive government interventions designed to result in long-lasting security improvements.