By Adam Isacson / WOLA
On February 10, the Colombian government said it planned to eradicate 130,000 hectares of coca this year, using techniques that will possibly include the spraying of herbicides from aircraft.
There is currently a judicial ban against doing so, in place since 2015. However, with the U.S. government placing significant pressure on Colombia to reduce coca plantings, President Iván Duque’s administration is pushing to restart aerial sprayings. Before it can do so, the government has to meet various health and environmental conditions imposed by the Colombian Constitutional Court.
The Ministry of Justice has produced a draft decree, dated December 30, explaining how the government plans to meet those conditions and restart aerial herbicide fumigation.
The decree includes some important protections and procedures to avoid some of the excesses and errors that characterized aerial spray programs from 1994-2015. But even with the protections and mitigations outlined in the draft decree, aerial herbicide spraying is a counter-drug strategy that carries few benefits—none of them long-lasting—and several serious risks and harms.
When assessing the wisdom of restarting aerial spraying, it’s also paramount to consider how this policy will impact Colombia’s obligations under international human rights law. The pursuit of drug control objectives does not relieve governments of their fundamental obligations to protect and promote human rights, including people’s rights to live in dignity, to be free from hunger, and to enjoy an adequate standard of living.
For hundreds of thousands of farmers in Colombia and in other countries, cultivation of crops declared to be illicit—coca, poppies, and cannabis—represents a fundamental economic survival strategy. Forced crop eradication campaigns undertaken in the absence of viable alternative livelihoods violate growers’ human rights.
In this context, let’s review the potential resumption of aerial spraying according to six criteria: short-term effectiveness, long-term effectiveness, cost, risk of health or environmental damage, risk of social discord, and risk to eradicators or program participants.