By Sinikka Tarvainen, dpa
HAVANA TIMES – Colombia’s Constitutional Court was on Wednesday debating whether to lift a judicial ban on the aerial spraying of illicit coca crops with glyphosate, a weedkiller that is suspected of causing cancer.
President Ivan Duque’s government has asked the court to lift the ban, arguing that glyphosate is a necessary tool in the fight against drug trafficking.
The government says glyphosate is the most efficient way to eradicate coca – the plant cocaine is made from – and that it saves lives, because it can replace manual uprooting done by soldiers who would risk stepping into mines planted by drug traffickers.
Decades of efforts and billions of dollars in US aid have failed to curb the drug trade in the world’s top cocaine-producing country, where the area under coca cultivation increased to a record 171,000 hectares in 2017, according to UN data.
The cocaine that area can manufacture is worth 2.7 billion dollars on the local market.
Colombia’s 2016 peace deal with the guerrilla movement FARC, which was heavily involved in the cocaine trade, established a strategy against drug trafficking that was mainly based on voluntary crop substitution by coca farmers who would receive financial aid.
But the aid has not reached many farmers, and Colombia has come under growing pressure from the United States, with President Donald Trump threatening to decertify the country as a partner in the war on drugs.
The previous government suspended spraying with glyphosate in 2015 after the Constitutional Court said it could carry health risks.
The court has set a series of conditions for the government to start using glyphosate again, such as providing scientific proof that it is not harmful and consultations with communities living in areas that would be fumigated.
Officials and farmers in the south-western department of Narino, which produces the most coca among Colombia’s 32 departments, told dpa glyphosate is not an effective means of reducing coca cultivation.
About 3.8 million litres of glyphosate were sprayed in Narino between
2005 and 2014, but the surface used for growing coca increased by
4,000 hectares during that time, Narino Governor Camilo Romero said in an interview.
Eradication with glyphosate costs 72 million pesos (23,000 dollars) per hectare, twice as much as voluntary crop substitution, he added.
“Fields in our village were sprayed with glyphosate nearly a decade ago,” said Yesenia Montano, a community leader in Chilvicito.
“Plantain, palm oil and cacao plants died. People started having skin rashes, and hens died for no clear reason. But coca plants survived.”
Austria this month became the first EU country to ban glyphosate, which has faced a flood of lawsuits in the US over allegations that it causes cancer.