Aerial Spraying Does Not Target the Narcotics Traffic, It Targets Its Victims

-It is an ineffective eradication measure which forces internal population displacement and looting of small peasant land holdings, aggravates social inequality and threatens Colombian’s health, environment, food safety and future trade potential.

Colombia is currently the only country in the world that applies chemical mixtures through aerial spraying in its attempts to eradicate crops which can be used for illicit purposes. Fumigation measures were first applied in Colombia in 1978 to eradicate an estimated 19,000 hectares of marihuana.[1] Coca growing in Colombia at the time was basically limited to indigenous communities. So, the government experimented on marihuana with Paraquat, whose aerial use has since been banned for safety reasons. In 1984, the Colombian government once again succumbed under US pressure and started fumigating with the highly dangerous chemical Garlon-4 and Glyphosate to eradicate what by then had expanded into 25, 000 hectares of coca.[2] In 1992, the government went on to fumigate (new to Colombia) poppy fields and for some years experimented with Gramaxone (Paraquat). By 1996, as reported by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), “Glyphosate has been applied to all three plants, and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) to opium poppy, both in the form of liquid sprays. For coca bush, tebuthiuron and hexazinone, which are granular and applied by aerial distribution, have been used, and for cannabis plant, the liquid spray 2 ,4 ,5 ,7 - tetrabromofluorescein, known as Eosine Yellowish although the latter can cause some browning of leaves of adjacent vegetation”.[3] For the past decade, Colombia and the US have been, apparently, spraying a chemical mixture of Roundup Ultra and 2 other adjuvants, which serve to modify and increase the potency of Monsanto’s Glyphosate. This mixture has been deemed by some experts to be 26 times more potent than the formula used for agricultural purposes.[4] There is really no way of knowing since the Colombian government has refused to reveal this significant fact, as in the case Ecuador vs. Colombia in the International Court of Justice.[5]

Whatever chemicals are being used, they are being sprayed from war planes and helicopters all over the Nation. In 2009, there were approximately 73,000 hectares of coca in Colombia. That year 104,771 hectares were fumigated and 43,690 hectares were manually (also with this unknown chemical mixture) “eradicated”. By December 2010, the figures for Colombian coca were 62,000 has. In 2011 another 100 thousand hectares of Colombia’s territory were fumigated and, to quote the UNODC: “The area under coca crop cultivation in Colombia rose 3 per cent in 2011 to 64,000 hectares (ha). Recent studies show that the coca leaf yield per hectare has decreased, probably because farmers are cutting back on fertilizers and agro-chemicals… and it is evident that aerial spraying is not the only factor involved in crop reduction.”[6]

Coca, poppy and marihuana do not just grow organically anywhere. They thrive and expand on agrochemicals. Thus, the expansion of illegal crops in Colombia might be due partly to the fact that the chemicals used by the state to try to eradicate these crops are basically the same agrochemicals used as fertilizers and herbicides by the small farmers whose impoverishment is such that they have to turn to coca planting, which can only average a risky monthly net income of US$294 per hectare while, also according to the UNODC, the average plot measures approximately 0.67 hectares. A cocalero family (4 members) lives on under USD$200/month and is persecuted as part of the narcotics traffic. As concerns the agro chemical business, the Colombian state not only does not control these agroprecursors, it provides incentives for them and, for all purposes, lets the herbicide market control itself.[7] Thus, considering that one and all, including antinarcotics agencies, recognize that the growing of illicit crops is a poverty-driven phenomenon whose productivity depends on the use of agro chemicals, Keith Salomon’s (Drug Abuse Commission –CICAD- researcher) proposal that Colombia could experiment with new agrochemicals, is highly questionable and casts doubts regarding the corporate and narcotics-driven interests that might lie behind aerial spraying in Colombia. [8] The recent contoversy on whether Colombia has or not the "right" to use the Chinese Glyphosate it has already purchased  regarding As is also in

The fact is that, after the 3 decades of counterproductive spilling of millions of gallons of diverse and experimental potent chemical mixtures on Colombia’s soil, waters, crops (both legal and illegal), and peoples, Colombia’s lack of empowerment to solve its internal affairs on its own is also affecting its neighbors. The coca not now grown in Colombia for narcotics has moved to Bolivia and Peru to satisfy market needs. The successive Colombian governments’ [1978-2012] persistence on this failed and hazardous measure and their inability to provide sustainable and financially-feasible long-lasting eradication alternatives for the estimated 100,000 campesino families involved, has been seen as a narcotics and not counternarcotics effort; as a means of diverting counter narcotics efforts towards targeting the victims and not the criminals themselves. Fumigation does not weaken the narcotics traffic. It displaces peasant populations and makes them more susceptible to being controlled by the armed groups that regulate the narcotics traffic. Furthermore, the frontier lands that are felled by displaced populations to plant coca are often later used to implant megaprojects while soils saturated with Glyphosate (both through planting and fumigation) destroy biodiversity and prepare the way for glyphosate-resistant GMOS. Colombian peasants and social organizations justifiably condemn the legitimacy of thus criminally persecuting coca growers.

Aerial spraying with potent chemical mixtures to forcefully eradicate coca, poppy, and marihuana is a war measure and as such violates IHL by targeting peasants who are in no way part of the hostilities. They are its first victims in a country whose social inequality is comparable to that of Haiti and Angola. Spraying people’s homes and lands has only served to aggravate this unfair distribution of the Nation’s wealth and to distort the drug issue. The intensive use of chemical precursors and the government’s own use and incentives for agrochemicals has possibly made Colombia one of countries with the most polluted agriculture in the world. Steps should be taken to start evaluating if this is true and, if so, to determine the necessary measures to reverse the damage. Continuing to fumigate, without carrying out the scientific studies —relevant to aerial spraying itself and not to drugs— with respect of the Precautionary Principle[9] and in accordance with the international Human Rights and Environmental treaties and Conventions to which Colombia is a party, violates international laws and principles and humanitarian values as well as Constitutional Court ruling No. C-176/94 which expresses Colombia’s reserve regarding the 1988 Vienna Convention.[10] The Santos government should willingly, or forcibly, declare a moratorium on aerial spraying and apply stricter controls over the agrochemical industry, the time of assessing and having the necessary drug-independent scientific knowledge[11] needed to devise fitting and effective strategies. in true accordance with the 1992 Río Declaration.[12]

Throughout these 34 years, aerial spraying has been applied and sanctioned by Administrative Regulations and environmental norms that are basically passed after the fact. This year, however, the Colombian government drafted a 2012 Drug Bill which proposes “legalizing” aerial spraying eradication.[13] The International Community out of respect for its norms and for the sake of the Colombian people and Colombia’s natural resources and biodiversity cannot allow this highly questionable measure to be put into law until this policy has been thoroughly, legally and scientifically proven to be completely safe and effective.

María Mercedes Moreno December 2012

[4] Nivia 2002: in Colombia, where a mixture of Roundup Ultra (containing POEA) plus the surfactant Cosmo-Flux 411F, with
 glyphosate concentrations 26 times higher than those normally recommended is being applied through aerial spraying—
[5] Colombia does not see it as necessary to provide any details on the chemical ingredients of the herbicides. However,
 Colombia can reassure the Court that its aerial fumigation meets the precautions required under the 1992 Rio Declaration on
 Environment and Development»
[7] Ministerio de Agricultura: Bases para el diseño de una política de precios de agroquímicos:
[8] “Should the glyphosate product require changing, Roundup Biactive may be considered. Should the adjuvant require
changing, then on the basis of this research, Silwet L-77 and Mixture B would be good candidates for further evaluation.”
[9] As stipulated in Colombia by Law 99 of 1993 which creates de Ministry of the Environment. However, mention of the need
for precaution was made in the first letter sent to the Government by the Natural Resources Institute (INDERENA) in 1978
 prior to the first aerial spraying campaign against marihuana.
[10] /
Colombia reserves the right to make an independent evaluation of the ecological impact of drug control policies, since those
 that have a negative impact on ecosystems contravene the Constitution”. 
[11] In 2009, the Inter American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) confirmed that the damages caused by the US
 Monsanto’s chemicals sprayed on 48 million Colombians are “negligible”
  US military and corporative interventions in Colombia make all drug related issues its sole jurisdiction, whereas, for years
 now, the European Union has recently made known its doubts regarding the impact of aerial spraying in Colombia and “the
 danger of a negative impact of the aerial spraying on past and future EU cooperation projects. The EU has recently, and once
 more, insisted on the need for truly independent monitoring of aerial spraying measures under UN and the Pan-American
 Health Organization’s supervision. Independent, as opposed to the CICAD’s peculiar non definition, would mean not guided by
 Colombia’s and the USA’s narcotics vested agrochemical interests and mimed biased moral views which condition the results
 of studies on the environmental and chemical impacts of fumigation to the problematic use of all drugs by an estimated 0.6
per cent of the world adult population.