Colombia’s Anti-Drug Spraying

Americas Now

For the past two decades, the US has funded anti-coca spraying in Colombia. It’s wiped out an estimated four million acres of coca crops  the raw material used in cocaine. But in neighboring Ecuador, there are some 15-thousand families living on the border. Many are peasant farmers who live off the land, and who say  that spray is killing them. After settling a lawsuit with Ecuador, Colombia has agreed to limit its spraying. But, is it a real solution? We take a look.

Colombia’s Anti-Drug Spraying

As Colombia fumigates its coca fields, the impact is felt across its border. But crops aren’t the only thing being harmed. Ecuadorian farmers tired of being collateral damage take their complaint to international courts. Michelle Begue explores the cross-border fight over the right to spray.

The numerous health and environmental risks of aerial crop fumigations have led nearly every country in the world to make the practice illegal. Every country in the world except Colombia, that is.  Colombia, a country infamous for its production and exportation of coca, has been using aerial fumigations as a way to decrease the size of dangerous and unlawful drug plantations. This has long been a point of contention for the country’s neighbor, Ecuador, with which Colombia shares over 600 kilometers of border. In September of 2013, after five years of battle in the International Court of Justice, Ecuador shocked its citizens by withdrawing their case and reaching an outside agreement with Colombia. Correspondent Michelle Begue ventures to the border of Colombia and Ecuador to take a look at those affected by this surprising turn.

The “amicable agreement” between the country leaders outlined a course of action that Colombia would take over the next several years to reduce the effects of chemical spraying on Ecuador. Colombia is required to invest $15 million in areas of Ecuador that have been affected by the fumigations, and is expected to reduce the area that they fumigate from 10 kilometers to two kilometers over the next two years. Additionally, whenever Colombia plans to spray within 10 kilometers of the border,  it must give border residents 10 days of warning.

But this agreement did little to appease the 3,000 Ecuadorean families who live in the affected areas, and originally came forward to their government with the complaint. Many have developed  health problems, such as eye and dermatological disease and there have been records of children born with physical deformities.  They have reported premature deaths and negative psychological effects. Additionally, formerly healthy crops  like papaya, pineapple, and coffee, that used to be typical in the area, are no longer able to grow.

The blame for these extreme circumstances is primarily placed on the tremendously high concentrations of glyphosate, the active ingredient in a commonly used herbicide, in Colombia’s fumigation materials. Standard herbicides recommend that any blend involving the chemical should contain water and maximum 1.6-6.6% of glyphosate. It has been reported that Colombia’s mixture contains up to 44% of the substance. Some experts even say the spraying of this substance is ineffective anyways, thus rendering all the damage caused by the chemicals pointless. But Colombia still stands by its decision, claiming it can attribute the drop in cocaine exportation from the country to the fumigations.

While a decision has clearly already been reached, the ongoing conversation around fumigations remains a battle of murky contradictions and unsatisfying evidence. For now, affected farmers and families must simply wait and see what will happen once the next round of aerial spraying begins.