Colombian court thwarts plans to spray drug crops

A Colombian court has ruled that the government cannot conduct anti-drug fumigation without the consent of rural communities, in a blow to plans to resume an aerial assault on coca cultivation.

The Constitutional Court ruled in favor of rural, black and indigenous communities who sought judicial relief against government plans to renew spraying with the controversial glyphosate herbicide.

They claim the chemical causes disease, destroys traditional crops and pollutes the water. 

The court, in an order obtained Wednesday, ordered authorities to consult residents of areas to be sprayed and find agreement before doing so.

It set a deadline of one year for agreement to be reached, effectively stopping the practice from resuming on the watch of President Ivan Duque, who completes a four-year term in August with no option of re-election.

Colombia, the world’s largest producer of coca, the raw material used to make cocaine, stopped its anti-drug spraying in 2015 after the World Health Organization classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen.

A court then made the program’s resumption conditional on minimizing the impact of the herbicide, but even that has now been stalled.

Duque’s government links drug trafficking with a resurgence of violence following a 2016 peace accord with leftist rebels that officially ended decades of conflict. So it has been keen to resume spraying.

In 2020, Colombia had 143,000 hectares of coca, according to a UN report.  

Human Rights Watch welcomed the judges’ decision. 

“Spraying coca with glyphosate is an inefficient policy and a threat to basic human rights. It should never be carried out, much less without proper consultation with the affected communities,” HRW spokesman Juan Pappier said on Twitter.