Rights groups and politicians in Colombia have welcomed a decision by the country’s Constitutional Court, which ruled this week that the government failed to consult local communities over its plan to restart aerial fumigation of coca crops, Al Jazeera reported.
In a decision last Wednesday, the court said the government of President Ivan Duque could not at this stage move forward with plans to carry out aerial spraying with herbicide glyphosate. It said the government must first adequately consult with communities that could be affected.
Coca is the base ingredient of cocaine and is grown widely around Colombia, mostly by poor farmers who either have no other means of income or are forced into growing it by drug trafficking groups.
“The most significant thing about this [ruling] is that the court is protecting various rights that rural farmers, Indigenous and Black communities have,” Pedro Arenas, director of Viso Mutop, a think-tank that promotes drug policy reforms across Colombia, told Al Jazeera.
The national Constitutional Court decision follows on from a local court ruling in January 2021, after a group of indigenous and afro-descendant communities in the Nariño region filed a tutela in the Supreme Court of Pasto, to suspend the aerial spraying due to the unknown direct health and economic consequences on local communities. The Supreme Court of Pasto agreed with the tutela and suspended the Colombian government’s fumigation plan in the region.
The Colombian Government’s Environmental Management Plan (EMP) of the fumigation program identified a number of municipalities in December 2020, in which they were set to start the controversial aerial fumigation program using glyphosate-based herbicides to control coca crops.
For more than 20 years, the Colombian government utilized aerial fumigation of coca fields as a weapon against the country’s illegal cocaine trade. Colombia suspended this program in 2015 after experts found that glyphosate had damaging effects on both environmental and human health. However, in response to increased coca cultivation, the Colombian government had planned to reinstate the use of glyphosate this year, despite the known risks.
In September 2020, the global Center for Reproductive Rights and its local partners at the Cali, Colombia-based Universidad del Valle published a research report showing that the glyphosate-herbicides used in the fumigation program has negative effects on people’s reproductive health.
The scientific study, conducted by the Universidad de Valle and supported by the Center, is a systematic review of other animal, human and in-vitro studies, as well as insights from public health, medicine, and legal experts. The research concludes that there is “clear evidence of the negative effects of glyphosate on reproductive health,” including impacting hormone levels and reproductive tissue, as well as causing miscarriage.
The campaign against glyphosate fumigation in Colombia has also been marked by tragedy, as one of the leaders of the Afro-Colombian communities in northwestern Colombia, Patrocinio Bonilla a.k.a Patrón, was assassinated on August 11 2020, in a killing that was linked to his support for agroecology and his struggle against the aerial spraying in the region.