Colombia minister of justice asks US to shift from aerial drug fumigation efforts

Posted on Mar 19 2014 - 2:28pm by Rico
Coca fumigation

Colombia’s Ministry of Justice is hoping to use US aid previously directed to the aerial fumigation of coca and poppy fields toward alternative crop incentives and other preventative measures. 

Colombian Minister of Justice Alfonso Gomez has requested that his counterpart in the United States, Attorney General Eric Holder, divert funding in the countries’ joint efforts against the illicit drug trade toward less combative strategies.

According to a Ministry of Justice statement, Gomez would prefer that some of the substantial aid money Colombia receives from its northern ally be invested in programs that encourage farmers to grow other crops, rather than punish them for a predicament in many cases outside of their control.

“In the case of illicit crops there is a need to attack the causes, i.e. what makes a farmer engage in the growing of illicit crops; and if we direct some of our resources which are currently dedicated to aerial fumigation, we have resources to attack the causes,” said the minister.

Gomez is currently travelling across the United States and reportedly took the opportunity to discuss the matter with Holder and the United States Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield, who implements US international counter-narcotics policy. Gomez reportedly impressed the need to “look at the drug trade as an economic and social problem.”


MORE: Thousands protest aerial coca fumigation in west Colombia

Two areas he signaled could benefit from the reallocation would be “land redistribution” efforts and programs to incentivize the “cultivation of alternative crops.” A turn away from fumigation would also be of benefit to the regional environment, said Gomez.

MORE: US suspends support for anti-coca fumigation operations in Colombia after shooting of plane

For his own part, Holder has led a slow shift away from punitive sentencing in the United States’ own domestic drug policy. That, along with federal leniency regarding state-by-state movements to legalize or decriminalize marijuana, led Gomez, a longtime opponent of aggressive sentencing, to say that the United States is “in some way working in the same direction” as Colombia, which he said, “has never penalized such drug use.”

During the rest of his diplomatic trip, Gomez is scheduled to visit courts in Washington and New York and study “alternative treatment programs for drug addicts.” The minister pointed out that any dramatic change in Colombian drug policy is only in its “preliminary” stages, and the purpose of his visit is only to “see what might work” in Colombia.

Colombia, for example, will not take any steps to legalize drugs in the near future, according to the minister, a change Gomez believes “can only be resolved with a consensus within the international community.”

Following intense protests in Colombia’s coca-growing regions last years, however, there is more domestic momentum behind a move away from eradication and fumigation. Fumigation efforts were put on hold after the protests, which spurred violent crackdowns from national security forces, but recommenced in February in some parts of the country.

Aerial fumigation efforts began in earnest in 2000 with the signing of “Plan Colombia,” a massive aid package that has sent over $9 billion in US funding to the Colombian government over the course of the past 15 years, the vast majority of which has been designated for military or anti-narcotics spending. Aerial herbicide dusting has been one of the key components of the countries joint drug war, but has drawn harsh criticism from human rights groups and local populations.

The program has been shown to indiscriminately destroy legitimate farm land and contaminate water supplies and population centers. Fumigation efforts have taken place in 21 of Colombia’s 32 states, though as a policy, eradication fails to take into account that many of the country’s drug cultivators are either coerced into participating in the drug trade or have no viable economic alternative.

The Ministry of Justice was not available to comment on how much US aid the minister is asking be redistributed.

United States President Barack Obama’s recently released 2015 budget proposal did see a reduction in US aid directed to militant anti-narcotics efforts.


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