Plan Colombia: Aerial Spraying in Colombia

Plan Colombia: Aerial Spraying in Colombia

In 2000, the governments of Colombia and the United States launched Plan Colombia, a program designed to destroy coca and poppy crops cultivated to produce cocaine and heroin. The multimillion-dollar program involves the repeated spraying of highly concentrated glyphosate and other toxic chemicals from airplanes. Unfortunately, this toxic rain has for many years also fallen on people, animals, forests and water sources.

In May 2015, years of advocacy paid off when the Colombian Government ordered the suspension of aerial spraying with glyphosate.

Our Fight for Suspension

For more than 15 years, AIDA has closely followed the Program for the Eradication of Illicit Crops with Glyphosate. Alongside many organizations, institutions and individuals, we have criticized the program for not being effective—it has not reduced the quantity of coca and poppy crops—as well as for causing significant social, environmental and economic damage in Colombia.

As part of our efforts, we have informed authorities in Colombia and the United States of the potential social and ecological impacts of Plan Colombia. We have requested more rigorous environmental and health assessments on the program’s impacts. We advocated for the cessation of spraying in Colombia’s natural parks and on the Ecuadorian border, which was finally achieved. We have also documented alternative projects that are participative, environmentally sustainable and more effective at curbing production of illicit crops.

In 2014 and 2015, AIDA presented to Colombia’s Constitutional Court two technical reports about the environmental and public-health impacts of aerial spraying with glyphosate. We urged the court to take these impacts into account in final decisions on cases regarding spraying in Chocó and Putumayo.

In April 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization classified glyphosate as a substance probably carcinogenic to humans. On the basis of this decision, Colombia’s Ministry of Health recommended suspension of spraying operations to the Ministry of Justice.

In May 2015, AIDA and partners launched a citizens’ petition to urge the National Narcotics Council to suspend spraying operations. Posted on, the petition garnered more than 24,900 signatures of support. The Institute for Development and Peace Studies, the Observatory of Crops Declared Illicit, the Washington Office of Latin America, the Latin American Working Group, and other organizations helped to publicize the petition.

On May 14, 2015, the National Narcotics Council decided to suspend aerial spraying of glyphosate on crops considered illicit. The historic decision will become permanent if the National Environmental Licensing Agency revokes authorization of the spraying program. AIDA believes that the environmental permit should be revoked immediately because the program design specifically relies on glyphosate—and without it, the program loses its very reason to be. We will continue our advocacy until the program is ended for good.

An Alternative to Aerial Spraying

In parallel to aerial fumigation, Colombia in 2007 increased the manual eradication of coca and poppy crops. This method includes eradication teams, protected by security forces, who remove the plants by hand. Although this method can generate distrust in surrounding communities and expose the teams to violent attacks, it has proved more effective than aerial spraying and less damaging to the environment and human health.

For the benefits of this type of eradication to last, however, it is imperative that rural and ethnic communities develop an alternative and sustainable source of income. Without equitable development that protects the environment and the economy of Colombia’s rural areas, efforts to stop the cultivation of coca and poppy crops will eventually fail.

The governments of Colombia and the United States must learn from nearly two decades of failed aerial spraying. AIDA remains hopeful that the governments will work together with rural and ethnic communities to find solutions that truly protect human rights, safeguard and nurture the environment, and eliminate the poverty and inequality that lead to coca and poppy production. 

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