Colombia started fumigating crops with glyphosate again, the government announced Wednesday, after the technique was suspended in 2015 over health and environmental concerns.
The fumigations began on Jan. 2, said Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas at a press conference, adding the fumigation of the controversial Monsanto-produced herbicide was focused in the northern province of Catatumbo and the southeastern provinces of Nariño and Putumayo. Unlike previous fumigation, which was aerial, the new coca erradication plan consists of manual, land-based spraying.
Launched in 1994, the spraying program was long treated as sacrosanct by Colombian officials, who gladly accepted billions of dollars in funding from Washington to fumigate farmland throughout the countryside, often spraying all crops, leaving campesinos with no livelihood.
But after the World Health Organization warned in March 2015 that glyphosate was "probably carcinogenic," Santos' Cabinet suspended the air fumigations. Colombia became the last country in the world to suspend aerial fumigations of glyphosate, after 15 years of use.
But right-wing sectors, which are also opposed to peace with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, have been pressuring the government to renew the practice since it was suspended.
Critics of aerial fumigation argue that Monsanto's product is not only dangerous to the health of residents, contaminating sources of water and neighboring crops, but also useless to limit the expansion of coca crops in the long term.
Colombia's Attorney General Nestor Humberto Martinez sparked a national controversy in September by urging the government to resume aerial fumigation of coca crops, arguing that the reemergence of illicit crops had doubled in the past four years.
But both the health and justice ministries rejected the measure at the time.
Justice Minister Jorge Londoño Ulloa told reporters that 2007 was the year with the largest amount of illicit coca crops, despite continuous aerial fumigations.
He also highlighted that it would be juridically impossible to implement the measure again, given that Colombia's constitutional court backed the government's decision in a historic ruling.
Moreover, the suspension of aerial fumigation was a central point of the peace negotiations between the FARC and the government, which also outlines crop susbstitution programs to help farmers move away from illicit crops to legal production.
Nevertheless, the Colombian government has resumed the fumigation, while the U.S. continues to apply pressure, being a strong supporter of aerial fumigation both for political and economic reasons.