Colombian President Iván Duque spoke twice yesterday at events relevant to U.S.-Colombian relations. At both, he referred to aerial eradication of coca with the herbicide glyphosate, a program that the United States supported between the early 1990s and 2015, when Duque’s predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos, suspended the program out of concern for public health.
I say Duque “referred to” fumigation, because he managed to talk about it without using the words “aerial,” “spray,” “herbicide,” or “glyphosate,” much less “fumigation.” Instead, he used oblique references:
At a seminar about “urban terrorism” organized in Bogotá by the U.S. National Defense University’s Perry Center:
With regard to drug trafficking, we have to continue reducing the area planted with illicit crops, and we have to do it by combining all the tools.
One, manual eradication, for which our country reached the highest figure last year.
Two, alternative development and substitution, but also appealing to the precision mechanisms required in the complex areas of our territory.
At the swearing-in of Colombia’s next ambassador to the United States, former ambassador and former defense minister Juan Carlos Pinzón:
We all know that after you left the Ministry of Defense around 2014-2015 one of the effective methods of fighting illicit crops was suspended. We then saw an exponential jump.
From the beginning of Plan Colombia, when we had 188,000 hectares, until 2014, when we were below 50,000 hectares of coca, the world could see the comprehensive combination of policies. Unfortunately, when that comprehensiveness was fractured and one of the most effective mechanisms was rejected, we saw an exponential jump.
Weird that Duque not only uses such indirect language, but also doesn’t say “we’re going to restart the spray program.” Perhaps drug-policy expert Daniel Rico, who favors fumigation, was correct when he told El Tiempo’s María Isabel Rueda that Duque, with just over a year left in his presidency, has run out of time:
The political, budgetary and technical fight was lost. The President did not realize that within the government itself they were carrying out a turtle operation [deliberate slowdown], and that was what ended the opportunity he had to incorporate aerial spraying.
Q: Who was carrying out the turtle operation?
The National Health Institute, mainly; that is why there will be no aerial spraying in this government. Not as a consequence of a legal problem, because there was always a legal green light to spray, but because there was no leadership to articulate different positions, budgets and interests.
The President was very poorly surrounded on this issue; on the one hand, there was the inexperience of his vice-ministers and, on the other hand, there were obstacles to its implementation.