Duque asks court to allow banned weedkiller on cocaine

Bogota (AFP) –


President Ivan Duque asked Colombia's constitutional court Thursday to modify a ban on aerial spraying of the herbicide glyphosate in order to tackle record cocaine crops.

"My respectful request is for the decision to be modified... a modification that takes into account the fact that the growth of these plantations is tremendously damaging to constitutional order, legal order, the environment and the protection of fundamental rights," Duque told magistrates.

In October 2015 Colombia became the last country in the world to outlaw aerial spraying of glyphosate, a controversial substance that some believe to be carcinogenic.

Last year, an American man successfully sued US agrochemical giant Monsanto for $78 million after claiming its Roundup herbicide caused his cancer.

In Colombia, farmers had complained their legitimate crops and the groundwater were damaged or contaminated by the aerial spraying of glyphosate.

Colombia had to compensate neighboring Ecuador in 2013 over aerial fumigation that allegedly destroyed crops, killed livestock and sickened rural farmers in border areas between the two countries.

Since 2015, Colombia, the only country in the world to use glyphosate in tackling drug plantations, has sprayed the herbicide either manually or by using drones.

"You cannot limit... the use of tools against this phenomenon, against this threat that could affect the State's ability to protect its territorial integrity and the rights of many Colombians," said Duque.

Colombia is under pressure from the United States to tackle its drug-trafficking problem.

It is the biggest producer of cocaine in the world, much of it destined for the lucrative US market, and its plantations have been on the rise.

According to United Nations figures, Colombia had 171,000 hectares (423,000 acres) of drug crops in 2017, compared to just 48,000 hectares in 2012.

"It would be a mistake to recommence aerial glyphosate spraying, not just for health and environmental reasons... but also because it's a strategy that has already proved inefficient and ineffective," said Duque's predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos.

He has called for the legalization of drugs as an alternative to the "failed war" on narcotics.

He says that would starve "the mafias of their enormous illicit profits" and make those available to states instead.

Duque, though, attributes the record levels of plantations to the suspension of aerial spraying.

Experts say the weakness of Colombia's peso against the dollar, with which cocaine is bought, and the drop in the price of gold have encouraged peasants to switch from illegal mining to the cultivation of coca crops.