US/Colombian ‘War on Drugs’ Not Working

News from Colombia | on: Thursday, 6 March 2008

A new report on the US-sponsored anti-narcotics aerial fumigation program in Colombia describes the policy as a "failure" that has not diminished cocaine production. The report also mentions "the adverse effects on human health and the environment due to exposure to the spray chemicals".

Released at the end of February the report, from the Washington Office on Latin America, says that the "intensive aerial herbicide spraying of coca groups in Colombia has backfired badly, contributing to the spread of coca cultivation and cocaine production to new areas of the country".

Fumigation/aerial spraying has been a central part of the US 'War on Drugs' in Colombia for nearly a decade. The new report shows that after fumigation of more than 2 million acres of the Colombian countryside during that period, coca cultivation and cocaine output remain undiminished.

"Fumigation is part of the problem," says the report. "The aerial spray operations tend to reinforce rather than weaken Colombian farmers' reliance on coca growing, prompting more rather than less replanting, thereby contributing to coca's spread into new areas of the country."

Rather than continue on a counterproductive course, the report urges the U.S. and Colombian governments to refocus their drug control efforts on rural development, while targeting enforcement at drug traffickers and criminal organizations, not peasant farmers.

Among the report's details:

  • The number of hectares fumigated in Colombia climbed from 60,700 in 1999 to 172,000 in 2006. (One hectare is equal to 2.47 acres.)
  • In the same seven-year period, the area under coca cultivation in Colombia rose from 122,500 hectares to 157,200 hectares, according to U.S. government figures.
  • Cocaine production in Colombia rose from 617 metric tons in 2001 to 640 metric tons in 2005, according to UN figures, despite an increase in fumigation every year during that period.
  • The report, entitled "Chemical Reactions: Fumigation – Spreading Coca and Threatening Colombia's Ecological and Cultural Diversity" can be seen in full at

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