Friday, May 15, 2015

Colombia: No Spraying For You!

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced he was ending aerial spraying of coca. The New York Times interviewed Adam Isacson:

The decision ends a program that has continued for more than two decades, raising questions about the viability of long-accepted strategies in the war on drugs in the region. 
Colombia is one of the closest allies of the United States in Latin America and its most stalwart partner on antidrug policy, but the change of strategy has the potential to add a new element of tension to the relationship. 
Just last week, American officials warned that the amount of land used to grow coca in Colombia grew by 39 percent last year as aerial spraying to kill or stunt the crop, already a contentious issue here, declined. 
“The folks who run counternarcotics never want to give up any of their tools, and there are pockets of discontent inside the U.S. government with this decision,” said Adam Isacson, a senior associate of the Washington Office on Latin America, a research group.

This is a major shift, and the Obama administration should roll with it, which would actually improve U.S.-Colombian relations. Unfortunately, for right now the U.S. government's response is to deny there are any potential health problems when people are sprayed by glyphosate, and invoke the fear that the "drug war" will unravel if they don't get sprayed. What the Obama administration should be doing is acknowledging the legitimate concerns of Colombian farmers instead of arguing with them. It's just counterproductive.

One problem with aerial spraying was the tendency for it to be a high-profile solution that overshadowed the need for more permanent solutions, such as increasing the role of the Colombian state, which are much more difficult and much less sexy. Let's move our focus to more lasting (but more boring) solutions.


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