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Eduardo Cifuentes Munoz has written a letter to Colombia’s Minister of Justice and Law, Dr. Romulo Gonzalez Trujillo saying that the governmental policy of spraying illicit coca crops, which has been aided by the US “jeopardises fundamental rights – to life, integrity, health and food safety – as well as the collective right to enjoy a healthy environment and ecological equilibrium”. The months old campaign has met with numerous protests to date, including a Washington conference where experts warned that using glyphosate to spray hundreds of square kilometres of plantations would result in widespread harm to the environment and indigenous communities (see related storyCifuentes Munoz said in the letter that he has already asked the National Drugs Council to suspend the spraying saying that there was uncertainty over the effects of the herbicide on flora and fauna, human health and the water supply. The chemical giant ICI had now refused to supply products to the Colombian government and the Minister for the Environment and the US Embassy in Bogotá had ordered tests on the levels of glyphosate which can be safely used, he said. Both the US and Colombian governments were yet to report in their respective congresses about the spraying campaign. The so-called ‘Plan Colombia’ had aimed to eradicate 50% of the nation’s coca crop in six years, but had already destroyed 40% since 2000, without providing peasants with an alternative source of income, Cifuentes Munoz said.

Elsa Nivia, an agronomist from the international organisation Pesticide Action Network, who has been studying the campaign, went further in her criticism of Plan Colombia. “The widespread use of herbicides dropped from the air is causing serious health problems in humans and animals, contaminating the soil, the air, water and food, and destroying crops, livestock and fish, which form the basis for survival of the rural and indigenous populations, as well as attacking biodiversity. No pilot, however experienced, can avoid indiscriminate fumigation,” she said.

“The aerial fumigation of illicit crops by herbicides which is happening in Colombia has no seen no precedent in scientific literature,” Nivia said, calling for urgent end to a “degrading and failed policy”, and its replacement with a more sustainable solution.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Ecuador, Foreign Affairs Minister Heinz Moeller has asked Colombia to manually spray coca crops near the border following reports of Ecuadorians falling ill. Ecuadorian environmental group, Acción Ecológica, said that the Plan has led to 36 illnesses for more than 6,000 people, including indigenous communities, living along the Ecuador-Colombia border. Every one of the Ecuadorian residents living within five kilometres of the Colombian border presented symptoms of pesticide-related ailments, the group said.

However, Colombia’s Environment minister, Juan Myer, maintains that aerial fumigation of coca plantations causes “no real harm”

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