Bogota (CNN)Colombia wants to resume aerial spraying of a toxic chemical in remote rural areas to stop the growth of coca, the chief ingredient of cocaine -- despite stark health concerns.
Colombia wants to resume spraying a toxic chemical to fight cocaine. Critics say it's too risky
The spraying typically uses glyphosate, a chemical that the World Health Organization has linked to cancer and classified as "probably carcinogenic to humans." Colombia's government claims it can be done safely -- but critics argue it's dangerous and ineffective.
In 2015, then-president Juan Manuel Santos halted the practice but his successor President Ivan Duque -- with prodding from US President Donald Trump -- is now pushing for a hearing before Colombia's environmental licenses authority, in order to obtain permission to restart the controversial practice.
Duque's government says eradicating coca crops will limit trafficking and violence by drug gangs, which it has blamed for seven massacres in August that killed 36 people, including several children.
Cocaine production is currently around an all-time high in Colombia. According to the latest UN drug report, based on 2017 figures, Colombia produces around 70% of the world's cocaine, and while the crop size has declined slightly, the output is actually growing because of better productivity.
Cocaine "is the principal stream of revenues for the criminal groups that are behind these recent massacres," Colombia's Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said on August 24.
Suspending aerial fumigation had been a "serious mistake," he said.
Aerial fumigation allowed authorities to target illegal coca crops in hard-to-reach and often dangerous corners of Colombia.
The government has pledged that future aerial fumigations will not take place in protected areas and national parks, Rafael Guarin, President Duque's national security advisor, told CNN, and only function within the parameters set by the environmental license authority.