President Juan Santos has rejected a suggestion by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that Colombia resume aerial spraying of herbicides to control the explosive increase of coca and poppies production.
Santos said that his country discontinued the practice in 2015 because it was killing legal crops and because of a bi-lateral agreement with Ecuador.
In a hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Spending Committee, Tillerson said he was alarmed by the increase in coca production since 2014. “The production now exceeds that of the days of Pablo Escobar and it continues to increase. I am urging in the strongest terms possible that the Colombian government resume its aerial spraying program.” He also said that he is concerned about a new Colombian crop, opium poppies.
The U.S. estimates that 188,000 hectares (465,000 acres) were in coca production in 2016, up from 120,000 in 2014.
Santos disagreed with Tillerson that the glyphosate herbicide, when sprayed from the air, does not harm the environment . “We have the experience of spraying and know that it affects more than just illegal crops,” he said. Santos acknowledged the increase in coca and poppy production but said his government is stepping up its manual eradication program.
Ecuador filed an international suit against Colombia in 2013 claiming that herbicidal spraying within 50 miles of the border caused damage to crops and human and animal health. When he took office, Santos agreed with Ecuador’s position and the spraying program ended.