A seemingly small provision of the massive defense spending package currently being considered in Congress could have major implications for Latin America’s war on drugs — if it manages to remain part of the final bill.
A change under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2023, or NDAA, from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) would bar the Pentagon from funding, conducting or assisting air decontamination operations in Colombia, a practice the country has used to target the lucrative coca crops harvested to extract cocaine to produce.
Colombia suspended air decontamination operations that used the chemical glyphosate in 2015 after the World Health Organization produced studies linking it to cancer. But the Colombian government has at times tried to restart the practice in response to spikes in cocaine production — moves that have received support from the United States, one of the largest markets for illicit Colombian cocaine.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro, a leftist who took office this year, has done just that promised to maintain the current ban on aerial decontamination as part of a wider review of the country’s approach to illicit narcotics and cocaine in particular.
However, the amendment would effectively give the US blessing on Petro’s ban on aerial decontamination. The US is a staunch supporter – and funder – of Colombia’s aggressive war on drugs, not deeming glyphosate a carcinogen or as dangerous as the WHO and many European countries. The US has historically adhered to the safety of aerial fumigation programs, and former President Donald Trump urged Colombia resume work to curb cocaine production.
The amendment is one of two amendments related to Colombia that Ocasio-Cortez added to the house version of the NDAA; another would direct the State Department to prepare a report on the role of the United States in the brutal civil war that engulfed Colombia for more than 50 years as the government battled drug traffickers and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a communist rebel group.
The United States spent billions of dollars funding Colombia’s military and police during the conflict, and continued to support the government’s efforts even as U.S. officials feared the Colombian military was involved in extrajudicial killings and collaborated with right-wing paramilitaries, as The New York Times reported this year.
Both amendments were part of the defense authorization bill that passed the House in July. But neither is in the Senate’s version, and it’s unclear if they will survive negotiations between House and Senate leaders on the final text of the NDAA, which could eventually become law.
A coalition of progressive organizations this week urged lawmakers to keep the amendments in the final version of the bill, arguing in a letter that they would help “strengthen the United States’ partnership with Colombia by taking steps action to rectify harmful policies of the past”.
The aerial fumigation amendment would “support efforts by the Colombian government” to end the practice, while also “finally ending the era” of U.S. support for it, the groups said in the letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senator Jack Reed (D.R. .I. .) and Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash.) Reed and Smith are the chairmen of the Senate and House Armed Services committees, respectively.
Isabel Zuleta, an environmentalist who won this year’s Colombian senate election, also called on Congress to pass the amendments.
“Banning U.S. support for aerial decontamination and requiring the Pentagon to share information about human rights abuses during our armed conflict are critical parts of turning the page on the harmful policies of the past,” she said in a statement. text to UK Time News. “I hope that the leaders of Congress and the White House will ensure that these provisions are signed into law.”
Rural Colombians have said in the past that fumigation led to the pollution of local water resources and poor health outcomes in their communities. Detractors, including former Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, have also pointed to the increase in coca production to argue that the practice has been ineffective. Human rights groups have similarly pushed for economic aid and other programs to provide alternatives illegal coca cultivationrather than practices simply aimed at eradicating crops.
The other amendment, the groups argued, would help strengthen the truth and reconciliation commission set up after Colombian voters approved a 2016 peace deal between the government and FARC rebels.
The commission’s first report, released this year, criticism of the United States’ role in the conflictin which the US spent at least $12 billion on arming and training the military.
“The consequences of this concerted and largely US-led approach,” the document said, “caused a hardening of the conflict, of which the civilian population is the main victim.”
The report also documented rampant human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, kidnappings and disappearances, by both sides in the conflict. But scrutiny of the government’s actions, in particular, led former President Iván Duque and other conservative politicians to criticize the report and many of the proposed reforms in the police and military.
Petro has supported the commission and its report, and since taking office has tried to spark negotiations between the government and smaller rebel groups that neither participated in the peace process nor accepted the resulting 2016 deal.
The committee relied heavily on declassified documents from the United States, but the amendment calls for broader accountability of the US’s role in the conflict. It would direct the State Department to publicly document the U.S. government’s knowledge of the Colombian military’s involvement in extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, or other human rights violations, and to provide more information about U.S. military partnerships with Colombia during the conflict.
Including the amendment in the final defense package, the organizations said, would help Petro’s government and the truth commission.accountable for human rights violations committed during this period.”
The letter was written and signed by a coalition of progressive groups focused on foreign affairs and Latin America, including the Washington Office on Latin America, the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Oxfam, Just Foreign Policy and the Drug Policy Project of the Institute for Policy Studies.
The NDAA will likely get a vote this year, with Democrats pushing for it to be finalized and approved before the end of the current Congress.