Colombia: Duque insists on ending the Comprehensive National Program for the Replacement of Illicit Crops

The implementation of the PNIS (Integrated National Program for the Substitution of Illicitly Used Crops), laid out in point 4 of the Final Agreement, is facing serious difficulties under the Iván Duque administration.

One of the main reasons is that, although the Agreement prioritizes voluntary substitution agreements for illicit crops by stating that forced eradication activities can proceed after voluntary attempts, the current government has decided to prioritize forced eradication operations. This position has created a difficult humanitarian situation in several of the country’s territories, depriving peasant communities of their means of subsistence, causing forced displacement and the murder of peasants at the hands of public forces.

The Humanitarian Mission for Life and Peace in the Eastern Plains, a community initiative to highlight what is happening in the territories, denounces that the military carrying out forced eradication operations are also devastating the people’s subsistence crops, burning their homes, destroying water tanks and even threatening women with sexual violence. However, these human rights violations haven’t received as much media coverage as those occurring in confrontations between the military and communities protesting the forced eradication operations and promoting the creation of dialogue and consultation tables.

Forced eradication operations have involved multiple violations of International Humanitarian Law, including the destruction of property, sexual violence and attacks on civilians, causing the murder of peasants by the military due to the excessive use of force. In the face of peaceful protests by peasants, the military responded only with firearm attacks on unarmed people; the institution usually justifies the actions of the uniformed personnel by stating that the local population attacked them or that illegal armed groups were instigating violence in the community.

The government has been widely denounced for not guaranteeing the security and protection of the social leaders involved in the PNIS. Moreover, it continues to deny the deliberate murders as public officials claim that “illegal crop substitution leaders haven’t been assassinated.”1 It isn’t providing the required security measures to the communities implementing processes of voluntary illicit crops eradication, despite the threats they’re receiving from illegal armed groups opposing the eradication.

This is the case of the indigenous communities living in the Urada Jiguamiandó reserve in the department of Chocó. Paramilitary groups are pressuring these communities to stop their manual coca eradication operations. On July 19, thirteen armed men entered the reserve looking for the indigenous governors who are supporting the eradication of the coca leaf. They threatened to kill the indigenous community’s local governor and declared, “If you destroy the coca plants, we kill you.” The communities requested a meeting with the public force to activate the protection guarantees, but the military commanders didn’t answer the request and didn’t show up at the meeting. As of July 29, the town council hasn’t received any response from the authorities.

Reflecting Duque’s position, on July 17, the minister of Defense announced the resumption of land glyphosate spraying of illicit crops. In 2019, the Constitutional Court ordered the government to suspend glyphosate spraying until the requirements to prevent and minimize risks to the environment and human health are met. But the minister of Defense maintains that “the debate isn’t about glyphosate, but rather the fight against drug trafficking” and assures that he’s proceeding by obeying the Court’s parameters2.

Besides the security difficulties experienced in the implementation of the PNIS, the government is also unwilling to fund the program’s maintenance activities. According to implementation projections, by the end of 2019 the productive projects promised to the families that have agreed to replace the crops should be in place. However, to date only 0.88 per cent of these families have productive projects and there are no resources available for the remaining families.

According to PNIS figures, 2.3 billion pesos is needed nationwide to meet all the payments and productive projects needs. This represents 36 million pesos for each of the 99,097 families that signed an agreement with the Santos Government. The current Government maintains that the program is too costly. Therefore, it won’t sign any new replacement agreement and will comply only with families already linked to the program as long as resources are available. But Duque doesn’t intend to fund the program. The Territorial Renewal Agency asked the Ministry of Finance to allocate 2.1 billion by 2020, but only 1.3 billion were allocated.

The goal of Duque’s government is to eradicate the 130,000 hectares outside the PNIS implementation areas. This program covers only 50,000 of the country’s 154,000 hectares of coca. The so-called “Hecho a medida” program (Custom-made), one of the initiatives designed to meet this goal that doesn’t promote family production projects and reduces the financial aid provided by the State.

The Custom-made program aims to reach families not included in the PNIS and intend to voluntarily substitute the illicit crop. They will have access to productive projects supported by the national and local governments, unions and international cooperation. Under this model, the resources won’t come directly from the government, as planned in the PNIS. Nor will family projects benefit from it. Instead, the initiatives must involve larger communities that can obtain resources more easily and be more competitive in the market. With this, the government intends to encourage private investment, to the detriment of promoting the peasant, family and community economy.

1 El Espectador (January 24, 2020) “Líderes de sustitución de cultivos no han sido asesinados”: director del programa de sustitución. [“Crop substitution leaders haven’t been assassinated,” according to the director of the substitution program.]

2 Vanguardia (July 17, 2020) Policía iniciará aspersión terrestre con glifosato en el Catatumbo. [The Police will start land spraying of glyphosate in the Catatumbo]