Colombia Suspends Coca Spraying in Northwest Amid Protests

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Indigenous and Afro-Colombian protesters forced the authorities to suspend aerial fumigation of coca crops in north-west Colombia after large scale protests which blocked waterways and roads.

According to the NGO Inter-Ethnic Solidarity Forum of Choco (FisChoco), which supports the action, the protesters blocked river traffic on the San Juan, Condoto and Sipi rivers, among others in the region. Protests began Sunday when peasant farmers blocked roads linking the Choco province to the rest of Colombia.

The protesters complain that strong herbicides used to eradicate crops damage the health of local people, and hurt legal crops, kill domestic animals and taint water sources. “We are not against illicit crops being eradicated, but that they are doing it with glyphosate,” Ivonne Caicedo, a spokesperson for FisChoco, told press.

The local authorities have agreed to suspend aerial fumigation and instead carry out manual eradication of coca plants. This can be risky, as armed groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) often guard their coca fields with landmines.

Meanwhile, there are fears that demonstrations could escalate in the municipality of Taraza in the north-western department of Antioquia, also in opposition to government attempts to eradicate coca crops.Local government official Didier Upegui has raised concerns that demonstrators, who he claimed had been instigated by armed groups including the FARC, could attempt to block road access from the center of Colombia to the Atlantic coast.

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