Contested Natures: Coca, the War on Drugs, and a Political Ecology of Difference in the Colombian Afro-Pacific

Authors: Alexander Huezo*, Florida International University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Latin America, Rural Geography
Keywords: political ecology, colombia, coca, environmental justice
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Galvez, , Marriott, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

While there is growing consensus that the War on Drugs has failed to decrease drug consumption in the Global North, we know much less about how drug production has impacted struggles for socio-environmental justice in communities of the Global South. This is particularly true for the cultivation of coca leaf in Colombia, which is increasingly planted in isolated rural areas –such as national parks and lands titled to Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities— where coca is both difficult to detect and eradicate. It is also quite dangerous to eradicate coca manually, which is why aerial fumigation had been the favored strategy of U.S. and Colombian authorities conducting eradication efforts despite an ever-expanding chorus of critics denouncing the program as a violation of the human and socio-environmental rights of poor rural communities. This paper, which juxtaposes the perspectives of drug policy officials with those of Afro-Pacific communities in or near fumigated areas, is based on fieldwork conducted in the months leading up to the eventual suspension of the aerial eradication program in 2015. It explains how U.S. and Colombian counter-narcotics agencies promoted aerial eradication as a form of environmental conservation and how local Afro-descendant leaders operationalized 'a political ecology of difference' –a framework for the production of alternative forms of knowledge (Escobar 2008)— to contest coca-growing in their own communities as well as state-imposed aerial eradication.

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