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EL ESPECTADOR

Euthanasia And Pesticide Bans Show A Changing Colombia

Colombia's health minister has opened up to euthanasia and imposed new bans on herbicides -- news in a conservative country, and one so close to the U.S. for so long.

Inside a Colombian hospital
Inside a Colombian hospital
Arlene B. Tickner

-OpEd-

BOGOTA — The increasing interdependence and connectedness of countries and societies, an expanded list of global concerns and the virtually instantaneous nature of communications are undermining the distinction between domestic politics and foreign policy.
All these, part of the reality of globalization, have in turn eroded the roles of foreign ministries as the sole mouthpieces or representatives of countries before the international community. Two recent developments in Colombia illustrate this perfectly. By deciding to facilitate euthanasia and also recommending an end to pesticide treatments on coca plantations, Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria has shown how "local" decision-taking can have a global reach. These decisions also show how important it is to include other governmental and non-governmental voices in Colombia in diplomacy debates.
Because the Colombia Parliament wouldn't legislate in this area, the ministry issued a decree to regulate the use of euthanasia by health policy administrators, many of them private. This comes 17 years after the Constitutional Court decriminalized euthanasia, saying a "dignified death" is a fundamental right. From abroad, this development has been perceived as a bold decision that places the country on a short list of those that have mechanisms defending the right of people to decide for themselves when to die, within a specific legal framework. They include the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Argentina and Canada, as well as the U.S. states of Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont.
The minister also recommended suspending the spraying of illegal coca plantations with glyphosate, an herbicide that has been a crucial ingredient in the war against drugs since the 1990s.

While the UN's cancer agency recently identified glyphosate as a probable cancer agent, other studies link this substance, sprayed extensively across Colombia, with skin conditions, breathing illnesses and miscarriages. Observers have increasingly questioned the efficacy of fumigation as an anti-drug strategy and commented on its negative impact on relations between coca-producing communities and the government, especially ahead of a possible end to the country's decades-long guerrilla wars.
As with euthanasia, there are significant implications abroad to ending spraying with glyphosate. If accepted, it would boost Colombia's already important contribution to regional and global debates on illegal drugs, as well as its autonomy vis-à-vis Washington. As expected, the United States has responded by saying it expects the country's sovereignty but disagrees with the health minister's recommendation.
In contrast with the (broadly accurate) perception of Colombia as a conservative, insular and "backward" country, the minister's bold departures offer us an interesting counter-narrative of a country that is more liberal and critical, increasingly in tune with global trends and willing to contribute to international debates.

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