Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Global and Sociocultural Studies

First Advisor's Name

Ulrich Oslender

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Roderick Neumann

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Third Advisor's Name

Juliet Erazo

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Ana María Bidegain

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member


Political Ecology, Critical Geopolitics, Territoriality, Drug Policy, Black Communities

Date of Defense



Until very recently, Colombia was the only country in the world that still permitted the eradication of illicit crops –primarily coca and to a lesser extent, opium poppies— through aerial fumigation. It was a controversial practice for a number of reasons, chiefly the damage caused to plants, animals, and people living in or near fumigated areas. A favored tactic in the U.S.-supported War on Drugs, aerial eradication actually contributed to the spread of illicit crops to increasingly remote areas of Colombia, such as the collectively titled lands of both indigenous and black communities. Concerns about the practice of aerial eradication, however, appeared completely disconnected from the positive framing of the policy and guidelines governing its implementation.

Employing mixed methods, both ethnographic and cartographic, this dissertation examines how these contradictory discourses —aerial eradication explained by officials involved in its operation versus described locally by people living in or near fumigated areas— materialized in 2015, the last year the aerial eradication program was in operation. This study engages critical social science theory to deconstruct dominant conceptualizations of territoriality, geopolitics and environmental conservation, while at the same time proposing alternative understandings of those concepts grounded in local experiences.

This research finds that aerial eradication authorities overstated the accuracy of aerial eradication operations by: 1) downplaying the incidence of pilots spraying legal crops, 2) invalidating local reports on the effects of aerial eradication, and 3) requiring technical evidence far beyond the means of poor rural Colombian farmers. Furthermore, in the specific context of the collectively titled black communities of the Pacific region, aerial eradication authorities did not respect the right to previous consultation per Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention 169.

This dissertation concludes that that aerial eradication —justified by notions of security and environmental conservation that had little to do with black communities of the Pacific region— operated as a means of displacement. This displacement was literal in the sense that aerial eradication made life difficult for people to live in affected communities and figurative because local knowledge was pushed aside in favor of the external interpretations of the effects of this counternarcotics policy.



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