In the last week, a usually absent-from-the-news government agency has made headlines. The head of the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT per its Spanish acronym) resigned from his appointment citing health concerns. Víctor Manuel Toledo’s resignation, however, came three weeks after a leaked audio revealed his strong, and rather unfavorable, opinions about President López Obrador’s administration.
In the audio, Toledo discusses power struggles among cabinet members and the many contradictions that exist within the administration. He also identifies President’s Chief of Staff, Alfonso Romo, and the head of the Secretariat for Rural Development (SADER per its Spanish acronym), Víctor Villalobos as the main obstacles for advancing his agroecological farming efforts at SEMARNAT. Toledo also portrays Villalobos as someone who panders to agribusiness interests.
The now public rift between SEMARNAT and SADER is more than political gossip. Their differences on the use of glyphosate, an herbicide classified by the World Health Organization as a “probable carcinogen to humans” will have long-term impacts for Mexico, including the ways in which we think about violence and victims of violence.
Environmental groups have already requested President López Obrador end the use of glyphosate citing damages to crops, water, and natural resources but evidence from Colombia, where glyphosate has been extensively used to destroy coca crops, should serve as a lesson for Mexico where it continues to be used in agriculture.
A new report published by the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Public Health School of Universidad del Valle, that reviewed evidence from around the world, found glyphosate negatively impacts human reproductive health. Glyphosate impacts hormone levels on men and women, damages fertility, and increases the risk of miscarriages. Notably, the report will be part of Colombia’s Truth Commission showing the extensive and nefarious consequences of punitive drug policies.
As Mexico continues to make sense of atrocities committed under the guise of law and order we need to look south and learn that victims of the “war on drugs” are not just the murdered, the disappeared, and their families but men and women whose bodies can be permanently hurt by state actions.
Last week, Mexico took an important step in redressing victims by allowing the competence of the UN’s Committee against Enforced Disappearances to receive and consider cases of disappeared people and therefore acknowledging the state can also be a perpetrator of violence. This not only includes policemen unlawfully taking people from their homes but also ignoring robust evidence on the damage that glyphosate causes humans whether it is directed at licit or illicit crops.
* Cecilia Farfán Méndez is head of Security Research Programs at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). Twitter: @farfan_cc