Stephanie Hunt asks locals what they think of travelers who seek out cocaine.
First, some facts: Pablo Escobar was killed in 1993, and the other drug cartels were wrapped-up by police a few years later.
After plummeting from the highs of the late '90s, cocaine production in Colombia is on the rise again. In 2014, Colombia resumed the title of the world’s largest producer of the drug. The Andean triumvirate of Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia produce almost ALL of the world’s cocaine.
Since the early 2000s, the rebel group FARC have controlled cocaine production in Colombia. In November 2016, they signed a peace deal with the government, and plan to lay down their arms and walk out of the jungle over the next couple of years.
It’s feared a number of other criminal gangs will step into the cocaine production void, a kind of Balkanisation of production, which could spark a new round of violence.
Violence is the number one reason you should not buy cocaine in Colombia.
In January 2010, Gustavo Siva Cano, writing for Colombia Reports, estimated the drug war was responsible for 450,000 homicides.
Then there’s the social impact; between 2.5 and 4 million people left their homes in search of safety.
And also, the environmental impact. Cano wrote:
“For every cultivated hectare (2.5 acres) of coca, around three hectares of forest are destroyed – and last year alone (1999) the UN found 81,000 hectares of coca inside the country. It will take time for Colombians to realize the depth of the environmental impact that drug production has had on their country.”
Cano estimated the cost to the economy at $9billion a year. That’s money that could be better spent on health, education, and infrastructure.
Although cocaine is available in Colombia for a fraction of the price you'd pay in the west, you never know exactly what it contains.
An Australian traveler on a “special tour” told the ABC in December 2015:
"I can't believe I am actually snorting it after seeing it made; cement, gasoline, battery acid, bicarbonate soda, dried paint, potassium and sulphur all went into it."
So, more than 20 years after Pablo Escobar was gunned down on a rooftop, Colombia is still reeling. The environment is permanently damaged, and so are the people. Don’t forget the vast majority of Colombians were against the drug trade, the corruption, and bloodshed. Almost everyone in Colombia has a family member or a friend who was killed in the drug war, or knows someone who has.
Every Colombian is working to pay off the debt, trying to recoup lost opportunity because of how much government money diverted to law enforcement, and away from making their life better.
They haven’t forgiven Pablo Escobar for what he did. Nor have they forgotten the hundreds of thousands of end-users in the US and around the world who created the market for cocaine.
And here you are, in your gringo board shorts and sandals, asking them if you can get some more.
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