War on Drugs


America puts the nose we put the dead, says a graffiti in the Colombian capital Bogotá. That sums up the way many Colombians feel about the war on drugs that is also a war against the insurgency sponsored by Washington.

30 years ago the United states which is the biggest cocaine consumer has declared war on the use of illegal drugs at home and their supply from abroad especially Latin America and in particular Colombia that is the main cocaine producer. Today the United States is deeply involved in Colombia’s internal conflict spraying coca fields, training army battalions and according to Colombian journalists its troops are also directly involved in counter insurgency operations against the leftwing guerrilla Farc. And yet even tough the production of coca the plant from which cocaine is made according to a study that made headlines fell by 58% between 2000 and 2003 the flow of drugs reaching the United States is undiminished and cocaine is as cheap as ever. Something is very wrong and the reason for this seems elementary as long as there is a demand there will be a supply. Unlike several European countries, and Canada, that have recently shifted away from a penal approach to drugs, and towards one of decriminalization and harm reduction. Although none has contemplated legalizing cocaine, the use of which is soaring in Europe; the United States shows no sign of changing opinion on prohibition. The War on Drugs is likely to last for a long time with the biggest share of the price to be paid by Latin American emerging democracies.

These photographs are from the southern Colombian department of Putumayo that is said to be the largest source of coca leaves, making it the biggest single source of cocaine in the world and consequently the front line of the War on Drugs. The small town of Puerto Ospina on the river Putumayo bordering Ecuador was founded 70 years ago in a government settlement programme, poor people migrated here from all over the country in the hope of a better future. Today the town lives on its nerves from the coca economy. It’s farmers that are the weakest link in the drug industry have no other real alternative to the illegal crop.

The land is of poor soil and the legal crops that would grow like pineapple and platain can only be transported to market by river a means that is more expensive then the price the crops would fetch when sold. Coca provides a better return and it is picked up at the farmer’s doorstep. Except for the time when the Colombian Armada (marines) dock their 280 ton war ship bringing along the army that penetrates the surrounding jungle periodically raiding the coca plantations and labs, power lies in the hands of the left wing guerrillas FARC southern block that has about 3000 troops taxing the coca harvest its processing and shipping providing it with a ready source of revenue.

Browse photos