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September 16, 2007

Coaine and FARC - Colombian Myths and legends


No matter what you´re opinion of the substance it has radically shaped the face of colombia more than any other product or person in the 20th century. The lives of millions, kidnappings and the militant struggle of FARC all are neatly entwined one way or another with Coke.

what I ´ve put down here is a very uninformed and researched opinion drawn from late night boozy discussions with expats and in terrible basic spanish with local people. Please feel free to correct me.

Can´'t Beat the Real Thing.

Cocaine as most people know of course has it´s roots in indiegnous S American coca cultivation. The leaf would be chewed with bits of charcoal to produce very mild euphoric effort which held off feelings of hunger, cold or tiredness. Leaf chewing never really took off with the spainards, but in the 1800s some clever fellow named Albert Nieman extracted pure Cocaine. Lots of people dabled with it namely Freud who highly propositioned it as a remedy against depression before noting it´s anesthetic qualities. Companies such as Coca Cola and Vin Mariani approiated it into beverage recipes.

As I´m told, most of the Coca in the first half of the 20th century was produced in Bolivia and Peru. The poorest farmers were often the ones found cultivating it. As demand rose in 60s/70s America, flow obviously gathered pace northward. Cocaine would pass through Colombia on its way through the Darien Gap or Coca leaves would be shipped northwards and processed, which is what was beginning to become more frequent at this time. Most of the Cocaine manufacture began to happen in Colombia with illegal drug laboratories run by "Cartels" competing with each other for a larger share of market space. Into the 80s and the war on drugs had begun and America had put great presure on the Colombian government to clamp down harder on drug trafficking.

Being a smart young head of a smaller cartel, a young Pablo Escobar offered up certain names and connections (national and international..îe Bolivia, Peru) for immunity. In one foul swoop he knocked Bolivia and Peru out of the picture and started his own means of mass coca production and gave several of his leading cocaine opponents to the authorities.

This was the beginning of real lawlessness in Colombia. Pablo grew very powerful, very quickly and Medellin (his city of residence) became the centre of Cocaine power. In order to keep tight reins on what was going on, he bought government officals in all departments and from all walks of life. He apparently had the entire medellin taxi fleet on his wage roll to inform about DEA agents arriving or what not. Colombian authorites were obviously none to pleased with Pablo´s rise in power so he raised a huge priavte army spawning the legacy of the para military today. He also put out a bounty on any police officer ($500) or army officer ($1000) killed purging the streets of them and pushing Colombian cities into outright lawlessness.

This lawlessness resulted in a rise in kidnappings and of course private security. This became a boon industry. There are even a number of bullet proof tailors in Bogota still in operation.

In order to keep up with the massive amounts of cocaine being pushed north, the Cartels needed more coca. Paramilitary armies began turning up at villagers, killing a few people (some horrid cases skinning them), confisacting their land and then forcing them to cultivate coca. Compounding these problems for the government was the ongoing "war" with FARC and a steady amount of corruption. Governments were bought with ease, but all good things like the 80s have to come to an end sometime.

Pablo was brought down and his cartel torn apart. Others stepped up to grab his market share, but the damage had been done. Nobody would ever quite equal his height of power or his excessive lifestyle. His palace can still be visited today and the vestiges of a zoo and numeorus pools etc lie now in plundered ruins. The days of the giant Cartels were almost over.

FARCn Hell

FARC came into being during the period known in Colombia as La Violencia. They propogated a marxist-socialist line and protected enclaves against the military dictaorship. They kept up their crusade for a Marxist government after the re-installation of a civilian government. Of course FARC were one of numerous revolutionary groups (albeit the biggest one) and alongside fighting much discussion was bantered about from the government about surrender of arms and the formation of a genuine poltical group.

FARC had a lot of intellectual support, such as leading academics like Gabriel Garcia Marquez who subsquently left Colombia as a reaction to it´s governments. They also were constantly trying to court international support as this whole guerilla thing of course is quite costly and they wanted their struggle to be recognised as a civil war, which would give them certain human rights in combat. Now, both the government (as a hang over from la violencia days) and FARC (I guess as a self justified counter) both commited some horrific crimes but a pòpular one on FARCs side became kidnapping. We'll come to that in a moment.

Another important guerilla were M19 (the movement of April 19) and the first to take the government up on their call to amensty and the formation of a soley poltical party. They prompty won a lot of support in the next election. Immediately prominent members and the elected candiates were gunned down by paramilitary ops and the other organisations like FARC became ultra wary of any government promises.In order to protect themselves from attacks on their bases they began to kidnap high level governmnt officials to be held as a security against further attacks. This also turned into a money making opportunity as the rich Colombian elite were viewed responsible for the government and little sympathy was held for them by the mostly peasantry FARC. Many Bogatanoes have a family member or a friend whose family member has been kidnapped or killed at some point. Both the government and FARC have since amassed a large contingency of hostages to be used as shields.

FARC is now primarily made of poor pesant folk who join for the economic security rather than the idealogical values FARC supposedly champions. With little opportunity employment opportunites in the FARC controlled areas, some villagers see it as the only alternative to abject poverty. I believe 40% is made up of women making it one the least gender biased organisations in the country. Like Escobar, FARC has obviously had to provide substantial infrastructure in the areas it controls or risk losing their support base.

In an effort to make amends with Farc and negoiate, the government promised to give FARC a huge chunk of land in exchange for some hostages. FARC was at this time experiencing great finacial difficulties and seeing as this was a prime coca growing land they thought, why not? If everybody else has a slice why not us? Non political kidnappings and bus roobberies dropped significantly as FARC used it´s cocaine to finance its operations.

Tourists were rarely kidnapped as this had detrimental effects on international sympathy for their cause. In 2003 some Israeli tourists were kidnapped andd I believe some possibly killed. this created such a huge international outcry that FARC backstepped and apologised, sorry to see it´s imaged tarnished so badly along with other recent human rights abuses.

After Pablo

The colombian government began investing in the police force rather than the army (as it had previously with it´s war with FARC) and the cities became safe again. With the decline of Drug Cartel Power a lot paramilitary were out of work. The paramilitary for a along time had probably committed the worst atrocities of all the armed groups and became an easy thug to hire when the government needed dirty work done. Paramilitary groups took over small sections of country and began to extort safety money and produce their own cocaine. The government would try to stop their swell in power by organising amensty for disbanding, but this had little effect as the leader would adhere to government demands , but sub-commanders finding them selves out of a job would ressurect the group under a different movement name. Many areas are now "secure" because of paramilitary activity and people/companies paying them protection money. Bus journeys (once notoriously unsafe in some parts) are a good example. Some areas of Colombia are caught in 3 way fighting between the government, paramilitaries and FARC.

Nowdays FARC controls the difficult to penetrate amazon basin and come pacific costal territory. The current president Uribe has made himself popular with stance of "getting tough" on FARC and FARC have been losing ground. However fighting has also increased with this policy and many of the poorest in the country get caught in the middle. Many of the leading intellectuals that supported FARC have disowned them saying the group has lost its principals.

By 99 coloumbia was of course the world leading producer of cocain accounting for 3 quarters of international production. The government is continually promising the US to get tougher and remedial effects such as scorch earthing have begun to generate outcry as this damages only poor coca farmers when the responsibility of curbing flow should lie with American consumers.

The question could be asked what do most Colombians think about Cocaine, and their answers are probably mixed. Most Colombians will never even touch cocaine. They may never even see it. The majority of the poor realise what detrimental effects its had on the country and how it has caused an incredible amount of fighting.. However this sort of opion caries weight depnding where you live. Despite beng at his height the 7th richest man in the world Pablo Escobar had a public to deal with since he had effectively got rid of the government in his home city of Medellin. To carry favour with locals he embarked on huge housing and infrastucture projects, particularly among the poor, and as a natural orator was well liked and lionised. Some people say that Colombia owes more to Cocaine than all other commodites combined.

Posted by alex at September 16, 2007 1:27 AM


waaaa this dumb!

Posted by: hi at October 18, 2007 10:34 PM

first of all gabriel marquez NEVER helped the FARC
get your facts straight and colombia isn't all about cocaine so stop saying it is

Posted by: madatu at October 30, 2007 10:26 AM

I'm agree colombia is more than just cocaine

is a beautiful place

Posted by: me at January 4, 2008 1:07 AM

this is stupid. why do u talk about colombia?colombia is beatiful.KEEP UR MOUTH SHUT!and MIND OF UR OWN BUSINESS!(and dont talk about other countries like MEXICO!mexico is pretty)

Posted by: francesca at April 29, 2008 3:38 AM

Hey please! dont talk about my country like that you hear me!NEVER you should go there and find out yourself! its a beautiful place

Posted by: kmi at April 30, 2008 7:31 AM


Posted by: kyler at May 1, 2008 1:57 AM


Posted by: kyler at May 1, 2008 1:57 AM


Posted by: aNdr3a at June 3, 2008 10:28 AM

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