Colombia’s radical plan to conquer cocaine
Colombia is preparing for the worst: a military operation to eradicate drug crops. But there is no shortage of alternatives to crush this scourge of the region, as we explore how the country is responding to its drugs problem.
(Photo: AP/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)A child looks at a drug den during the eradications in a field in eastern Bogota, October 2006. Colombian authorities began a controversial eradication plan in mid-September to deal with a rise in cocaine production. The government’s plans could create a climate of fear, and could be a catalyst for the illegal trade to grow.
Tibco was at the peak of his drug-making powers in the late-1990s. At that time, he was supplying tons of cocaine to the Mexican cartels along Colombia’s Pacific Coast, and was living comfortably in luxury.
But in 1999, his fortunes changed.
A friend approached him with a plan to turn the country’s vast poppy fields into cash crops for his drug empire.
“I had a vision of a big cartel of traffickers,” he said. “One of those traffickers would have a poppy field. He would have an interest in it, and he would want to grow it.”
One field was all Tibco needed. The Colombian authorities had been in the know for at least a decade that Colombia’s growing poppy crops were a gateway to Mexican and American cocaine. They used the poppy fields to facilitate the transfer of cocaine to the US, which then moved it through the country to the streets of Miami, New York and Seattle.
It was a huge black market in which the Colombian drug cartels made millions of dollars from each kilogram of coca that was smuggled over the border.
The first major eradication plan was put in place in the early 1990s, when the Colombian prosecutor’s office declared poppy fields a crime scene. Soon dozens of prosecutors filed lawsuits demanding $400,000 a hectare for the fields.
“We used to say that if a farmer got three cents, we would destroy three fields that belonged to him,” Tibco recalled. “The traffickers took away the farmers’ fields because they needed money.”
The drug cartels, though, wanted more.