Colombia was almost torn apart in the early 90’s with the rise of drug lords such as Pablo Escabar. The latter almost took over the city of Medellin by offering huge bounties for the life of any policeman. After some of the major cartels were successfully hounded to death, the export business fell into the hands of the guerillas in the jungle who quickly learnt the ropes.
Coca farming is a means of sustenance for thousands of peasant farmers but they see no real money from it. The fields are sprayed by government planes with US backing but make no sizeable difference to the amount of cocaine smuggled out each year.
Between Colombia and the US is a labyrinth of supply routes and corruption. Cocaine is smuggled by planes and boats between the Carribean islands in a long, twisting route to American ports. The vast majority is said to come through Mexico.
Cocaine itself is cheap in Colombia and is a common recreational drug among the young. The by-product,. Basuco, similar to crack is smoked amongst the city slums and induces highly violent, even psychotic behaiour.
Whilst no cocaine is actually grown in Brazil, cocaine passes freely down the Amazon from Colombia and, next to alcohol, is the preferred drug of the poor. As a consequence the drug cartels of the favelas grow rich from both the domestic market and exports. The huge profits have enabled the favelas to arm up and defend themselves against both the invasions of the military police and rival cartels.
Cocaine is a recreational drug typically taken by middle class professionals and the drug has something of a chic status. This has something to do with the price – at an average of $80 a gram it’s hardly an everyday taste for most.