TUMACO, Colombia — Under a canopy hiding his laboratorio from patrolling military aircraft, Ricardo shreds green coca leaves until they carpet the jungle floor like confetti. It’s an initial step in a process that will turn the leaves into a light paste called pastabase, which Ricardo will sell to narcotraffickers after they arrive at his farm and name their price. In turn they will use boats, mules, and even submarines to surreptitiously move 55-gallon drums of pastabase to refineries on the outskirts of the nearby port city of Tumaco.
There, it will be processed into cocaine.
This series and accompanying article by Christopher Crosby for VICE News, follows Colombia's coca farmers caught in the political crossfire of the country's historic peace process.
“What has actually been given to the farmer? The FARC may believe the Colombian government, but the farmer does not.”
"Ricardo — he asked that his real name not be used — has perfected his routine after more than a decade in the coca farming business. But today, like thousands of other Colombian cocaleros, or coca farmers, he is at a crossroads. The country is by far the world’s largest grower of coca, but the government plans to eliminate half of all coca crops this year, and farmers are being given a choice between a “garrote and carrot”: swap their illegal coca crop for bananas, plantains, and coffee, or face prosecution."
"Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has given farmers who voluntarily sign up a year to comply while the army simultaneously steps up forced eradication of large-scale farms.
Coca farmers remain skeptical the government will be able to hold their end of the bargain, and even amid the increased pressure from the government, farmers like Ricardo are hesitant to take the deal. Though he earns just $112 a month farming coca, which puts him well below the poverty line in Colombia, he says he’ll make half that growing other crops. As he watches his young daughter play in the coca leaves, he says his choice is between “poverty and prison.”
“For us, the crop is our form of life; it allows us to put food on our tables and meet our needs,” said Orlando Ibarra, the head of the local cooperative of coca farmers in the surrounding province of Nariño. “The cultivation of cocaine isn’t a great thing, it’s just a means of survival.”"
"Santos has pledged to destroy 100,000 hectares of coca this year through forced eradication of industrial plantations and voluntary substitution on smaller family farms, and Díaz is hoping lucrative government incentives will help make it happen. In exchange for cooperation, the government has pledged $10,000 to each family over a two-year period, plus technical assistance, a line of credit, protection from narcotraffickers, and badly needed rural infrastructure development to help get produce to markets. In addition to all of that, farmers who demonstrate coca has been removed from their land will be awarded legal rights to the property they tend."
"They will use boats, mules, and even submarines to surreptitiously move 55-gallon drums of pastabase to refineries on the outskirts of the nearby port city of Tumaco."