Cocaïne - Colombia

Cocaïne: a land worker from the Colombian Sierra Nevada explains it's fabrication in a parmilitary zone

Gaëlle Sévenier, Freelance Reporter - July 2004

. . .
Alfredo, farmer. Coca leaves macerated in gazoline
The Farm La Pampa, Sierra Nevada, Paramilitary zone

Understanding the white powder
Visiting a cocaine factory in the Sierra Nevada of Colombia

By Gaëlle Sévenier, free-lance reporter

The manufacture of cocaine is a process shrouded in mystery and secrecy for most Western travellers. Bombarded by Western movies and films, cocaine labs are thought to be guarded installations where mad drug lords, speaking in English like Tony Montoya, concoct their next two ton shipment of cocaine for 'los gringos en Miami'. In Colombia, however, a country renown for being the number one cocaine producer in the world, the real manufacturers, poor, rural farmers, have decided to open their doors to a limited amount of visitors to show them the process of making this cocaine. A live tour of a drug factory is definitely a once in a lifetime experience. It also helps to understand that Colombian farmers are also victims from the white powder.

During the 6 day trek to the Lost City of Colombia, a few hours away from Santa Marta on the Atlantic coast, it is now possible for backpackers to visit a small cocaine factory. Two farmers and their families have understood the interest of travellers, and for only a few dollars, show them the entire process of making the basic "cocaine paste" which will then be refined further in bigger factories to make the final powder.

During the second day of the trek to the ancient ruins, the hikers walk next to a series of little farms, with children playing in the back-yard and women washing clothes. If the coca plants weren't lining the trail everywhere, no one would ever imagine that this is one of the places where a key ingredient is produced in the international drug trade.

Alfredo is a 50 year old farmer living in the Sierra Nevada of Colombia. With his wife and four children, Alfredo works for the paramilitaries to grow coca leaves. In his back-yard, he installed a home made "cocaine factory", a series of dirty baskets where the coca leaves distil in gasoline, sulphuric acid, permanganate of potassium and other toxic ingredients.

Alfredo is amused by the interest of travellers in the cocaine production. While the interested hikers are watching him with their eyes wide open, he is pouring all the ingredients in the baskets, steering with a wooden stick. The chemical result appears so disgusting that one can not imagine putting this chemical potupurri up one's nose afterwards.

The farmer has a few big holes in his jeans. He explains that he accidentally dropped a little bit of the sulphuric acid on himself when he was adding it to the mixture. Mariela, his wife, wants him to delegate this work to someone younger, because he often gets sick from breathing the ingredients.

When asked if he has ever tried his home made product, Alfredo is horrified. "No way, this stuff is horrible." Alfredo is however very ashamed of himself to admit that "once, I tried to smoke marijuana in a joint... I didn't like it. I would never do it again!"

Alfredo wants to tell the world that he is sorry to participate in the cocaine business. "I hate doing this. Because of this product, there are many wars, many people are killed. I know the money is then used to buy weapons from the US or Europe. I don't understand why people abroad buy cocaine for such high prices. But my family and I don't really have any choice...."

The farmer wishes he could only cultivate cacao, rice or yucca. "But those products are all so cheap, it doesn't pay for clothing," he laments. "At least with the cocaine, we sell it for $1 per gram. Even if half of the money is used to buy the ingredients, it is a lot of money." When sold in Europe or in the United States, Cocaine costs from $50 to $100 per gram, and many ingredients have been added to it to increase the weight.


The FARC and the paramilitaries have been fighting for decades a civil war in Colombia, financed by kidnappings and drug trafficking. At the beginning, the war was ideological. The FARC was the socialist movement and the Paramilitaries the Extreme Right Wing armed force. Today, all they want is to make more profit from the drug trafficking, and to control as many zones as possible to grow more coca leaves.

The Indians and local farmers have no choice but to work for them in the different zones that belong to one or the other. It is a "catch 22" situation, because if they do not grow coca leaves for one group, they can be killed. However, if they do so and the zone is invaded by the other group, they can be killed as well for "being traitors." Many locals are murdered just for "the example." Others, as was the case with the Wayuu tribe, are eliminated to make sure that the drug traffickers have absolute control over the area. There is so much fear in certain parts of Colombia that it results in a massive internal and international displacement of the population.

Alfredo and his wife Mariela, filtration of the gazoline with water

sulphuric acid

Permanganate of potacium

Chau (cal)

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