Not All Drugs are Leaving The Country

Not All Drugs are Leaving The Country
Posted by FoM on February 20, 2000 at 07:26:53 PT
By Richard Chacón, Globe Staff
Source: Boston Globe
At Sigmund Freud Park on the National University campus, minds are often altered on heroin.In the dance clubs near the beaches of Cartagena, hips grind to a mix of ballenato music and Ecstasy pills.And inside the decrepit slums of Cartucho, in the heart of the capital, children in tattered clothes puff on cigarettes laced with a cocaine derivative called "basuco."
As Colombia struggles to end decades of battles against drug cartels and insurgents, it is confronting a new war within its own borders. Drug consumption is growing steadily, from modern apartment buildings to the most remote jungle hamlets, and the government now admits that something must be done about it.It is a relatively new phenomenon that both infuriates and embarrasses the country's leaders, who for years have blamed Colombia's drug problems on the overwhelming demand that comes from the United States and Europe.And while most of the cocaine and heroin grown and processed in this country remains destined for export overseas, officials here can no longer hide the growing demand at home."Drug consumption here is something we realize we have to address immediately," said Gabriel Merchan, director of Colombia's national office on drug policy. "It's another painful price that our society has to pay for narcotrafficking, but if we commit ourselves now we can stop it from growing further."Colombia is not alone among Latin American countries to face a new drug-consumption dilemma. Other countries that have become players in the region's booming narcotrafficking industry -- whether as producers or gateways into the United States -- have seen rising levels of drug abuse among their own citizens, most notably Mexico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.Although Merchan and other officials insist that the drug-abuse problem is only a fraction of that found in the United States and Europe, Colombia's war on drugs may prove to be trickier in a country where supplies are cheaper and more addictive because of their purity.A gram of 70-percent-pure heroin sells for as little as $10 at Freud Park. Ecstasy pills, a synthetic drug popular in the United States since the 1980s, can be had for $3 each. And a half-gram of basuco powder, a byproduct of cocaine processing that contains traces of gasoline, ether, and sulfuric acid, can be bought for just 50 cents."It has a bitter taste that at first makes your stomach ache and gives you diarrhea," said Jaime Carbajal, 33, a recovering basuco addict who now works for a drug treatment center in Bogota. "But your body adjusts quickly and it makes you feel calm, not strong, but not weak, either."Current drug-consumption statistics for Colombia are hard to find. Most officials rely on two government-funded studies -- one conducted in 1992, the other in 1996 -- to gauge the trends.Nearly 2 percent of Colombia's 35 million citizens said they took some illegal drug the previous year, according to the 1996 report, nearly double the rate in the first survey. Among respondents, marijuana had been consumed the most, followed by cocaine, basuco, and heroin.A 1999 government survey of children and young adults, released two weeks ago and using a different methodology, found that 5 percent of Colombian men and women between the ages of 10 and 24 are regular consumers. In the United States, that number is roughly 3 percent."This is the sad consequence of a country with a large narcotrafficking industry," said Klaus Nyholm, director of the United Nations Drug Control Program office in Colombia, which sponsors nearly two dozen drug-fighting programs.Surprisingly, Colombia's heaviest drug consumption is not in Bogota, a metropolis of 7 million people, or in the remote fields that process cocaine and heroin, but in the rolling hills that produce the country's other famous product: coffee.Along a miles-wide corridor on the western slopes of the Andes Mountains, cadres of field workers -- mostly men who spend months at a time moving from farm to farm -- smoke large quantities of marijuana. The demand for the plant in the region has created thriving drug markets in Pereira, Manizales, Armenia, and other towns along the coffee belt.Complicating Colombia's drug-use problem is its worsening economy. Once considered a model among Latin American countries for its steady prosperity and thriving middle class despite years of civil war, Colombia is now in the midst of one of its worst recessions in 70 years. A growing number of businesses and investors have taken their money out of the country mostly because of the escalating violence involving government troops, leftist guerrillas, and right-wing paramilitary groups."It's such a complicated situation that it's hard to know where to start," said one drug-treatment worker in Bogota who requested anonymity. "Do you stop the drug traffickers first, or the civil war, or create more jobs for people? There's only so much money that government can spend and people are losing patience." Forum:, Colombia Published: February 20, 2000 © Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company Related Article in Series:Target: Coca Articles:Boston Globe Series On War On Drugs Shows Futility Some, Aid To Columbia A Risky Maneuver for U.S. Aid to Colombia the New Drug Lords - Newsweek International
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on February 20, 2000 at 08:26:19 PT
POLL from Above Series - The Boston Globe
WHAT DO YOU THINK?  Should the U.S. be spending $1.6 billion over the next two years fighting drugs in Colombia?
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