Allure of cocaine stronger than fear of it on Pacific coast of Colombia

EFE

Everyone knows along Colombia's Pacific coast that cocaine brings violence to the door of your home, but the allure continues to be stronger for many farm hands who grow the coca leaf, the drug's raw material, and who either find no alternative for making a living or at least none so profitable.

"More than one farm worker fully knows the risks and damage the drug causes the country...they're aware of it but so what," Mario Tovar, community leader of Lopez de Micay, a municipality deep in jungle along the Pacific, told EFE.

Lopez de Micay, in Cauca province, is a municipality entangled in the same problems that afflict many other villages founded amid the dense tropical vegetation along the Pacific coast, to which access is almost impossible except by rivers that have become the locals' motorways.

Their isolation is magnified by the way the government totally ignores them, which added to the coca crops and illegal mining has made criminal gangs the lords and masters of the region.

All that in one of the rainiest places in the world.

"Where there's water there is life and fertile land," Tovar said.

For that reason he urges a plan of crop substitution with government support that would allow the introduction of plantain and peach palm...and no more coca plants.

But for that to happen, he said, they would need more government support and a highway built for taking the harvest to market "because shipping crops on the waterways is very expensive and means we can't be competitive on the market."

"As for the coca leaf, we've talked with the government about substituting it," Tovar said. "The community agrees it would submit to that, but only if they knew what the opportunities were before eradicating it," he said.

At present "farm workers have no alternative," he added, because that is a reality in the entire region.

The coca plant is very hardy and for that reason farm workers find it takes less work to grow than legal alternatives that are also less profitable.

As if that weren't good enough, the locals don't even have to deal with all the problems of taking their crops to market, since "the wholesalers," as the drug traffickers are called, go into the jungle to buy the coca leaf where it is grown.

"The coca leaf has made workers lazy," said a neighbor in a nearby town who preferred to remain anonymous.

In the opinion of Public Defender Carlos Negret, the solution to ending the problem of growing coca plants is for the government to provide guarantees for the sale of alternative crops in the same areas where they are grown, "just the way it is now with the coca leaf."

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