An ecological paradise: waterfalls of crystaline water. The sonnets of crickets. Palm buds you can pick off the trees and put right in your mouth. Look, over there, that toucan bird!—Its wings, such colors, emerald green, yellow like the summer sun.
But the pay here is all around the cocaine industry. Deforesting to plant. Picking the leaves. Washing them off and mixing them in chemicals, sulfuric or hydrochloric acid, alkaloids, kerosene, and finishing off with potassium permagranate or ammonia water.
Mother Nature weeps here: the pots used for the chemicals are washed in the river and they leave a phlegm that you want to scoop off.
About 80, maybe 90, families live here in thatched adobe houses. At first, you think how exotic are those huts they live in, with that beautiful deep red paint they extract from flowers. Up close, you see the malnutrition of the children, you hear talk of the mother who died in labor last night.
Mothers also have other reasons to weep: Their boys, some as young as eight, make a few pesos uncovering the landing strip for the one-engine planes that come to bring the chemicals and take back the cocaine powder, and this makes mamás weep because everyone knows this is the start of the chain … what will it lead the boys into? They’ve heard of mules, of addicts, of jobs that come with guns. For now, however, the anxiety is about papá, he’s had this cough, likely from inhaling chemicals in that small room all day.
Raise the hands up to the blue of the sky … This is the life we were born into.
Other planes, sometimes, appear for a sliver of a moment, they are a rarity though; they snap photographs; they fumigate the coca leaves, and then, the whole family weeps: the corn, the yucca and the banana plants also wilt and die.
So the coca boss tells the farmers to move the planting further into the jungle, into the thick of the trees, and into the hilly mountainous terrains, and to cloak the coca plants under yucca and banana leaves. To fool the man taking the photos from above, the boss says; the man who will return to the American Embassy, and from behind the gates, determine the “statistics.”
Extinguishing the purity of this place … because cocaine consumers in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere, where the white stuff goes hand-in-hand with what’s fashionable, with the Kate Moss, the Lindsay Lohan, the Hermes Birkin bag, bring in $3 to $5 billion a year into Colombia, maybe more, it’s hard to track.