Much of the world’s cocaine is produced in Colombia. In its jungle in the north, I had an opportunity to visit a working cocaine laboratory, and get an insight into production of cocaine, and to a larger degree, its trade.
Towards the end of my La Ciudad Perdida trek, the guide asked for 20,000 Colombian pesos from each of us who agreed to go on a side tour of a cocaine laboratory. The money would have been split between him and the man who runs the cocaine laboratory.
The cocaine lab man led us along a short trail through the jungle starting at the back of his house, which was just down below from our campsite.
The lab was nothing like I had imagined it to be. There was nothing high-tech or even hygienic about it. It was a rudimentary setup of an open space about the size of a volleyball court with a plastic cover over it. There were coca leaves drying on the cement floor section, and the other sections of bare muddy grounds were used for production and storage of gasoline and other chemicals.
The man demonstrated each step of cocaine production process. He didn’t mind us taking pictures of him or the facilities, but I disguised his face in my pictures just in case.
First, he added salt to coca leaves. They were then soaked in gasoline – a large quantity of gasoline is used for cocaine production. After the mixture was drained, more chemicals were used in subsequent steps. Finally, you ended up with filtered white cocaine base.
The man sold cocaine to paramilitary groups controlling the area for about 2,500,000 pesos/kg (USD 1,000-1,400/kg), then the paramilitary groups sold it on for about 30,000,000 pesos/kg (USD 12,000-17,000/kg) [to drug cartels, etc.].
The man acknowledged the dangers (and greater income) involved in cocaine production and dealing with the paramilitary groups, but he didn’t seem at all concerned about the end users or greater drug related issues. To a degree, in the circumstances he was in, he was just like any other farmer trying to make a living.
Related post: Pablo Escobar’s Grave, Medellín, Colombia