Context: Research for Cocaine: An Unauthorised Biography
Location: Los Pozos, Colombia
Date: November 20th 2000
Interviewee: Simón Trinidad, FARC Spokesman
In this interview, ‘Simón Trinidad‘ (not his real name) discusses FARC’s role in cocaine production – and how the organisation taxes drug producers in its territory. There’s a lot of rhetorical posturing in here – but no matter what your view of FARC is, it’s hard not to agree with a lot of what he is saying. Personally, I liked Trinidad a great deal. He invited me to stay with him so he could give me a tour of FARC territory – specifically some of the cocaine and heroin laboratories in the area. Unfortunately, I had to leave for Peru two days later, so had to decline.
A couple of years later I caught up with him again – again at Los Pozos, just outside San Vincente in Caqueta. He looked a lot older, and more tired. Things were not, apparently, going well for FARC – it was the day before the collapse of the ceasefire. We shared a soft drink while I waited to interview one of his colleagues. Then we shook hands and he left, into the night.
18 months later Trinidad was arrested in Ecuador and extradited to the United States – the first really big FARC extradition case. He is currently serving a 60 year sentence at ADX Florence “Supermax” prison in Colorado.
Download: Download Interview (PDF)
This area here is called El Baton. We’ve always been here. This area, 42,000 square kilometres, is now the DMZ. It was requested by FARC’s leaders as an area in which we could conduct negotiations [with the government] and which the rest of the country could have access to. The area we’re in now used to be jungle but the people who moved here cut down all the trees and created these flatlands for their cattle. Because of the war on cocaine in Peru and Bolivia people started planting coca here, in the Amazon, in Caqueta and in Putumayo, further to the south.
What are your numbers here? How many men do you have?
The people who really know about this are the Secretariat but I can tell you that there are 60 guerrilla fronts spread out across 31 Departments of Colombia. The only Departments that don’t have any guerrillas are San Andres Island and Providence.
What is the relationship between cocaine production in Colombia and FARC?
Why did Colombia become a cocaine producing country? Special social conditions. At the end of the 1960s and throughout the 1970s the Americans essentially taught the farmers to plant marijuana, which was then taken to the US and sold there. The marijuana cultivation then declined because the US began producing marijuana itself. But the organisations here kept their contacts with the traffickers in the US. These criminal organisations then allowed planes full of paste – or cocaine itself – to land in Colombian territory. They would land here, refuel, then head on to the United States. Colombia became the bridge. But because of coca eradication in Peru and Bolivia, people started planting coca here in Colombia. Where there was no electricity, no government presence, it was easy to make clandestine landing strips and then, afterwards, to cultivate coca itself.
Who are the ones who cultivate coca? Campesinos. Why did they come here? They came here because of the government’s abandonment of their traditional crops – maize, yucca, coffee and beans. The government didn’t support them, so they came here. So at the end of the 70s and 80s a lot of people came here to plant coca because it was the only product that they could sell. The drug dealers came to their houses and picked it up. The demand for cocaine made it possible for Colombia to become a coca producing country.
There are intermediaries that buy the paste from the farmers and make it into cocaine and then take it to the US. Those are the drug dealers. Not the farmers. It is one thing to grow coca. It is quite another to make cocaine. Colombia has always grown coca – right back to the time of the pre-Columbian Indians – because they chew it. In the Amazon, in the south-west of Colombia, in the north, there are tribes that use coca and it’s part of their culture. But coca is not cocaine. So who makes the coca into cocaine? A global market, concentrated in the United States, Europe and in Asia. Who is distributing the cocaine in these places? Various organisations – not only Colombians. Italian mafia, Jewish, North Americans and so on. And where is this cocaine distributed? In colleges, universities, bars, discos, socials clubs. Who are the ones who consume it? Youths. Professionals. Yuppies. Sportsmen, artists and politicians. Drug dealing makes over $500 million per year. And the majority of the money circulates in the banks – 90% of which are American.
This business also favours the producers of the chemicals: Americans, Germans, French and English. So this business of coca – from coca to cocaine – the people who benefit most are the foreigners. The campesinos here live in poverty and abandonment. No electricity, no good drinking water, no education, no health benefits. They are not even allowed rights to their own land. And they are persecuted by the state, by the Colombian government. War is declared on them. Is this right?
But FARC is not entirely innocent here, is it? Don’t you tax coca and cocaine production?
We tax the industrialists of Colombia – bankers, businessmen. And in this group fall the drug traffickers. Yes, it’s true. We tax them. We tax the traffickers.