WITH the rescue of Ingrid Betancourt it looks like one of the world's most powerful drugs cartels, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), is falling apart.
On 14 May the biggest drugs traffickers in the country (from the right-wing paramilitaries, the Farc's sworn enemies), were extradited to the United States. So is the drugs war finally being won, and the fuel that feeds the 44-year civil conflict drying up?
Far, far from it. The United Nations has just released its annual drug survey, showing that drug crops in Colombia – specifically coca, the raw material for cocaine – have seen a 27 per cent increase.
So there are more drugs than ever leaving Colombian shores, with the most conservative estimate put at 600 tonnes per year, and the real figure more likely inching up towards 1,000 tonnes per year.
So if the Farc are on the ropes, the right-wing paramilitaries now officially disbanded and the biggest civilian cartel (called the Norte Del Valle cartel) has been smashed, then who is handling all this coke and earning the billions of pounds that cocaine sales produce around the world?
The answer to that is everybody and nobody. The "everybody" are individual guerrilla commanders who have set up their own drug empires, new organised crime gangs that, super-heavily-armed, have taken over where the paramilitaries left off and the underlings of the Norte Del Valle cartel who have seamlessly continued running the drug routes their bosses set up. The "nobodies" are capos who have learnt from the mistakes of their fallen predecessors.
Here in Medellin – once home to the most famous drugs trafficker of them all, Pablo Escobar, who was gunned down on a rooftop in 1993 – history simply repeats itself.
You can buy a kilo of cocaine here for about 1,000. Get that kilo to Miami, and you can sell it for 12,000. Take it to London, it's worth 20,000. Move it to Moscow or Tokyo, and that same kilo will fetch up to 40,000.
Most Colombians live on less than 2,000 a year; you do the maths. They do, and so there is no shortage of people ready to step into the breach every time a capo is taken out.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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