Pupils fly off to Colombia to get lowdown on cocaine

TWO city high school pupils are flying to Colombia to see at first-hand the misery and destruction caused by the cocaine trade, after a personal invitation from the vice-president.

Andrew MacKinnon and Andrew Dove – fifth year pupils at Portobello High – will meet a victim of drug trafficking and see the environmental devastation caused by cocaine production.

They have been invited on a week-long visit by Colombian Vice-President Francisco Santos as a result of a school project they completed on the drugs trade. Their study examined the impact on individuals, communities and wildlife as a result of violence, kidnapping, corruption, deforestation and pollution.

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Colombia is one of the world's leading producers of cocaine. For every two grams of cocaine consumed in Scotland, eight square metres of Colombian jungle are cut down, and, in the last 20 years, 2.2 million hectares of tropical forest have been destroyed to make way for coca plants.

Portobello High was chosen to join the trip due to the work it has been doing in support of the Shared Responsibility project – the Colombian Government's campaign to reduce the demand for cocaine – in partnership with the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA).

The school's commitment to the issue also led to headteacher Peigi Macarthur being invited to London earlier this year with some of her pupils to meet Colombia's vice-president.

The two Andrews are "peer educators" who go into schools across the Capital to share what they have learned.

Andrew MacKinnon, 17, said: "Some of these people living in Colombia are forced into cocaine production. I will really appreciate the opportunity to meet these people to give me a better understanding."

The group who depart on Sunday will fly over the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, where cocaine cultivation takes place, and visit an anti-narcotics base to see how cocaine is produced.

The trip is being funded by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Headteacher Ms Macarthur said: "We will be visiting an alternative crops programme to try to encourage local people to have a different life style so instead of growing coca crops, they could grow other sustainable crops.

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"We want to see how the country is dealing with the difficulties they have and how they are working to save ecology and rescue local people from being lured into coca production."

Detective Inspector Stevie Innes at the SCDEA, who will also be going on the trip, said: "This is an excellent opportunity for these young people to see for themselves the true impact that illegal drugs has on communities in a producer country."