GUERIMA, Colombia – The “drug triangle” formed by the Colombian villages of Guerima, Chupave and Puerto Principe was famous for its coca leaf production under drug lord Carlos Lehder and was later perpetuated by the FARC; now, as peace becomes a reality, people here are trying to replace that blemish with perfectly legal cacao crops.
Getting to Guerima, a gateway to the Amazon region in Vichada province, is an adventure in itself that requires landing at an improvised airport among the trees that is almost impossible to see from the air.
The unpaved landing strips were laid out by drug traffickers who used them as part of an escape route.
Just as the Antioquia natives did back in the 18th century with coffee beans in the central part of the country, Lehder called on settlers from all over the country to come plow the mountain and plant the leaf that was to make him rich.
The outlaw company took advantage of landless farm workers and was successful to the point that coca paste was used as money among people used to bartering.
Some stores are still willing to accept coca paste for 4,000 pesos (some $1.30) per gram.
The system is on its way out, however, since a pack of cigarettes costs 3.5 grams or 5,000 pesos ($1.66), the locals told EFE.
“We haven’t accepted grams for a year now. If they don’t pay me in cash there’s no deal,” said Gian Hernando Garcia, who came to Guerima through the so-called Promised Land to become immersed in the culture of crime.
To bring down coca production to its present decadent state first required some tough military action that ended with the extradition of Lehder to the United States in 1987, where he served a long sentence for drug trafficking, and then the death years later of Tomas Medina Caracas, alias “Negro Acacio,” considered the FARC’s leading drug kingpin.
Negro Acacio died just a few miles (kilometers) from Guerima in an air force operation, and the area was then defined by the military as a “gray zone,” a region with no enemy presence but not yet taken over by the Colombian government.
Then came the cacao crops.
In the years when coca production was at its height, the illegal crop is estimated to have covered some 7,400 acres (3,000 hectares), by 2015 it was down to about 1,500 acres (600 hectares), and the Defense Ministry expects that by 2019 it will have disappeared completely.