[an error occurred while processing this directive]


  Field Notes From
Cocaine Country

<< Back to Feature Page

Cocaine Country On AssignmentArrows

View Field Notes
From Author/Photographer
Carlos Villalón

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photograph by Monique Stauder


Cocaine Country On Assignment Cocaine Country On Assignment
Cocaine Country

Field Notes From Author/Photographer
Carlos Villalón
Best Worst Quirkiest
    During the three years I worked on this assignment, a lot of people went out of their way to help me. Even the guerillas were interested, and they gave me a permit to go anywhere, anytime. They didn't hide anything from me and never once said no to anything I asked to photograph, even if I wanted to observe dealers at a cocaine market. Every time I arrived the guerillas asked me, "What do you need to do?"
    They also gave me a guide, a coca farmer named Rubén. He really believed in what I was doing and always managed to find some time to help me no matter how busy his day was. Rubén was fantastic and was always pitching ideas for pictures I never even thought of.

    I don't see how the cocaine problem in Colombia is going to get better unless the government starts building infrastructure such as better roads and bridges that will help people take other crops to different markets. Although people grow yucca, plantains, and other plants, this is only for their own personal gardens. It's their coca plants that give them money to buy clothing, medicine, and other necessities. Cocaine is their economy, and they're basically farmers who are growing a controversial crop.

    The dealers don't come to Caquetá during the dry season when the coca plants yield a very small amount of leaves. Consequently, everyone runs out of money for a few months, and the de facto currency becomes cocaine base. So when locals go to the grocery store, a restaurant, or a pharmacy for a bottle of aspirin, they pay with cocaine base. Men even use it to place bets in cockfights. I've never seen anything so incredible in my life.


© 2004 National Geographic Society. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy       Advertising Opportunities       Masthead

National Geographic Magazine Home Contact Us Forums Shop Subscribe