An interesting article appeared today in the Universo,
considered the most reliable and authoratative newspaper in Ecuador. Actually
it is more a sort of bizarre vignette, told by the members of a "team"
from the paper (most probably the author of the article and a photographer),
of a bus trip from Florencia to Mocoa, in the District of Chaqueta in
the the Province of Putamayo in southern Colombia. It is a jungly
region along a major Amazonian tributary, the Putamayo River, near the
Ecuadorian border and notable both as a major coca-producing region and
one of the strongholds of the leftist guerillas known as the Fuerzas
Armados Revolcionarios de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia,
The Ecuadorian journalists from El Universo were in the area covering
the ongoing "Plan Patriota," which is a major military offensive against
the guerillas on the part of the government of colombian President Alvaro
Uribe, who unlike previous presidents who tried to negotiate with the
"Revolutionary Armies," to the point of ceding them
a "liberated zone" the size of Switzerland, has concluded they are really
just a cover for drug production and smuggling as well as an affront
to the sovereignty of the country, has vowed to liquidate them and reassert
control over 100% of his national territory.
The offensive is taking the form of a classic military tactic; the "hammer
and anvil". The hammer is a massive movement of Colombia’s
finest military units, equipped with US supplied armored personnel carriers
and Blackhawk helicopters, driving the militants through the dense jungle
towards the Ecuadorian border.
Here in Ecuador, people are understandably nervous, as it is increasingly
obvious that the Colombian army is expecting the Ecuadorians to be the
trapping the guerillas with their backs to the river which forms the
border, sitting ducks for the firepower of the two legitimate armies.
However, both governments vehemently deny that this is the plan, the
Colombians claiming that their units stationed along the Colombian side
of the border are sufficient to make an effective anvil. Most independent
experts doubt this.
The Ecuadorians are in a no-win situation. If their army does step up
and act as the anvil, they risk being dragged into a messy military quagmire
which has been going on for decades, fueled by billions in drug money
and the Colombians historical penchant for bloody conflict and martial
savagery. If they decline to protect the entire length of the affected
border, they risk the nightmare of thousands of heavily armed, hard-core
guerillas pouring into their country, where they can easily melt into
the Ecuadorian corner of the Amazon River basin. Once they get away from
the border area and into the deep jungle they would be almost impossible
to root out.
According to the article, one of the six passengers on this inter provincial
bus just happened to be one of the American-trained Blackhawk helicopter
pilots, and coincidently one who was an Ecuadorian by origin, having
changed nationality specifically for the opportunity to participate in
against the Communist guerillas and drug traffickers. Upon seeing the
reporters badges and press credentials, which identified them as Ecuadorians,
he began waxing nostalgic and asking them about familiar lairs and events
in Guayaquil, mixing his reminisces with war stories,including graphic
descriptions of bombing runs and spectacular crashes, showing his scars,
and political commentaries.
After the pilot bid goodbye and got off the bus, and even stranger conversation
took place with another of the few passengers on the bus. Following
are translated excerpts from the article, which reveal a window onto
the realities of a third-world country at war with itself and the difficulty
of winning the war on drugs.
He (the pilot) repeated that his activities were among the most noble
possible, as their aim is to reestablish peace in Colombia. He was convince
that the day would soon come when Colombia’s civil war would end, and
praised the actions of President Uribe.
While he talked, two rows from where he sat another passenger, roughly
dressed in a torn tank top, frayed pants and worn, stained shoes, was
closely following the conversation.
Two hours later, the pilot said goodbye and descended from the bus when
it arrived in Mocoa. A few minutes later this passenger, dressed as a
poor campasino, picked up a conversation with the reporter who had been
questioning the pilot.
"What is the capital of Ecuador?" he asked with an innocent expression.
As the conversation continued his enthusiasm to learn about the possibility
of moving to Ecuador became increasingly obvious, and he asked about
Ecuadorian living conditions, what documents were needed to immigrate,
and the degree of poverty.
Soon, he began to feel trust and confidence in the reporter, and opened
up. He became more loquacious and fluent, and his feigned naivitee
disappeared. He revealed that he was the owner of two houses in
Florencia and a coca plantation in San Vincente de Chaqueta, part of
the former "liberated zone" controlled by the FARC, although his plantation
had been destroyed by the US-sponsored ariel fumigations recently effected
in the area to destroy the Coca crop.
As a result he decided to learn to manufacture car batteries, and opened
a small factory in a small town in Chaqueta. This, he said, was allowing
him to survive now that his plantation was wiped out.
Actually, he revealed a few minutes later, the manufacture of batteries
was just a front allowing him to hide the cocaine which he still sells.
"The fumigation destroyed everything, including our health. I got very
sick for three weeks. What the government is trying to do won’t work,
because we are all enmeshed in the business. Things are bad now in Chaqueta
because the government is attacking everybody…."
The real reason behind his trip, he revealed, was to scout out possible
locations for a new plantation of coca, which became the central topic
of the conversation. He was concentrating his search in Putamayo, or
another town in southern Colombia, Llorenti, known as "little Putamayo"
because it was attracting coca farmers from around Colombia whose plantations
had been destroyed by the fumigations.
At this point he consulted another another passenger in the same row,
by the name of "Jaime", . "Amigo, is that area good for growing?"
"Oh yeah, they are very good, and further on there are even better ones
in the Tingo Maria area, right along the highway." he answered.
Hearing this news, the first coca farmer turned his attention to Jaime,
and they began a intense conversation about the variations in the
price of a gram of cocaine, methods of its production, the cost
per hectare of appropriate land (about half a million pesos, equivalent
different types of seeds, the best processing materials like cement,
uric acid, lime, and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Finally they agreed to do some business. And the first farmer
confided to Jaime that his current business as a battery manufacturer
was a perfect cover for hiding and transporting the finished product,
and that each battery he was transporting held 17 kilos of cocaine
(37 pounds), which was the perfect amount to move at a time without
from El Universo