I Spent a Week in the Colombian Jungle Harvesting Cocaine
To understand the drug that has shaped my country's history, I set my fear aside and got to work.
I meet Aura, a formidable and untrusting Afro-Colombian woman, at the side of the main road in a sweltering 86-degree heat. I am looking for a job. I want to spend a week harvesting coca in the forest, working as a raspachín, or “scraper.”
“They will think you’re a spy,” she says. “And spies who seek to reveal the location of cocaine factories or guerrilla camps are treated horribly.”
Her fears are well-founded. This region of the Pacific coastline in the Southern Colombian department of Nariño has been a historic battle ground for FARC and ELN rebel fighters, paramilitary groups and narcos, drug-traffickers each commanding their own private army. And ultimately, inevitably, it is the local, rural population of campesinos that end up paying the human cost of war. Between 1990 and the end of 2000, hundreds were raped, kidnapped and massacred here, to be buried in mass graves. Nariño became an open wound.
Our conversation takes place in the middle of a “commercial…