In Colombia, the streets of Medellin plagued by drug trafficking

flavored cocaine,”bazuco“(crack), heroin and an avalanche of other deadly substances abound on the streets, with deals in plain sight.”If we find it easy? oh yeah“, launches AFP Manuel Morales, an unemployed engineer of 32 years who describes himself as a “chronic consumer” crack.

In Medellin, drugs can be found everywhere today. Even on the ground“, he says.

Hand shaking, Manuel stops to inhale the remains of his dose, which melts on contact with the fire in a pipe made from PVC pipe. A sweet smell fills the air. A day like any other in San Antonio Park, right in the heart of downtown.

I’m a little nervous because of the substance“because once inhaled”we really do anything, it takes everything“, says Manuel, unemployed for four months, who sometimes sleeps on the street.

– “Squares of vice“-

His vertiginous fall began on one of these “squares of vice“, street corners held by traffickers, where drug addicts and occasional users get their daily supplies.

A decade ago there were nearly 160 in the city, according to police, but independent studies estimate there are now nearly 800.

In 2013, 3.5% of Colombians declared having already consumed illegal substances. In 2019, that figure jumped to 9.7%, according to the national statistics agency. With 2.2 million inhabitants, Medellin is the city with the highest consumption rate (15.5%).

As the world’s leading producer and exporter of cocaine, Colombia is thus confronted, behind closed doors, with the “micro traffic“.

When we say +micro+, it seems very small“, points out Luis Fernando Quijano, of the local NGO Corpades. But in reality, the “domestic drug trafficking has become a business worth billions” of pesos.

With the support of the United States, Colombia has attacked since the 1980s the big cartels and their exports by tons to Western countries. This had the unintended consequence of pushing traffickers to organize a local market for cheap, low-quality drugs.

The drug which could not be exported therefore remained blocked locally“, explains the toxicologist Juan Carlos Sanchez, who treats every day in his office “heart attacks from cocaine“, from “thromboses” and “psychotic or delusional episodescaused by these various drugs.

For the government, micro-trafficking is the main cause of insecurity and homicides in cities. Between 2018 and 2022, “more than 2,500 people were killed“in violence between gangs, details to AFP the general of police Herman Bustamante.

But in Medellin, where we find the most “squares of vice” and consumers in the country, the figures reveal a paradoxical phenomenon.

While in 1992, under the reign of Escobar, the homicide rate was 350 per 100,000 inhabitants, it was 15.5 last year.

For Mr. Quijano, no doubt, there is a “pact” between a dozen gangs and the authorities to reduce homicides, in exchange for the possibility for the traffickers to “manage freely“their businesses.”We feel much more a mafia peace than a peace imposed by the institutions“, denounces the activist.

When seizures are made, they (…) are organized (by the traffickers) to maintain the idea that everything is fine, that the security strategy is working“, he accuses.

There are sometimes “police involvement in this whole affair“, recognizes General Bustamante, who assures, without giving precise figures, that several “have been arrested“.”As long as we have consumers (…) criminals will see this as a business opportunity“, soberly comments the officer.

– Eternal Bronx –

In 2018, then-mayor Federico Gutierrez accompanied an operation mobilizing nearly a thousand police officers to destroy the main drug market in the city center, nicknamed “the bronx“.

Several hundred drug addicts had been chased from sidewalks, dilapidated houses razed by a bulldozer, all filmed Hollywood style from a helicopter.

Four years later, “the bronx” is still there, with its traffickers and consumers wandering around in search of their doses.

Mr. Gutierrez, meanwhile, is the right-wing candidate for the May 29 presidential election. One of his plans is to strengthen the fight against drugs, while his left-wing opponent Gustavo Petro, favorite in the polls, proposes to treat its consumption as a public health problem.

Mr. Petro, former mayor of Bogota (2012-2015), had created a medical center in the capital for addicted drug addicts. The program was halted after a staff member was murdered.

In Medellin, the markets of “Bronx“continue to operate at full capacity 24 hours a day. Young people in need are crying out for “blondes” (seals), “rocas” (cocaine crystals), or “ruedas“, as clonazepam pills are called here, a psychotropic drug that causes sedation and temporary amnesia.

On others”places of vice“, traffickers offer ecstasy and “tusibi“, a trendy hallucinogen based on ketamine and mescaline.

Considered particularly toxic, including by the gangs who control the trade, low-grade heroin is also circulating in the city, at around $2.5 a gram.

Emaciated face and bulging eyes, Julian Quintana admits his total addiction to this substance. “Before, we didn’t see people injecting themselves in the street, syringes lying around. We were few and very careful“.

At nightfall, the junkie meets his supplier in a park, in the middle of the crowd.

On another”square“, Manuel, the drifting ex-engineer, finishes his last “bong“(water pipe) from”bazuco” under the indifferent gaze of two police officers on motorcycles.

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