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Coke wars: The real cost of cocaine

By Jackie Dent for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Having a conscience is slowly permeating all aspects of consumer culture. Did that coffee farmer get a good price for his beans? Did adults, in good working conditions, make your jeans?

This week, Francisco Santos, the Vice-President of Colombia, hit Britain with a new message of consumer responsibility: Do you realize the consumption of cocaine in Europe is helping fuel a bloody civil war in Colombia?

And to get his message across he chose to make an example of Kate Moss, the British supermodel whose career has flourished -- named British model of the year, two covers of Vanity Fair and a raft of new glamorous advertising contracts -- ever since the Daily Mirror published pictures of her allegedly snorting cocaine.

"When she snorted a line of cocaine, she put land mines in Colombia, she killed people in Colombia, she displaced people in Colombia, she helped finance kidnapping," he told Newsweek. "She destroyed the environment. We have lost two million hectares of pristine rain forest to drug trafficking."

For Santos, coca is far from glamorous. His "Shared Responsibilityexternal link" campaign, launched at a high-level drugs meeting in London this week, is aimed at educating cocaine users that if they knew what their drug money was put to use to in Colombia -- funding guerrilla groups, the planting of illegal landmines, deforestation for coca plantations, kidnapping, murder -- they would stop using the drug.

To bring the point home, five Colombian women gave a press conference, where their brutal experiences borne from the cocaine trade were a world away from a bit of cool fun. Natalie Rodriguez was kidnapped with her father and held by the guerrilla group FARC for three years. Paola Carrillo, 17, survived a FARC car bomb outside a club, which killed her brother, her best friend and left her father seriously ill.

Santos wants European governments to take on his "Cocaine Curse" campaign, which includes well-dressed "coke head" characters laying landmines and nursing guns, and place it on billboards and in nightclubs. There is a chance it may be taken up too, particularly as new figures show while cocaine use has dropped markedly in the U.S., Europe is developing a cocaine problem -- there are now 3.5 million users, who account for 26 percent of the global market.

U.N. Drugs Chief Antonio Maria Costa told the drugs meeting that a global stabilization and even drop in cocaine use was being undercut by an upward trend in Europe, particularly Italy, Spain and the UK. Figures from the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction in Portugal also show cocaine use among young adults in Spain and Britain has doubled in the last decade.

"Wake up Europe! You are heading for a crisis!" he said. "We are facing a pandemic, and not only because of coca addiction by high profile entertainers, executives, models or socialites who flaunt their illicit drug use in words and deeds. This is a symptom of a deeper problem -- one made worse by uncritical reporting in the media."

"Cocaine is fashionable because it is attractive: white not dark; sniffed not injected; taken in a living room; not in a dark alley; symbol of success not evidence of failure. Second and because of all of the above, cocaine users are in denial, no chance of AIDS, a trendy white-collar habit. Celebrities get away with it so where is the problem?" he said.

While Harry Shapiro from Drugscope, a UK drugs non-governmental organization, welcomed the high-profile campaign, he said Colombia's drug problem is no easy fix.

"It's perfectly valid for people in the West to be aware but I think to try and suggest a campaign like this will have an impact is a bit naive. There are serious and deep rooted problems in the country that go way back before they had coke."

Keith Morris, Britain's ambassador to Colombia from 1990 to 1994, also said the campaign would have little effect.

He told the Guardian newspaper that it failed to address the main cause of violence, which is the prohibition of drugs. "This is a sensible initiative, but the real issue is not being addressed."


Colombian troops weigh cocaine base seized during a raid on a clandestine laboratory.

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