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New target in Colombia’s drug war: ecofriendly US users

The Shared Responsibility program aims to educate US and European cocaine users about the environmental damage of cocaine production.

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Crusader: Ana Maria Caballero works for Colombia’s Shared Responsibility program.

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Millions of Americans use cocaine, but few of them consider the millions of acres of forest that have been cleared by coca growers in all corners of Colombia or the blue-billed curassow, a turkey-sized bird that is losing habitat to coca farming.

Ana Maria Caballero believes that many recreational cocaine users are well-educated professionals who also recycle, drive hybrid vehicles, and buy fair-trade products, but that they just don’t understand what cocaine is doing to Colombia’s environment.

Ms. Caballero works for Shared Responsibility, the Colombian government’s effort to raise consumer awareness of cocaine’s impact on one of the world’s most biodiverse nations. The project is led by Vice President Francisco Santos Calderón, who has more than a passing interest in narco-traficking – he was once kidnapped and held for months by Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel.

Colombia’s decades-old, drug-funded, armed conflict is complicated, says Caballero, but environmental devastation is apolitical. “When you talk about deforestation, when you talk about a specific species being threatened because coca is encroaching upon its sole habitat, there’s no political argument there,” she says. “It’s absolutely black and white. You are destroying natural treasures that belong to the world.”

According to Shared Responsibility, 43 square feet of forest are cleared to produce one gram of cocaine, and coca growers have cleared an area the size of New Jersey – nearly five million acres – within Colombia over the past 20 years.

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