The voices on the crackly phone line are talking in code.
“The tourist is on the bus,” says the caller to the man at the other end. “Bacano” he replies, Colombian slang for “cool”.
The “tourist” in question was a consignment of several kilogrammes of heroin; the “bus” a flight to Europe.
What the drug contact on the phone didn’t realise was that he wasn’t talking to a “mule”, but an undercover anti-narcotics officer. He was arrested within hours.
Another small victory perhaps, for the outgoing government of President Alvaro Uribe in its seemingly endless battle against the cartels and the left-wing rebel group the Farc – whose main income is from the drugs trade.
It is a battle the government says it has been winning in recent years – and one which has been heavily funded by the United States through its controversial military aid programme, Plan Colombia.
“Colombia has shown the greatest reduction in coca cultivations in a decade,” said the director of the national police, Gen Oscar Naranjo.
“According to the UN’s preliminary report, there are 68,000 hectares [9680sq km] under coca cultivation in Colombia this year.”Thanks to Plan Colombia and our national security police [forces], that’s a little less than a third of what it was in 1999, 1998 and 1997.”
But critics disagree and have said that any reduction in the production of cocaine has been temporary at best, and that Plan Colombia has only served to push the problem beyond Colombia’s borders.
Dr Arlene Tickner of the University of the Andes in Bogota is one such critic.
She said: “As a drug policy, I think Plan Colombia has been a relative failure.
“If we look at the Andean region as a whole what we see is not only that coca crops are basically the same size as the year 2000 but also that the potential cocaine production from those crops is the same as well.
“There does now seem to be a slow recognition in Washington that it’s time to change tack.”
“Plan Colombia was never engraved in stone,” responded the US Ambassador to Colombia, William Brownfield, when asked whether Plan Colombia would remain a central part of US anti-drug policy in Latin America.
Having seen around $7bn of taxpayers’ money invested in military hardware and anti-drug operations in Colombia since 1999, the Democratic majority in the US Congress and the Obama administration are said to want to reduce the military aid, and shift the emphasis to socio-economic assistance. READ MORE HERE