‘There’s a human cost to cocaine’: Colombian student reflects on Tulane drug use

Megan Garcia, Intersections Editor

Cocaine is an extremely addictive stimulant that is considered to be a “party drug” across many college campuses in the U.S., including Tulane. Similarly, in movies such as “The Wolf of Wall Street,” cocaine is glamorized during scenes showing extravagant parties thrown by very rich people.

In reality, the illicit drug has been affecting families in Latin America for decades.

Cultivation of the coca leaf in Colombia increased 134% from 2013 to 2016, meaning that the demand for cocaine has increased sharply as well. Cocaine comes primarily from the Latin American countries of Colombia, Bolivia and Peru, with the majority coming from Colombia.

Luisa Cuellar, a sophomore from Bogota, Colombia, has experience with the impact of the drug trade in the country. Disheartened by the amount of Tulane students who are ignorant of the origin and impact of cocaine on her people, Cuellar is angry.

Elana Bush | Photography Editor

“There’s not one person in Colombia that won’t tell you that their lives have been touched by conflict that deals with drug trafficking.” Cuellar said. 

Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar hired someone to kill the grandfather of someone with whom Cuellar went to school. Her mother would wake up with fear during the late ‘80s and ‘90s because Escobar would plant bombs in places around Colombia.

A big issue with the violence caused by cocaine in Colombia is the role that a high demand for this drug among America’s college students plays. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 2015 report, about 1.5 million Americans over the age of 12 were currently using cocaine.

“The individual decisions of the students when they choose to consume cocaine have a really large effect on countries in Latin America, but because there is such a disconnect on where it comes from, people don’t know or care,” Cuellar said. 

College campuses across the U.S. are known to have big party cultures that entail the use of drugs and alcohol, cocaine being one of them. According to a study done by the University of Maryland, by the end of their fourth year, 36% of college students will be offered cocaine.

Many families in Colombia rely on the production of the coca leaf as their only form of income, which is part of the reason why the demand for cocaine can be so detrimental. 

“All these families grow coca because it is the most efficient way to have a stable income in a country that barely pays attention to their needs,” Cuellar explained. “There’s a human cost to cocaine just as there’s one to diamonds or chocolate.”

Cuellar has been in situations on Tulane’s campus where there was an obvious disconnect between cocaine and the lives and people it touches in the making of the product. One instance she remembers was during Tulane’s LeaderShape summer program. There were around 24 people in her group who did not know where cocaine actually come from. 

“All these people from privileged backgrounds go on all these service trips to Colombia, Guatemala, to these places and they leave with this image that they’ve done all this good work,” Cuellar said, exasperated. “What are you doing back home that proves to us that you are part of the solution and not the problem?”

A way students around the country can help is spreading awareness of the process and the toll that this process takes on many families throughout South America. The issue of drug violence in Latin America has been affecting families, histories and indigenous populations for decades.

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