Did you know that the Medellin Cartel (which supplied over 80% of the cocaine in the U.S. from 1970-1990) made almost $22 billion dollars a year? Put in perspective, if you could keep every stack of $100 dollar bills you initialed and stacked in a suitcase how long do you think it would take you to amass $22 billion? Well, if it took you one minute to initial and stack away a band of $100 bills, and you worked 24 hours a day you would stash $14,400,00 a day. To stash $22 billion it would take you 4 years and two months of doing nothing but initialing and stacking bills every minute of every day. That's a lot of dirty money.
Let me repeat the above again because the number is so staggering. For 30 years the Medellin Cartel brought almost $22 billion a year in to Colombia. That is a huge sum of money, and one not easily replaced by other methods. So, what happens when the money disappears as it did when Senor Pablo Escobar (The undisputed King of Cocaine and leader of the Medellin Cartel) was filled with lead on a Medellin rooftop while running from the police? Just like that the cartel crumbled, and with it went billions of dollars. This power vacuum created a void that needed filling. Other drug lords stepped up, and to their delight they found a whole system already in place. After all, there were people who became professionals in the drug trade. There were factories, producers, transporters, body guards, accountants, lawyers all unemployed and looking for a new leader. Do you see the problem?
When a country becomes dependent on something as a source of jobs and livelihood for people it is extremely difficult to just slam that door shut and try something new...especially when the door you're closing is so damn profitable. People need to feed their families, to survive. so they will work where they can find a job. I've found that when faced with a tough situation people will do what they must to survive, even if it is something they don't want to do. After all, who here hasn't stuck with a job that sucked because the pay is good or the benefits are nice? So what's the answer?
The Future of Colombia
I have a vision for the next 20 years in Colombia. The now wild Parque Tayrona will be filled with bodies soaking up the sun like Miami beach. Instead of hiking four hours and sleeping in a hammock like I did, visitors will sleep in luxurious hotels. They won't have their only source of electricity be an old diesel generator, but rather electricity will run through veins in the sky to the outlet on the wall.
Finca vacations will be all the rage and people will flock to coffee plantations the way they flock to vineyard estates in Europe. They will vacation there, not to work a job (like we were offered) but as a form of experiential travel. What could be more grand than waking up every morning in the lush jungle and sipping on a cup of coffee made from the coffee trees on the nearby hillside? Hell, they may even let you go out to the field with some locals and work a few hours picking coffee beans so you can feel like you got the full experience.
Business and commerce will continue to increase, as people will find more honest ways of making a living without the cartels. In short, Colombia will modernize and develop. It will lose some of its gritty charm that comes from a city that grew up taking a few hard knocks. Finally, I hope that Colombia will become a better place for locals and visitors alike.
Invest in Colombia...Travel
The future of Colombia is brighter with your investment. I've already given mine, and I hope you will give yours. When you travel to Colombia, pouring your money into businesses and products, attractions and entertainment, you help people rely on income other than drug money. You give people an alternative to the narco life. You are the solution for Colombia's war on drugs.
Best of all, because of wealth disparity between the Colombia and any developed nation in the world your money stretches further. The average yearly salary in Colombia is only $8,000 U.S. dollars. Even an infusion of one thousand dollars by you into the Colombian economy gives locals the chance to make a decent living. By spending money on hotels and hostels, restaurants, tour guides and taxi drivers, dance clubs and more you prove to locals that it is possible to make a living without the narcos.
As we found out, many locals were excited that we were visiting their country. Many wanted to show us the best of Colombia, not the worst, and they wanted us to tell our friends so that they could come too. They know that tourist dollars can kill the dependence on earning money narco means. Drugs and alcohol have destroyed Colombia and while coca still has a huge influence on many in the country the tides are turning. With your support, by simply traveling (I know I'm asking such a difficult thing of you), you can change the world.