Meet The Drug Lords And Foot Soldiers Who Have Transformed Colombia's Coke Business

Since the death of notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar in 1993, the Colombian cocaine industry has undergone a dramatic shift.

Gone are the days of lavish spending, mega-cartels, and murder-counts greater than 20,000 per year. Instead, the cartels have transformed into smaller units that efficiently manage much of the world’s cocaine without a lot of the high-profile violence that has been associated with the trade in the past.

Vice News correspondent Monica Villamizar daringly traveled to
the center of the cocaine trade in the Colombian city of Medellin to get an up-close look inside the day-to-day lives of “foot soldiers,” “cuchos,” and drug lords who run the country’s modern cocaine industry. We’ve broken out the highlights, but click the link above to see the full video.

After being blindfolded with sunglasses and bandages for the drive to a secret stash house, Villamizar got her first glance at the operation. Driven by members of the gang, she was told to tell the police she had eye surgery if she got pulled over.

The Vice crew had to give up their phones to visit the stash house. The guy who drove them to the location was a hit man who had just gotten out of jail.

Although this enterprise focused on cocaine, the distributors had plenty of marijuana they were bagging to sell.

The two men running the operation out of the house were 24 and 18. They said they weren't scared of getting killed or being thrown in a Colombian jail.

There are thousands of foot soldiers throughout Medellin, with most making roughly $US500 a week. Many don't make it past the age of 25.

At last, one of the distributors brought out a brick of cocaine that would be worth $US50,000 in the U.S.

This man mixed cocaine in a blender so it became a finer powder.

These men have been filling bags of cocaine for so long, they don't even need to use scales anymore.

Contrary to popular belief, cocaine that is more grey in colour is purer than the whiter stuff -- which can have chemicals and even glass.

There are trails of coke everywhere in the stash house.

As the Vice crew moved on to the next location, Villamizar noted politicians claim that Medellin is experiencing a calm in the drug trade. In reality, the drug gangs have simply divided up territory to limit bloodshed.

She then met Javier, a 'Cucho,' who is a middle-man between the foot soldiers and the drug lords.

Javier showed off a new product, liquid coke used through a nasal spray bottle.

He was very proud of this innovative new product.

After taking a couple of puffs, he said the spray would go for $US1,000-$1,500 a bottle in Asian markets like China.

After leaving Javier, Villamizar and the Vice crew made their way to a cocaine lab within the city, located in an innocent-looking apartment building.

This man doesn't know much about chemistry but learned on the job.

The coca leaves are distilled on the stove-top.

The cook filled a bucket with several chemicals, such as acetone and gasoline. 'We pour what makes the world go round,' he said.

He then dumped the distilled cocaine leaves over the chemical-filled bucket, into a cloth.

The leaves eventually turned into a green-yellow paste resembling dough.

The substance was then put into the microwave for 7 minutes to harden.

Then the drug lord came knocking, sending everyone into a panic.

But the drug lord, Pedro, agreed to an interview. 'I know what we do is wrong, like giving drugs to teenagers and young people and they're destroying their lives. But if I don't do it, someone else is going to do it,' he said.

Pedro said he has a business degree. 'This is not a business for stupid people,' he said.

The Colombian cocaine trade isn't dominated by huge cartels like it had been in the past, he said. Now, there are just small groups operating, which he says makes it easier and less violent. Drug lords like him lead lower-profile lifestyles and don't spend as much as past lords, he said.

As a result of the reorganization of the Colombian cocaine industry, citizens in Medellin believe the city to be safer. However, this is simply a product of gangs agreeing to carve up territory and keep a lower profile.

Check out the full video from Vice below.

(video provider='youtube' id='c1EHm2_CNkM' size='xlarge' align='center')

Now that you've gotten a look at the drug trade in Colombia ...

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