|Photo Credit: El Universal, Cartagena, October 8, 2017|
Before I arrived to Colombia in 2010, I watched a lot of “Locked Up Abroad” on Nat Geo. Ninety percent of the episodes were about foreign drug mules getting caught by Colombian authorities. I had to stop watching the shows because the idea of going to a Latin American jail scared the mierda out of me. Drugs. Cocaine. Trafficking. Narcos. Mules. Was I going to be the next sap? I would have liked to have thought that I knew how to handle myself in Latin America. After all, I had already lived in Ecuador, Chile, and Paraguay. However, at least on television, even the brightest of foreigners seemed to be lured in by the drug industry.
Seven years later, the good news is I have never been offered any kind of drug in Cartagena and I have only seen the outside of the women’s jail. It is hard to miss being that it is right next to Plaza San Diego, a great place to eat and buy local handicrafts. My male friends indicate that machismo is the reason for my drug naivety. They all have been offered drugs while perusing the Spanish colonial streets. Male dominance has its advantages. Men carry heavy bags, open doors, drive women home, and pay for dinner and drinks, so it makes sense that only men would buy drugs too. On this front, I am thankful that feminism is being ignored. I also enjoy not carrying my luggage in the heat.
I would love to believe that drugs are only being sold to the party guy from Bogotá and backpackers who think doing Colombian cocaine would be as cool as smoking a Cuban cigar in Havana. However, the presence of the FBI, DEA, and US Border Patrol shows drugs are in great supply and they are leaving from Cartagena. After meeting some of the agents and learning about security and inspection protocols at the main port, I was reminded that drug trafficking is in full swing and my Colombian and US taxes are paying for its enforcement. As a citizen I understand the importance of the job while being skeptical of the results.
At the airport is when drugs become real for me and I feel my tax dollars at work. Everytime I fly to the US, the counter agent reminds me that dogs will be sniffing my bags. Then in security, a Policía Nacional detective will ask me why I was in the country. It is always a little nerve-racking since, his job is to detect mules. Even though I am innocent, I always think, “what if someone did put something in my bag?” Fortunately, the detective always lets me pass without a hitch (being an older female teacher has its advantages), but I often see Colombians and foreigners being taken to a private room for questioning. Some I see at the gate; some I do not.
I just read in the local paper, El Universal, that this year 11 mules have already been caught at Rafael Nuñez Airport and 176 in the rest of the country. I wonder how many saps actually made it to the US and Europe. Did they get paid or just screwed over when they arrived? Will they do it again since, they were successful? Is the gamble worth it? Is it a rush or just a necessity to keep one’s family alive? I assume Colombian and US authorities know these answers. There is enough intelligence and prosecution to determine trends. Therefore, now my biggest question is what is going to happen when machismo ends in Cartagena? Will I be the next target as I peruse the colonial streets?