In the Black Triangle, an old Farc fort, the coca was exchanged for cocoa

“Since we don’t have coca crops, the groups don’t bother us. That’s an advantage of legality,” says Tilsia Motta Bermúdez, community leader, mother of three children, of whom she says she feels proud because “we help them with my husband, they are hard-working and very responsible.”

The woman, who is over 50 years old, with sun-tanned skin, She smiles and affirms that several things motivated her to change the illicit crops, “the first thing is that there is a lot of violence around coca, there is no tranquility. Also, one does not live with the anxiety that the Army will eradicate it, or that we put them in jail.”

Tilsia lowers her voice and points out that with coca you can buy more things, “but no one gives life back and peace of mind does not it has a price”, he pointed out, pointing out that he lives very happily on his farm located in the Palmarito inspection, Patio Bonito village, about three hours by land from Cumaribo, Vichada.

His neighbor , José Vicente Barragán, 53 years old, was born in La Mesa (Cundinamarca), but more than 20 years ago he moved to Vichada in search of a better future, he fell in love and together with his partner they raise a 14-year-old son, “ whom I want to take along the path of legality”, he assured.

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José’s face shows the hustle and bustle of the countryside, and even more so in these lands where wind does not run, the temperature can reach 38 degrees centigrade, but it enjoys colorful sunsets where the sunset paints reddish lines that fade on the horizon with nightfall.

José, always Smiling, he is the vice president of Asopoare, made up of 30 farmers, who left coca to grow cocoa, “we see in this a hope and a possibility of improving our quality of life,” he said.

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He lives in Palmarito, where he says there are no roads, much less highways, and that is why he asks the government “to help with infrastructure because in the future we want harvest our crops, we want to continue on the right path”, he stated.

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Parmenio Arenas, 41, a cocoa farmer who was born in Monterrey, Casanare, and 20 years ago came to Vichada seeking a future.

Parmenio is the father of two children, aged 9 and 11, he settled in Palmarito, “first as a coca leaf collector, then as a grower and today in the coca substitution program illicit crops, changing from illegality to legality”, he affirms.

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The three are part of an association –made up of 30 families in 2018, residents of Palmarito– motivated by seeing the results of other peasants in Vichada who changed coca for cocoa.

In fact, today in Vichada there are 500 hectares planted with cocoa , of which 200 hectares are in full production with two guarantees for the growers: that the Air Force removes the cocoa from them and that the Casa Luker company buys the harvest from them.

The FAC operation

10 years ago, February 2012, the Government was concerned about the increase in coca crops in the east of the country and within the actions to curb drug trafficking, the Ares Task Force, a unit made up of personnel from the Military Forces and the National Police.

Ares remained under the coordination of the Air Force and its headquarters of operations in the Grupo Aéreo del Oriente, located in Marandúa, Vichada, whose access is only by air.

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When Ares went into action, the United Nations Illicit Crop Monitoring System (Simci) had detected 1,242 hectares planted with coca bushes in the area; According to intelligence, these drug crops were located in what they called the Black Triangle (which included three inspections of Marandúa: Chupave, Puerto Príncipe and Güerima), where at that time, in addition, there was an alert for the presence of the now extinct FARC, due to the growing traffic in cocaine and arms, taking advantage of the porosity of the border.

The Black Triangle had been the stronghold of ‘Negro Acacio‘, a guerrilla leader who ventured into trafficking of cocaine in the east of the country and who took advantage of the border to strengthen deals with Brazilian mafias, until he fell in the midst of a gigantic operation by the Armed Forces that included the bombing of his camp in 2007.

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The first commander of the Ares Task Force was Colonel José Gabriel González Díaz, today retired after a 28-year career in the FAC. “At that time, the FARC was in control of the coca routes and production, and we launched a series of interdiction operations along the border along the Meta and Orinoco rivers,” said Díaz.

The colonel stated that Parallel to the work of the eradication groups, a proposal was thought of, “which at the time was believed to be unfounded and was that the peasants voluntarily substitute coca.”

And although the idea generated skepticism, two advisers from the nascent Ares Command, including retired Colonel Fabio Alonso Rodríguez García, who was for 30 years in the FAC, they were in charge of making it a reality, becoming one of the greatest achievements of the Air Force on the ground.

Colonel (r) Rodríguez pointed out that parallel to the military operations that Ares carried out with “forcefulness ”, they entered the so-called Black Triangle. “It was not easy; Seeing uniformed men immediately generated rejection among the population, but little by little we gained their trust,” says the officer, who said that in the end they were able to interact with the community.

Microfootball tournaments were held ‘Play for la Vida’, whose teams were called: honesty, transparency, camaraderie, “principles that we tried to instill in children and young people,” said Rodríguez, who pointed out that this tournament is being held today, in addition to the ‘Studying if it pays’ program, with the one that stimulates the best students of Vichada and Guainía. “The Air Force covers some educational trips to different areas of the country,” he said.

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And between games, motivation and the offer of a better future, in 2013 the Government joined the initiative to substitute voluntarily and together with the FAC they invited Casa Luker (2014) to join in this life project.

The first to give themselves the opportunity –20 families– were in Güerima, who initially traveled to Arauca to receive training from Luker. The FAC transported them and the Government financed their stay.

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The project – initially it was signed for 5 years with Luker– it grew and 20 more peasants traveled from Güerima to Manizales, and the Army transferred them to Pennsylvania (Caldas), where they received more instruction on manures, seeds and fertilizers in cocoa planting.

There were four training trips and those nearly 80 farmers shared knowledge with their neighbors and planted cocoa, with the advantage that in 2017 the Illicit Crop Substitution program entered.

Now the Black Triangle is recognized throughout the eastern part of the country as the ‘cocoa triangle. A cocoa classified as “excellent” for its quality and fermentation. Today there are 826 families committed to voluntary substitution, and Casa Luker extended its purchase contract to 40 years and the FAC reiterated to the farmers that it will continue to take out the cocoa they produce and leave it at the Luker headquarters in Bogotá.

Having earned the trust of the community and working together for an end, offering opportunities and hope.

Tilsia, Parmenio and José were the guests of honor at the ceremony in which Task Force Ares was deactivated, the same one that was created to operate for 10 years and that today reports “mission accomplished”.

Of 1,242 hectares of drug crops, in 2020 the Simci detected 121 hectares, thanks to the eradication work, but Above all, “to the commitment of the peasants who have complied with the voluntary substitution program,” said Colonel Rodríguez, for which they hope that this year the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime will declare the zone free of illicit crops. In the middle of last year, that office indicated that Caldas, Arauca, La Guajira and Cundinamarca “remained free of damage in 2020.”

The Ares deactivation ceremony was led by the FAC commander, General Ramsés Rueda Rueda, who told EL TIEMPO that the institution is very proud of the goals achieved through the Task Force, especially “having earned the trust of the community and working together together for an end, offering opportunities and hope.”

For General Rueda, Ares has many achievements to highlight: the 91 percent decrease in coca crops, the destruction of 240 laboratories for production of alkaloids or the seizure of more than 12 tons of cocaine.

“But the most relevant and exciting thing was the first flight that left loaded with cocoa, cocoa planted by our farmers who believed in the institutions and bet on it. to legality. There are 73 tons of cocoa produced in Vichada transported by the FAC”, reiterated the general.

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Tilsia , Parmenio and José asked the Government: “Please, President Duque, do not forget us, here in these lands we comply with you, we trust your program and that is why we expect a greater presence of the State.”

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