"It's now just like the movie Scarface." So says a 36 year old Milan teacher, who unwittingly entered cocaine's golden world. Along with two of his friends, he unknowingly purchased airplane tickets for San Andrés, an archipelago of Caribbean islands, home to 60,000 people in 42 square kilometers. Strictly speaking, San Andrés is part of Colombia but is closer to Nicaragua. It's a natural paradise – ( Managua is contesting the sovereignty in the International Court of AJA ) – a much-loved destination for divers and Colombian families trying to relax, but of late it has become one of the preferred low-cost destination for Ravers. [sballo is hard to translate, comes out more like hard-core partiers, but it's also used of ravers ]
"I was thinking," he continued, "of ten days of sea, sun and swimming. Now I'm freaking out in the atmosphere of a permanent party, with cokeheads roaming around like zombies, prancing around at poolside in mega-galactic villas". We won't name names, for charity's sake. But to reduce misunderstandings, we'll call him Pamela (Big Hat), in order to ensure the privacy of this teller of stories and to introduce one of the main "paradise industries", to which zillions of kids travel, some just for a vacation, others to rave on at budget prices. Well, a more than average budget, it isn't cheap to get here. Managers, white collar employees, entrepreneurs, they're the target market, but the naive tourists like Pamela are a distinct minority. People who go to San Andrés arrive on an island owned by narco-traffickers. This island is the first stop for cocaine on its way to the USA, so top-shelf cocaine's available at low-low discount prices. In a wonderful demonstration of market forces at work, Lauda Airlines "coke tourism" flights take off weekly from Milan direct to San Andrés, connecting that Lombardic metropolis to this Caribbean archipelago. Paradoxically, there are no direct flights between Italy and Mexico City.
It's some indeterminate day in September of 2006. To one and all, the streets of lively San Andrés are listless. For it is the hour of siesta for the residents of this place. They provide the low-cost labor for this resort island, working in the restaurants and open-till-dawn discotheques, where the tourist search for "rumba" and what lies beyond it, for those who wish to be dragged along. Foreigners own the tourism, Italian, American, Germans - even a few Canadians straggling along at the rear. For the rest of the people of San Andrés, there are the options of the poverty of fishing, emigration to the mainland, or to try their fortunes in the import/export industry in the ocean of drugs. This lack of options in recent years has given rise to the exponential growth of an independence movement, AMEN, the "Archipelago Movement for Ethnic Self-Determination" AMEN's objective is to secede from Colombia, which has treated San Andrés like a little amusement park, as the USA used Fulgencio Batista's Cuba. They say "We alone, who remember the festival of independence, sing the hymn and raise the flag". The indipendentisti have a presence online, raising the veil on their unease.
"What images did I bring home from my ten days in San Andrés?" Pamela has more than a few strong memories. "Sure, there were a couple of guys in their thirties, from the north of Italy, they made a huge buy and they tooted all day, periodically staggering outside. They looked like a couple of animated zombies." To one and all, on that imprecise day in September, the locals had their siesta while the coke tourists attempted to rouse themselves for the rave that night. At some definite point in time, the noise of an accident woke the inhabitants of that quarter. An overturned truck in the midst of them tends to do that. They poked their heads out - when they realized the cargo fallen from the truck was not flour, but purest cocaine, these folks decided to interrupt their naps and come down the road. Accounts diverge widely at this point, as reported in the Colombian newspaper El Espectador. As for who ended up with these kilos of coke, who got two, who got three before the police got there and after the million-dollar cargo went ass over teakettle, well, it's pretty goddamn dangerous to talk about these things, for the erstwhile owners of this White Gold will not hesitate to launch immediate bloody reprisals should they suspect anyone of stealing their coke, leaving a host of dead in their wake. In fact, the police of San Andrés haven't seized the "322" property of Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia, a.k.a. "Chupeta", arrested in Sao Paolo in Brazil on 7 August. [trans note: 322 may refer to some Italian legal argot]
Yes, Pamela was sure impressed by a small group of "six or seven of our Italian brethren, who rented an enormous villa which was murmured to belong to an old drug trafficker. One of the last nights we were together, he invited two friends and me to supper and a few bottles of wine. Poolside seemed straight out of the movie Scarface, suddenly opening vials of Vitamin C cocaine. This squalid paradise isn't what the locals imagined a few years ago. Fermin, born and raised in San Andrés explains his feelings to Panorama.it. "We imported a form of tourism which dirties our shores, drunkenly damages us and everyone who visits us, eaten up with vice. That's why San Andrés has become a clownish mockery of morality, where cocaine and hallucinogens are the true lords of our economy. Safety and tranquility are distant memories." A fairly serious denunciation of the exact opposite of the sustainable tourism of which much is spoken but little practiced.