Once cocaine crosses into the U.S. over the Mexico border, dealers cut it with agents other than levamisole: flour, baby powder, Epsom salts, laxatives, lidocaine, chalk. The lore is that we get some of the worst product in the country: It gets cut and stepped on, mostly by Latino narcos, at every stop between San Diego and Seattle. Meanwhile, its rumored that Vancouver, Canada, has far superior cocaine than we do: Asian gangs import product to Canada through Vancouver and step on it as it moves eastward. The Latino and Asian gangs are said to have a gentleman's agreement that the U.S./Canada border is also a gangland border. Latinos won't sell north and Asians won't sell south. As one dealer put it,
  • Once cocaine crosses into the U.S. over the Mexico border, dealers cut it with agents other than levamisole: flour, baby powder, Epsom salts, laxatives, lidocaine, chalk. The lore is that we get some of the worst product in the country: It gets cut and stepped on, mostly by Latino narcos, at every stop between San Diego and Seattle. Meanwhile, it's rumored that Vancouver, Canada, has far superior cocaine than we do: Asian gangs import product to Canada through Vancouver and step on it as it moves eastward. The Latino and Asian gangs are said to have a gentleman's agreement that the U.S./Canada border is also a gangland border. Latinos won't sell north and Asians won't sell south. As one dealer put it, "If we see any of those Asian guys down here, they're fucking dead."

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This week, Brendan Kiley writes about how cocaine is made and how it moves. It begins with the story of a young man in Colombia, called Diego, who's got a new baby and whose grandmother convinces him to go work the coca plantations in the hinterlands like she had in order to make money:

His grandmother told him to go to Buenaventura, a port city on Colombia's Pacific coast and one of the most dangerous cities in the western hemisphere. Buenaventura has the highest murder rate in Colombia, the New York Times reported in 2007, and when Diego was there, around 2000, Colombia had the highest murder rate in the world.

In Buenaventura, he got on a speedboat that went 90 miles an hour for seven hours—no idea where he was or where they were going, which was the point.

When the speedboat finally arrived at the village, it was greeted by guerrillas asking each new arrival for information: Who are you? What job are you here to do? Who told you about the camp? "You can't just not know anything," Diego said. "Some people died at the entrance because they did not have the right answers, so they got killed right there." Diego saw laborers—who said they'd heard they could board the boat in Buenaventura to make some money—murdered at the dock. This particular camp was known as the Black-Bag Camp, so called because the guerrillas would put a black plastic bag over your head before executing you.

Diego's job is to pick coca leaves, which are thick and sharp and cut up his hands.

After a while, Diego graduated from the fields to the "factory," which was more like a shed, where he helped turn the raw leaves into cocaine paste... "There's a big pool with all the leaves, a big wood tub," Diego explained. Workers would pour leaves into the tub, stomp them down, and then add gasoline to extract the cocaine alkaloids. "That's the easiest way for the government to find the camps," Diego said. "Gasoline is expensive, and most farmers don't use that much—sugarcane and bananas are all farmed by hand—so you find whoever's buying vats and vats of gasoline."

They'd lay a tarp over the tub for 24 hours, with someone stirring the gasoline-coca stew every four or five hours. Then they'd taste the brew to see if it was strong enough. If it numbed the tongue, it was good. If not, it needed more chemicals...

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Then there were the unauthorized additives. "Sometimes we'd piss or shit in the vats, just to be fuckers," Diego said. "Only the rich use cocaine, and we thought it was funny."

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