By Sibylla Brodzinsky for The Guardian. In the lowlands surrounding the town of La Hormiga, coca was once king.
Fields of the bright green bushes stretched to the horizon in every direction and farmers were flush with cash. The surrounding municipality was the one with the most coca crops in the country that produced the most cocaine in the world.
This was “ground zero” for Plan Colombia, a massive multipronged effort funded by nearly $10bn in US aid that started in 2000. The plan aimed to recover a country that was in the grips of drug mafias, leftist guerrillas and rightwing militias, and whose institutions malfunctioned and economy faltered.
Fifteen years on, cattle graze where coca once grew by the side of the road and cacao is more easily spotted than coca. Farmer Fulgencio Quenguan traded his coca for fish farming. “I don’t make as much money but no one can take this from me,” he says as he scales a few tilapias for a customer in his own shop in town.