It has become a custom over many years that at the first meeting following their AGM the Probus Club of Basingstoke have a guest of honour in the form of the Mayor of Basingstoke & Deane BC. This year was a unique occasion as the Mayor, Cllr Paul Miller, is himself a member of the Probus Club of Basingstoke.
For once, at this meeting, he did not have to pay for his lunch. But Cllr Miller was able to address his fellow members about his experiences of meeting so many people and organisations around Basingstoke, often accompanied by the Lady Mayoress, his wife Sandra. His visit to the Probus Club was the 48th such occasion since his mayor making ceremony in May.
The club presented him with a cheque as a contribution to the mayor’s charity appeal.
The speaker was Dr Brantley Nicholson, an American university professor working in England for a year, whose subject starkly illustrated how the Latin American drug trade was dramatically affecting society. Today the cocaine trade has a value only second to world tourism.
While we are aware that Colombia is the centre of cocaine production, history shows that through the centuries the indigenous Incas in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia cultivated the coca plant to chew its leaves and make a type of tea. The drink Coca Cola, initially made with coca leaves, was sold as a cure all medicinal concoction and was banned from production for a time.
The Colombian connection to the drug trade is due to a series of events including four civil wars between 1876 – 1902 following independence from Spain. There followed a series of economic boom and bust. Rubber and tobacco became the prime source of income, followed by bananas and coffee with at one stage Colombian coffee holding 10% share of the world’s consumption. But the Great Depression saw coffee prices fall resulting in mass financial failures. The emergence of artificial drugs like LSD for recreational use in the US during 1960-70 then moved towards harder drugs like cocaine and heroin.
With large areas of Colombia largely ungovernable due to historical squabbles over land ownership resulting in constant attrition between guerrillas and para militaries there was a switch from coffee to growing the coca plant. Coca leaves are soaked in large vats of water for several days to which are added salt, cement powder, acid and gasoline with a final dose of ammonia. With cocaine having a cost of production around $1,500 per kilo and an end price at least $50,000 per kilo there was an instant attraction of easy money. But it has brought over 500,000 deaths in Colombia in narco trafficking. It is estimated that in the city of Medellin over a third of people are armed, most being boys. It has been known that in this Catholic country that priests are asked to bless a bullet to ensure it will meet its target.