Drugs The Chemical Connection

Why the South American coke trade is a two-way street

Shortly after dawn, five helicopter gunships took off from the Palanquero military air base southeast of Medellin. Thirty minutes later, skimming over the treetops of the Colombian jungle, the clattering swarm descended on a ranch outside the Magdalena River town of Puerto Triunfo. Thirty members of Colombia's elite National Police antinarcotics unit jumped from the copters and began searching the grounds. Their eventual payoff: discovery of three complexes containing eight cocaine laboratories. After the raiders methodically burned chemical dumps and bunkhouses, a five-man explosives team blew up brick buildings, generators and 15,000-gal. chemical holding tanks.

So began Operation Primavera, the latest...

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