BBC OnePanorama


Page last updated at 16:23 GMT, Wednesday, 5 November 2008

What You've Said

Alex James watches as coca paste is made in a rainforest factory
Cocaine: Alex James in Colombia, BBC One 8.30pm Monday 28 January
Thank you for sending us your views on Cocaine: Alex James in Colombia.

We have published a selection of your comments below.

Very disappointed with the lack of depth to the coverage of the civil war which is the underlying reason for the trouble surrounding cocaine in Columbia. The often refered to rebels are in fact the FARC, communist guerillas fighting against the corruption of a vicious capitalist class in Columbia. The current war followed a period where the FARC had established their own autonomous region, at this point the fighting had pretty much dissapated, that was untill under the guise of the war on drugs the US goverment entered the situation. Since then there has been an escalation in fighting and hand in hand with this an escalation in the cocaine trade as the guerillas need funds to fight the US led oppressors. The cocaine trade has corrupted many of the geurillas, but one has to recognise the guerillas fight as a legitamate one. So all the UK coke users please be proud - you are supporting the fight against US imperialism and world capitalism!
Alex can't say how disappointed I am, I edso much more from a guy who has made some great and insightful music, your little love in with pesident Uribe was sickening. Perhaps you can go back and get the other side of the story.
Neil Singh, Stoke-on-Trent

It was really interesting to see Colombia from a different perspective and we were really heartened by how Alex empathised with the Colombian people in the film. However what was a real shame was that there was nothing to show the human face of Colombians beyond the cocaine trade. Alex alluded to how great the country was but that was all - perhaps there is a chance to have a follow up programme where you can achieve a greater balance. We are not talking about a tourist guide to Colombia or anything trite like that but something that shows how drugs can affect the quality of everyday Colombians at work, in the schools etc. In some way that might have a greater impact on the consciences of drug users here than some of the scenes with the army and drug runners which is so alien to us. Thank you for taking the time though to bring Colombia's terrible problems to the attention of the UK public - maybe in the future, the BBC can do more to help in the ongoing battle against drugs and contribute in some small way to restoring peace in what is a very beautiful country which is full with wonderfully warm and intelligent people who are praying for change.
Angela Gonzalez & Caroline Beard, London, UK

Alex forgot to say that farmers in Colombia go bankrupt because they can't compete with subsidized agro products imported from Europe and USA. They're left with only one profitable crop. Colombia imports corn from Iowa and exports coca to EU.
Mr Duke, Kingston, UK

Alex forgot to say that farmers in Colombia go bankrupt because they can't compete with subsidized agroproducts imported from Europe and USA. They're left with only one profitable crop. Colombia imports corn from Iowa and exports coca to EU.
Mr Duke, Kingston, UK

The fact that some of the people commenting on this programme mention the idea of legalising cocaine shows that the programme was not enough to portray all the issues behind the drug trafficking (i.e. killings, kidnappings, kids fighting in the war, etc.), and how it really affects us in ColOmbia (both O's by the way). However this is a really good initiative and BBC please keep these types of programmes coming! And so maybe the people here in Europe (and in America for that matter) can really understand one day, or at least can get a clearer picture of our problem and stop making jokes about Colombia and Cocaine and realise IT IS REALLY NOT FUNNY!
Alejandra Ospina, London

Although it is a extremely sad situation I was very pleased to see a programme that showed how WE Colombians have to terribly suffer just so that a small group of people can have a little fun. I hope it reached some people and made them realise what a selfish thing to do taking cocaine is. Even if some people thought that Alex James and the Panorama team could have done a better job with the information and spelling I thank them and appreciate their effort to visit Colombia and expose some of the devastating consequences cocaine has and how ignorant people who take it really are.
Diana, England

Columbian Policy on destroying the coca fields prevents those poor farmers from growing coca for all the plants' other uses, which are many.
Why not target the cocaine factories and destroy them rather than the growers. In any case 40-50% of all the coca used in Columbia for cocaine manufacture is grown in Peru.
Surely they would be better advised to follow this policy which is also advocated by President Morales in Bolivia.

Peter Freeman, High Peak, Derbyshire, UK

Thanks to BBC1 for broadcasting this programme.
Finally a documentary that identifies the real rout of the problem, which is the drug consumption in Europe and the US. If there wasn't a demand for cocaine, there wouldn't be a need to produce it and the Colombian farmers wouldn't be forced into growing it. The Colombian government and president Uribe in particular have been taking strict measures to deal with the drug problems in Colombia but the US and Europe have got to face up to their responsibilities and tackle drug consumption in their own country.
Shame though about the spelling mistake : ColUmbia is a film producing company & ColOmbia is a country.
Anne-Soazig Vesga, Warrington, Cheshire

I have never taken cocaine and can completely understand why they took the ex Blur star to present it. It stood out more than a normal presenter would have, and also would like to point out the murder rate in Colombia which included presenters. I think he was brave to go!
One of my friends was shocked to see how the base was made and I am sure this has put her off the drug for life.
It was so shocking that the bloke "Steve" was even contemplating being a mule is a popular drug but it is a very dangerous one and one that does impact on others lives...the hitman in the taxi was killed and so was one of the soldiers who was pulling up the leaves to try to eradicate some of the crops.
I know it will never eliminate the problem, but I hope it might have made some impact...I know I would never snort a white powder which started off being mixed with cement, petrol and sulphuric acid!!!
Catherine, Reading, UK

Thank you panorama for bringing this to light. People are so worried about the life of a chicken that they go out of their way to buy free-range eggs or give up meat but when they are doing a quick line in the toilets they don't realize they are helping to put land-mines where a child could step on them and keeping some of the world's poorest people in poverty.
lucie, barcelona

Having watched with interest the report by Alex James in Colombia and having read some of the comments posted by people since it was aired, I think that too many people are missing the point.
I feel that what he tried to do was entirely admirable, having been a user himself and having changed his ways. Who better to highlight some of the key issues relating to the "world's" cocaine problem?
People at the end of the day make their own choices, but to make those choices with as much information as possible can't be a bad thing. I'm sure there were things that weren't covered in the 30 minute programme, but I feel he did cover a broad spectrum in the available time.
My brother uses cocaine occasionally in the spirit of having a good time and when doing so turns into a slurring, dribbling mess totally unrecognisable to me. I hate it and don't understand his reasons for using the drug at all, but feel he does it because he see's it as more of a cool thing to do and that it gives him some sort of added confidence.
Now I'm not naive enough to say this happens to everyone who takes cocaine, or that it couldn't be down to the amount of alcohol he consumes when he takes the drug. I do think that if he'd bothered to watch the programme he may well have had more of an insight into what his ten minutes of fun costs in real terms the next he's about to use.
Alcohol, cigarettes, pornography, chocolate biscuits, whatever your poison is surely it's better to be well informed so that you can make the choice for you. But to pretend that bad things don't happen as a result of the cocaine business, to pretend that cocaine isn't glamorised in Britain, to pretend that lives aren't affected over here as well as in Colombia would be the biggest crime.
Ben, United Kingdom

It strikes me that the loudest critics of this programme's intentions are the people who least want to accept the problems their dirty pleasure creates. I'd like to see the physiological effects of cocaine abuse addressed as they are also shocking. The problem is whilst it retains it's cache, people will keep on taking it. I wish more celebs would come out and say they don't do it, the trouble is they're too hard to find.
G. Darke, Bristol

It makes me very angry and sad when I see/read these kind of programs being shown about my country of origin - no wonder Colombia is only know for cocaine & violence. It makes me angry because the world forgets that it's not just a Colombian problem BUT a world problem. Let's not forget that the biggest consumers of this drug are the USA & Europe. The US can carry on pumping billions of US$ into Colombia to combat the drugs trade, but perhaps what they should do is pump this money into their society who obviously have serious addiction problems. The day people boycott this drug (like the world did back in the 60s & 70s) against the fur trade, that day Colombia will stop producing it. As long as Europe and the States keep demanding it the production will carry on. In the meantime my country and my people are being killed and massacred and destroyed, but no one cares about this as long as people abroad are having a "good time" at the expense of a nation and it's people!! It'! s time that the world also took responsibility for this problem - IT'S NOT JUST A COLOMBIAN PROBLEM, and if it wasn't for this "cancer" Colombia would be thriving and known for other things rather than this evil drug!
Patricia, London, UK

Up until now I have always thought cocaine usage was unethical due to the supply chain issues including the misery endured by 'mules' and the associated violent crime. Should I ever consider using cocaine, this documentary made me feel much more comfortable to do so. Very little direct misery was shown and Alex James' presentation was self righteous, painfully slow in parts and overly emotive. He chose not to discuss a key issue with the president, which was to ask him his view on legalising the production, distribution and use of the drug in the same way that alcohol and nicotine are. He also did not point out the basic statistics that alcohol and nicotine are by far the biggest killers of all drugs used worldwide (from production to end user). An open, non moralistic debate on the legalisation or otherwise of cocaine is needed.
Geraldine, London, UK

As a Colombian in London, I can say that it is the first time I've seen a professional article on Colombia and its cocaine problem. A programme that shows a reality without exploiting the sensationalism of the war and violence. I would like to thank the team of Panorama and Alex James who really transmit a non easy topic from a European point of view. Colombia is a very beautiful country full of wonderful things and marvellous people.
Alejandra Millan, London

Well at least the website is correct.... But the caption in the programme "President of Columbia" doesn't enhance my belief in your journalistic research. How many times.... if it's got a "u" in it it's in the USA.. Apart from that a good programme and may be one that has made people think a little.
Russell Turner,

nice idea at its root for a programme (middle class celeb going to see just what goes into the West's drug of choice)... but from the wrong spelling of "Columbia" at its start, to the rehashing of Colombia-stereotypes (life threatening situations wherever you travel) to Alex James actually heralding Uribe in his efforts (this a President whose history is so entrenched in Paramilitary activity & US collaboration his motives can never be seen as clear) this was no more than skimming the surface of what is a brutal situation. There is so much more to the Colombian drug problem than this mere 30 minute programme could surmise
David Hillson, London

Panorama is to be congratulated on commissioning such an innovative take on this issue. As someone who has travelled independently in Colombia and been bowled over by its natural beauty and its wonderful people, but also seen it so constricted by the drugs trade, it was really refreshing to see such a clear perspective come through from the programme makers. Let's hope that in some small way this programme has some influence on the future of a country that deserves so much better.
Steve Henderson, Beckenham, UK

The program was an appalling piece of propaganda where a (not so) "trendy" rock star was used to guilt-trip people who use cocaine. It completely failed to address the fact that all of the problems it exposed stem directly from the illegal status of the drug in question. The policy of international governments, in particular the United States with their pathetic "war on drugs" is to blame for the terrible state of affairs in Columbia. I hope I live to see the day when governments stop treating their citizens like children and allow them to choose what they put into their own bodies. Maybe one day I will be able to buy a couple of grams of fair-trade cocaine from my local pharmacy. I'd be happy, the Columbian farmer would be happy and the government would be happy with the tax levy. Makes a bit more sense, doesn't it?
Matthew, Bradford

I am a Colombian who has been living in London for the past 5 years. I work in the West End as a Rickshaw (Taxi bikes) rider and it is so annoying that people stigmatise you for being Colombian always asking for drugs. I am a professional in International Relations who came here to study and its frustrating to see how people think that taking drugs make them fashionable. The worse part of this, is that people judge you without the real knowledge of what is going on. There are millions of Colombians like me that have to carry with such as unfair reputation. Narcotrafic is a global problem, and it has to be treated in the same way. "There are two things infinite, the universe and the human stupidity, I am not sure about the universe". Albert Einsten
Ariel Echeverry, London

Even legalising production and taxation here of cocaine would help these problems. I do not promote nor use or intend to use cocaine, it IS dangerous and harmful, but the obvious benefits from legalising or removing the criminality associated with drugs and removing drugs from pushers hands and putting it into the governments or private companies is better than the existing policy. It is harmful, this cannot be denied, but surely legalisation is a better option, especially if its controlled, taxed and backed up by INFORMATION (this is key to keeping people off the stuff). The money is just going into the hands of criminals, it might be a drug, but the same way you make guns illegal you also make the people who carry them criminals, and put the same power into their hands that you do by prohibition of drugs, especially when drugs fuel organised crime, and probably indirectly kills more people than guns do!
Matt, Kent Canterbury

What a one sided argument, taken from the view of Politicians. Nothing shown of the beauty of the people and the place. I lived in Bogota for two years, never saw anything as depicted in your programme. No shootings, no stabbings. First day back in London and a street was closed after a stabbing. So inaccurate that when you showed President Uribe, said the "President of Columbia".. can't even spell the name of the country!!!! I am happily married to a Beautiful Colombian Lady living in one of the most dangerous places in the world... London.. and that is what I have seen from my own eyes. I felt much safer in Bogota than I ever do here!!!
Darrell Jones, London

Tonight's Panorama was a real eye-opener. I always had real misgivings about the whole drug debate but never had any concrete facts or evidence to back up my moral viewpoint. I hope many drug users will have seen Alex's brave and deep insights. The programme is real proof that no-one can use the argument 'if it isn't hurting anyone else, why not?'.
Anne, London

Is this what Panorama has become, sending some inarticulate pop star to Columbia to tell us that drugs are bad and that soldiers being shot in coca fields is a long way from a jolly-up in Notting Hill? Tonight's show was insulting from start to finish, not to mention poorly shot (over exposed, out of focus...) Panorama used be about proper investigative journalism, now it's celebs on holiday.
Thomas Kelly, Dublin, Ireland

In two months of travelling throughout Colombia I've seen nothing of the problems shown in this feature, but I've seen their effects. These problems actually run much deeper than anything Alex talks about and much of it is rooted in government and military corruption as well as the farmers being under lethal threat by terrorist and paramilitary groups. The final result is a country stricken by poverty despite rich natural resources and a majority of intelligent and genuinely good people.
The damaging and addictive effects of cocaine are overrated, but the inexplicably high value it has in the west gives power and motivation for a minority of corrupt or unfortunate individuals to keep Colombia in economical and social mayhem. Which is really a shame, since besides that it is by far the most amazing country that I've been to.
Eric, London, UK

The majority of drug trafficking is controlled by right wing paramilitaries who are linked to many of President Uribe's Government Officials and his friends. This 'open secret' is now well known. There are currently many senior officials awaiting trial. As hinted to on the programme the drugs problem could be eradicated overnight if the billions used to spray land was given to peasant farmers to plant alternative crops. The reason why non-coca crops are sprayed is to clear the land for exploitation of big business such as Coca-Cola. Anybody who dares to open their mouths in protest are often killed - more Trade Unionists are murdered than in any other country in the world, nearly half are teachers. Whilst all of this is clear for all to see the British Government still provides military aid to the murderous regime. Uribe has launched a charm offensive to convince the outside world he is fighting terrorism and drug trafficking when in fact he is responsible for ensuring the continuation of the slaughter, disappearance and displacement of countless people. Unfortunately Alex was taken in by Uribe and I would urge him to spend some time studying the mountain of evidence supplied by organisations such as Justice for Colombia (JfC). I guarantee he and other genuinely interested people will not fail to have their views changed as mine was when I went on a Trade Union and Solicitors delegation organised by JfC.
Steve Jones, London

The Panorama franchise is a corpse now. Having just watched the Alex James episode I was stunned at how the BBC could offer this piece of risible, dumbed-down, 3rd rate so-called 'journalism' to the British public. The 6th-form idiots who wrote the programme couldn't even spell the name of Colombia properly. As a bellwether of the sad decline of the BBC generally the programme actually left me quite depressed at the thought of how little intelligent programming is available in the UK now. Panorama joins Horizon on the BBC's trash heap of once-great programmes.
Andy, London

Saw the show. Seemed a bit political to me. Sure the trade exploits people but I'm sure if you showed farmers in Africa, South America etc, farming any crop or working for any multi national you could find things which are not ethical including child labour and violence etc. As long as people want stuff and they want it as cheap as possible unfortunately people will be exploited.
Also I question the figure of 800000 users in the UK. I suspect it could be much higher than that as in my part of Leeds it is absolutely rife from everyone from the unemployed to the professionals.
James Mulkeen, Leeds UK

Congratulations. First time to see a TV programme treating this issue from this perspective, the real perspective of Colombian reality. Is good to create social responsibility abroad. Just to let know all the people in London that believe it is very posh and cool to sniff this, to be aware all the blood, tragedy and bad energy that has to pass by, so they can have some in their pocket, or in their nose.
Again congratulations and thank you for this great programme!!!
Carolina, Colombian living in London

Good to see a new angle on the cocaine wars, what Alex, didn't see, was the coca plantations in the paramilitary controlled lands in Colombia, lands that have been taken by force, causing more than 3 million internal refugees. The paramilitary coca plantations are never sprayed by the Colombian government which only wages war on the peasants that are not protected by their political and commercial allies, the paramilitaries. its understandable that Uribe Velez, who blinks when he sells his "truth" would not have shown the other side of the cocaine trade, the program is a step in the right direction ,there is more to see ,if the BBC. so wish.
Juan Guanus, Edinburgh UK

I was pleased to see that the BBC was airing on prime time TV a piece on Colombia which demonstrated the positive steps the country is taking against drug trafficking. There are too many misconceptions about the Colombia and I thought that the Panorama programme would be thought provoking and would educate viewers on this amazing country. However, I was angry that all this was negated as when the Panorama failed to spell Colombia correctly. Throughout the programme the typed text referred to 'Columbia'. For me the whole kudos and trust in the programme was lost by this simple error. How can we take seriously a programme if they can even get the name of the country right?
Katherine Saunders, London

Legalise Cannabis and save the beautiful country of Colombia. It is only the high price of prohibition that fuels the cocaine mafia. We in the West need to learn how to consume our drugs in a responsible way, as we do with alcohol. We should not transport our problems to Colombia as we are doing now by giving them our problems through irrational criminalisation.
Martin Earl, London

Good 30 mins of insight. A real eye opener. You can get 5g for £100 here, it's rife in the whole city. If you want coke you can get it anywhere anytime. Someone always knows a guy that sells it. Its made me think what role I have in the bigger picture, and I definitely feel guilt..... Bring back Blur!!!!!
Craig, Glasgow, Scotland

I really enjoyed last nights program. However for something that has such a big impact on our current society I felt 30 minutes was not long enough. I have seen the devastating effect cocaine has on people and society.
I feel that the battle against cocaine will never be won unless Colombia is given more resources to combat the problem from other governments other than America.
America claims to be helping the reduction of coca plantations in Colombia so why does 80% of the worlds cocaine still come from there? A question that will remain a mystery for eternity i feel.
Marc Lowden, Manchester

I was shocked to discover what was really happening in Columbia. I myself have tried cocaine but I don't think I will be taking it ever again. I cant believe it is mixed with petrol and concrete, that is disgusting. Apart from what it is made from it is shocking to realise that people are killed everyday just because people in Europe wanting to have a good time. If I am ever offered cocaine again I will be sure to think of who will die in replace of it.
Laura , Glasgow , UK

Very informative documentary however, a little disrespectful to Colombia by spelling its name incorrectly four times on screen! Having lived there during the late 1980's and early 1990's, I know how irate the Colombians become upon seeing their country's name incorrectly spelt. Come on BBC, get it right!
Fay Howlett, Camberley Surrey

So with all the trouble caused with Cocaine being a class A drug, surely it would be better if you could buy it in a shop after it had been grown in a factory in England?
Myself, Nottingham, UK

I watched the programme last night with interest. I have a very good friend from Colombia who gets annoyed that all everyone talks about when Colombia is mentioned is drugs and kidnapping. However none of us in the West can forget that what we do here has a direct effect on people in others. I have taken cocaine myself when I was younger and I agree with Alex James that when you are enjoying the high, the last thing you think about is the misery caused to the producers, or even how it is made. But as the dealer featured said, he doesn't offer it, people come looking for it and until we stop using it here, people will continue to be caught up in this horrific trade.
Danielle Fortier, Sheffield, UK

Some interesting angles, but my Colombian wife and I came away wondering how such a prestigious program could repeatedly use captions showing the Canadian province of Columbia instead of the country of Colombia.
Paul McGrath, London

I can't believe that with subject matter as dense and complicated as the cocaine business in Columbia, the BBC felt that it merited only 30 minutes of air time. It was clearly a difficult and harrowing trip for Alex James but the viewer was given no time to understand the various elements being discussed before being moved on to the next theme. This should have been a 90 minute special - I feel slightly short-changed and I'm not sure that James will feel it was worthwhile to risk his life for such a poor final production.
Alan Martin, London, England

Having lived in Colombia and seen the social and human devastation caused by cocaine, this is a very average, low impact poorly documented and presented programme. On top of that, twice "Colombia" was written " Columbia" , makes you wander what grade of cocaine the people who make the programme are on if BBC staff can't even spell properly!
Desiree Lllewellyn, London

I thought the program was excellent, it is right that people understand the full implications, not just to themselves about taking drugs. This is a very difficult issue that does not have any simple answers, unfortunately a lot of people find out too late what a problem these drugs are and can be, no one seems to be able to learn from others, they seem to have to make their own mind up.
Alex, Kingston, UK

Sadly, although interesting to watch and shocking in places, this programme did not go far enough to emphasise the human misery and bloodshed caused to those innocent Columbians whose lives are afflicted by this trade. It seemed to mostly show those people who had chosen a life involved in the supply chain and who, presumably, had taken the calculated risk in order to reap some of the benefits of the business. Unfortunately it won't be enough to turn around most of the people I know who partake and they'll continue to think I'm just a killjoy for banging on about it!
Jayne, Ruislip, Middlesex

How seriously should we take Panorama nowadays? Using Alex James, who has no discernible talent as a journalist, was a stunt that detracted from a moderately interesting story. Did he do a better job than a professional journalist? Of course not. And the editors really need to do some basic homework - over the opening shots of Bogota, they had helpfully put a title which identified the city, and named the country as Columbia. Oh dear.
Richard, Ashford, UK

Alex James and Vice-President Santos are right. Many of the street-children with whom I work here in Medellín have paid with their lives for the thoughtless self-indulgence of the consumers of cocaine in countries like Britain. The consumers are the real criminals because it is their money that fuels the violence in Colombia. I hope that your programme will encourage people to support the British charities that work in Colombia.
Fr Peter Walters, Medellin, Colombia

I watched this program for 2 reasons. 1 because my girlfriend is a huge Blur fan so if Alex had been appearing on anything I would have no choice and 2 because I am an ex-cocaine addict. In all honesty, having not had any drugs for about 3 months now and no intention of doing so, all I wanted after that program was drugs. I turned crabbit, bad tempered and rather huffy that I'd given them up and I couldn't get any - but then I knew within myself that I didn't really want any anyway. I know that sounds like a total contradiction - I'm not sounding very concise. I apologise. The matter is that I didn't care about the dealers or the farmers or the enforcers - dealers and enforcers get what they deserve - they know the risks they take. Farmers, if they had the choice, would do something else - maybe - but starving children would rather do something else than starve. That's a bit harsh. Supply and demand is what it's all about - there is a supply the world over and it can only come from Columbia. God I sound like a junkie again. There is no perfect world but credit to Alex James - I'm not a Blur fan but I respect what he did and the message he tried to get across. If only one Blur fan or indeed any one person stops cocaine due to watching this program then that's a good thing.
Craig, Glasgow, Scotland

Key Farc role in US cocaine trade
12 Feb 07 |  Americas
Colombia's 'lost war' against cocaine
23 May 06 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Country profile: Colombia
12 Jan 08 |  Country profiles


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