Thu, Nov 02, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Celebrities fuel Colombia's coke trade, official says


Colombia's vice president has it out for coke-snorting celebrities, targeting people like supermodel Kate Moss who he said are directly financing his country's violent, drug-fueled civil conflict.

"Cocaine not only destroys you, it also destroys a country," is the theme of a hard-hitting Colombian-led advertising campaign designed to change attitudes among Europeans about their booming cocaine habit in the same way that "Just Say No" did in the US.

Moss herself doesn't appear in the ads, but Vice President Francisco Santos said she's a perfect example of liberal European attitudes toward drug use -- she's enjoyed a career comeback even after a British tabloid published photos of her apparently snorting cocaine.

"To me its baffling, that somebody who helps cause so much pain in Colombia is doing better than ever and winning more contracts than ever," Santos said in an interview.

"And I never once heard her say, `I'm sorry.' When in Colombia, policeman, judges, journalists, common men and women are dying every day because of [cocaine consumption] that hurts," the official added.

Santos said he'd love Moss to see what cocaine consumption does to Colombia, where drug-financed armed groups murder hundreds annually and force thousands to abandon their homes.

A spokeswoman at Storm, Moss's modeling agency in London, did not immediately return a call and e-mail seeking comment.

Colombia hired New York-based advertising agency Lowe Worldwide to design its "cocaine curse" campaign, which Santos was to unveil in London yesterday along with 11 European drug czars.

"We need to tell Europeans that that line of coke they snort is tainted in blood," Santos said.

One ad depicts a pinstriped "coke head" -- with an oversized nose -- laying land mines in a coca field. Colombia now ranks first in the world in land-mine casualties, averaging four a day. Another shows him wielding a chain saw on a charred, deforested hillside.

Colombia, the world's largest producer of cocaine, hopes European governments will fund placement of the advertisements on billboards, television and even bathrooms of trendy dance clubs.

It's also launched an English-language Web site to highlight its efforts in the US-sponsored war on drugs, including aerial eradication of more than 600,000 hectares of coca, the base ingredient of cocaine, since 2002.

Colombia's government is also seeking more European aid for projects to help peasant farmers switch from growing coca to legal crops like tropical fruits, coffee and rubber.

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