We are in the golden age of cocaine; it has never been so popular or so accessible. For many Europeans and North Americans, cocaine is fun and uplifting. For many Colombians, cocaine is blood and violence, corruption, poverty and ecological disaster. This reportage delves into the murky depths of the cocaine trade and exposes some of the human consequences of the world’s favorite party drug as seen in Colombia.

Because of the insatiable demand for cocaine, especially in Europe and the US, consumption and production of the glamorized substance have reached unprecedented levels, and despite the “War on Drugs” led by the U.S. for more than forty years. Trade in illegal drugs is the world’s largest illegal economy, bringing in its wake corruption, failed development and dramatically high murder rates, in particular in Latin America. Entire societies and countries have been destabilized as the cartels consolidate their power and dominance with the endless flow of profits from the drug business.


Years of military campaigns and endless efforts to stop cocaine production in Colombia have not stopped the country from being the world’s largest producer of cocaine with some of the biggest coca harvests ever.

So far the international response has been a mixture of prohibition, punishment and bloody military campaigns raging across the countryside. This has been the strategy since the 1970s, but is it working? Or who is it working for?

National leaders across Latin America have started to question international drug policies openly in the light of the damage caused. Many are calling for a rethink with new alternative solutions, and even controlled legalization of the drug. The war on cocaine has been lost, and a new strategy must be found urgently, as was stated by the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos.

The ongoing photographic project Sangre Blanca – The Lost War on Cocaine strives to document the journey of the sacred coca leaf of the Incas, from the fields to the laboratories, from the bloody fight for and against cocaine all the way through to the submarines and airports smuggling it out to the world’s voracious consumers.

Mads Nissen

Mads Nissen

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