Fact Sheet
Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
September 21, 2011

Colombia, Pais de Contrastes was a nationwide photo contest in celebration of Earth Day 2011, that sought to illustrate four themes: the incredible biodiversity of Colombia, the social and environmental damage done by illicit crops and narco-trafficking, and what ordinary Colombians are doing to support and protect the environment. More than 7,000 Colombians of all ages took part, sending in pictures from every state in the country and many national parks, and participating as well through discussion of the contest’s themes on its Facebook page.

The first of its kind in Colombia, the contest received coverage from nearly every major media outlet in Colombia. “Environmental Ambassadors” – prominent actors and journalists committed to spreading the message of the environmental damage done by coca cultivation – helped promote the contest, including model Monica Fonseca, actors Juan Luis Aragon and Luis Felipe Cortes, and Vallenato band “Gusi y Beto.”

Their promotions are here:

http://youtu.be/bca82otYgmQ ;

http://youtu.be/7T7AXJoA_eE ; http://youtu.be/dg9j2B_ytVc

http://youtu.be/Tp6yaOE2b1E .

The15 photos, shown below, were selected by a jury of photographers and environmentalists, including Jaime Garcia, the Photography Editor of El Tiempo – Colombia’s most circulated daily newspaper – and Cristina Uribe, a UNESCO-recognized environmental photographer. The photos were judged on three metrics: their relevance to the theme (60%); technical expertise displayed on focus, light, and composition (20%); and creativity (20%). All photos were unaltered and have never been previously published.

The photos capture the incredible stories of Colombia’s contrasts: the beauty of a butterfly with transparent “wings of crystal” to a soldier walking through the shards of glass after the bombing by narco-terrorists of the Caracol building in Bogota; from a soldier standing over an oil pit, used in the processing of cocaine, deep in the tropical jungle, to a wind farm in the northern plains of Colombia to the breathtaking vista of Colombia’s snow-capped peaks.

The collective environmental and social costs borne by ordinary Colombians are not always well known by the consumers of cocaine, primarily in the U.S. and Europe. Colombia is the second-most biodiverse nation on Earth, containing 10% of the species and plants that exist, some of which can live nowhere else. This biodiversity is put at risk by narcotrafficking: each year, coca cultivation results in the deforestation of acres of pristine tropical forest the size of the state of Kansas. Thousands of gallons of gasoline, acid, and other chemicals are spilled in Colombia’s waterways by cocaine production laboratories. The social cost is more frightening still: thousands of members of the Colombian armed forces have died in a conflict with guerrilla insurgents who often force farmers to grow coca. Insurgents protect these fields with mines, turning the farms of ordinary Colombians into a warzone. Colombia is second only to Afghanistan in mine explosions--explosions and loss of life and limb occur every 8 hours. Cocaine use destroys Colombia’s environment and supports narco-terrorism, a message “Colombia, Pais de Contrastes” seeks to spread. The categories of “Colombia’s Natural Beauty” and “What Do I Do to Support the Environment and Society” illustrate the precious treasures – her environment and people – that need protecting.

The 15 finalists were put to a nationwide vote. Over 13,000 votes were cast to determine the winner in each of the four categories and runners-up. The four winners received an all-inclusive trip to the National Park Isla Gorgona, an uninhabited island off the coast of Colombia that resembles the islands of the Galapagos in biodiversity and Alcatraz as an isolated prison. All were honored at an Earth Day celebration on April 29, 2011.

The 15 finalists' photographs are shown below, ranked in order under each category. Colombia, Pais de Contrastes was organized by the U.S. Embassy in Colombia and the Colombian Ministry of Interior and Justice, with support from the Editorial House of El Tiempo. We hope you will join the conversation and help us select the winners next year!

[Editor's note: Regrettably, we are unable to post all 7,000 photographs on this site, but we hope this gives users a sense of the beauty and contrasts of Colombia and for those who have Facebook accounts, all of the submitted photos are available on the page at www.facebook.com/colombiapaisdecontrastes.]

The photographs can also be viewed at the Art Museum of the Americas of the Organization of the American States:

September 21 through October 7
AMA | OAS Terrace Level Photo Gallery
1889 F Street, NW (corner of 18th Street)
Washington, DC 20006
Hours: MON - FRI 9AM - 5PM

Category: Environmental Impact of Illicit Crops

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Ana María Palacios-Cano
El presente de un país ciego sera el futuro de un pais inconsciente
(The Present of a Blind Country Shall be the Future of an Unconscious Country)

Just outside Apulo, Department of Cundinamarca; 2009

Date: 2009 Location: Department of Cundinamarca, Colombia Description: A dried riverbed with black mud cracking and breaking up from the dryness.   Contest submission by Ana Maria Palacios-Cano

“I was on an ecologic hike to get in touch with nature, to enjoy the peace of the countryside, to be away from all distracting noises. I decided to go to the river to feel the water run through my feet and photograph the planet’s natural mirror. Instead, I found myself face-to-face with drought, barrenness, and what from a distance seemed like destruction. This photo reflects how drug trafficking is destroying the environment, for drug trafficking is one of the many manifestations of people’s lack of awareness in the country, and this lack of awareness has an impact on our planet, resulting in a slow change of the world as we know it. A dark side, drought, lack of water, and the beautiful green forests, air pollution, the extinction of species and other forms of destruction are in the hands of those who inhabit it.”


Javier Oicata Sosa
Impacto ambiental (Environmental Impact)
Tumaco, Department of Narino; July 17, 2010

Date: 07/17/2010 Location: Tumaco, Department of Narino, Colombia Description: A soldier in camoflage fatigues stands in a small clearing in a jungle-like area, rifle in hand.  Contest Submission by Javier Oicata Sosa

"This picture shows how drugs cause irreversible environmental damage to the soil and wildlife. In the picture, a soldier attests to the damage caused by illegal refinery in order to raise funds to process drugs. This crude oil is stolen from the state-owned Ecopetrol pipeline network. Cocaine production is a three-step process: coca leaves are turned into coca paste, the paste in turn is processed into coca base and, finally, the coca base is converted in cocaine. During each of these steps, traffickers use a lot of chemicals which are then dumped as waste in the surrounding area. These chemical wastes are the side effect of drugs that profoundly affects the environment.”


John Alexander Sanchez-Aranguren
Colcha de retazos (Patchwork Quilt)
Between La Primavera y Cumaribo, Department of Vichada; 2005
Date: 2005 Location: Department of Vichada, Colombia Description: An aerial photograph showing a narrow strip of lush green vegetation surrounded by a vast plain, brown with sparse growth. Large squares of the green vegetation have been stripped and show in various shades of brown. Constest submission by John Alexander Sanchez-Aranguren

“The ecosystem shown in this photograph is a gallery forest, standing in the middle of the plain surrounding the streams, brooks with vegetation not exceeding 25 meters in height and is of importance for the region to accommodate species of flora and fauna unique in our country. Its functionality is to articulate a series of corridors that connect this area to the south, east and north of the country, allowing the transit of several wildlife species including birds and felines. Unfortunately, the remoteness and isolation of the region have been used to camouflage illegal crops by literally cutting patches of forest, as shown in the picture, contributing to the fragmentation of the ecosystems that are vital to the country.”


Carolina Garcia Moyano
Nacimientos (Headwaters)
Anori, Department of Antioquia; 2003

Date: 2003 Location: Anori, Department of Antioquia, Colombia Description: Fronds atop a lean-to burning in a forested area near a stream. Contest Submission by Carolina Garcia Moyano

“Water is essential for the survival of all known forms of life. It is also one of the natural resources that are becoming scarcer as the world’s population grows. There are groups outside the law who’ve set up clandestine laboratories near natural water sources. For them, water is also essential to their drug making process, since it requires extensive use of water to mix different chemicals such as sulfuric acid, lime, ammonia and others. They pollute our water sources and kill every living thing depends on it. It’s unfair that a humans become blinded by money and greed, damaging the ecosystem that we all care for. We care for our planet and its water sources, which are the source of all life!"

Category: Social Impact of Drug Trafficking

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Maria Lorena Cárdenas Sanchez
Consecuencias del narcotrafico: Nuestra Gente (Consequences of Drug Trafficking: Our people)
Santiago de Cali; Department of Valle del Cauca; 2010

Date: 2010 Location: Santiago de Cali; Department of Valle del Cauca, Colombia Description: Amputee soldiers in camoflage fatigues in wheelchairs being pushed by fellow soldiers in a parade.  Contest Submission by Maria Lorena Cardenas Sanchez

“This photo is a reflection of the social damage caused by drug trafficking. Those who grow the plants and traffic with drugs will do anything to protect their crops from eradication, and land mines are their tool of choice. They harm civil society and hurt our Armed Forces, mutilating their bodies, or worse, killing them. For this photo, our servicemen are the victims of this scourge; they go where illicit crops are, whether eradicating illicit crops or protecting those who live there.”


Mauricio Mejia
Tribus subordinadas (Subordinate Tribes)
Bogota, Colombia, 2010

Date: 2010 Location: Bogota, Colombia Description: A woman wearing a ragged skirt stands barefoot on a sidewalk.  Only her bare legs and feet covered with dirt show. The feet and legs of a man in a business suit and dress shoes are shown as he walks behind her.  Contest submission by Mauricio Mejia

“This is a way to show and express situations to which I am opposed, social differences and absurd drug wars that only leave poverty and displacement behind. They rob indigenous communities from their rights and many others from keeping their lands, traditions and languages. These people are forced to flee to cities such as Bogota, and rummage for an existence.”


Oscar D. Rodriguez
Soledad (Solitude)
Bogota, D.C.; August 12, 2010

Date: 08/12/2010 Location: Bogota, Colombia Description: A man dressed in camoflage fatigues and a yellow hard-hat walks through the debris of a city building left after a car-bomb explosion. Contest submission by Oscar D. Rodriguez

“This photo shows destruction, desolation, sadness. Makes you wonder ‘why?’ It makes you fear you could have been right there and then. This is the destruction caused by a car bomb placed by a group of narco-terrorists; no doubt it can cause unimaginable damage to society, not only physical damage. After all, a bus stop can be rebuilt, broken windows can be replaced. What about the fear to go out again, to turn into another innocent victim?”

Category: Colombia’s Natural Beauty

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Leonardo Arango
Nada que envidiarle a Africa (Nothing to envy Africa)
Cocorna, Department of Antioquia; 2011

Date: 2011 Location: Cocorna, Department of Antioquia, Colombia Description: A valley photographed at early dawn.  A lone tree stands at the center of the scene, standing tall over the surrounding greenery.  A light mist bathes the colors of the valley into a soft glow of green and gold.  Contest submission by Leonardo Arango

“We live in a privileged country; no wonder it is identified as megadiverse. While Colombia only occupies one percent of the planet’s surface, it is home to 10% of its biodiversity. This photo was taken in a place once abused by violence and drug trafficking. The photograph was taken at the break of dawn and the entire place is just majestic; the golden sun makes it look like an oil painting; a tree stands tall admiring its natural beauty; a shiny brook stands ready to provide fresh water. Once someone said, “If someone had told me that photo was Africa, I would have believed it.” Without a doubt, Colombia is a country of contrasts. Such beauty and outsiders are not aware of it; we’re identified only with war and drug trafficking. We cannot allow violence to tarnish what cannot be taken from us; that which is COLOMBIA.”


Oscar Hernando Canon Gonzalez
Reflejos Dorados de la Sierra (Golden reflections of the Sierra)
Cocuy, Department of Boyaca; December 2010

“Many have searched for the legendary El Dorado. But when I stood on the Sierra Nevado del Cocuy and enjoyed this golden view for at least ten minutes, I felt I had found it. To take this photo I had to get up at the crack of dawn with temperatures below zero, walk to the Plaza Lake outlet, and hope for weather conditions to hold. Fortunately, all was in my favor and I had the chance to enjoy that golden moment. Not long ago, this was a dangerous place to visit. The guerrilla had prevented contemplation. Now, once again, it is open to anyone who wishes to contemplate the treasure of El Dorado in its true dimension. To the indigenous U'wa, the Sierra is the heart of the world."


Bertram Erik Rupert
Alas de cristal (Crystalwings)
Valle de Cocora, towards the Parque de los Nevados; 2008

Date: 2008 Location: Valle de Cocora, Colombia Description: A butterfly with transparent wings with small translucent yellow spots, and outlined in black.  Contest submission by Bertram Erik Rupert

“I took the photograph on my way to the Los Nevados National Park, by the fog forest. It’s the Crystalwing Butterfly.”


Alvaro Diaz
Ciudad reptilia (Reptilian City)
Tayrona Natural National Park; 2010

Date: 2010 Location: Tayrona Natural National Park, Colombia Description: A close-up of the head and back of a lizard in the wild. The lizard's head is sky blue from the eyes to the neck, while the top is leaf-green. The lizard's back is green on the sides, with a silver streak up the middle.   Contest submission by Alvaro Diaz

“This lizard, which surely goes unnoticed by those enchanted with the beauty of the Tayrona National Park beaches, was running around with its green lizard friends near my tent. There was yet another sample of Colombia’s smallest natural wonders. The colors of its scales, its agile movements, the slenderness of its figure. It’s not a giant, it doesn’t fly, it doesn’t make strange noises, and maybe it doesn’t do anything to affect its surroundings so as to raise the curiosity of others. It just sits there, sunbathing every so often, running among the branches and the white stones that skirt the beach. It just exists, and it is happy that way. Its essence is what makes it so beautiful among so many other possible photos in a place of fantasy.”

Category: What do I do for Society and the Environment?

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Nidia Esmeralda Amador Rodriguez
Colombia y sus ancestros (Colombia and its ancestros)
Leticia, Department of the Amazon; July 2008

Date: 07/2008 Location: Leticia, Department of the Amazon, Colombia Description: A woman dressed in police officer's uniform hugs several of the many small children surrounding her. The children are dressed in traditional clothing.  Contest submission by Nidia Esmeralda Amador Rodriguez

“This picture taken in Leticia, Department of the Amazon, shows us the best of the Colombian National Police in 2008. This officer of indigenous ancestry, because of her indigenous blood and her love for her own community, decided to teach and help her own community in the resolution of conflicts. Thanks to this, she’s earned the respect, love and friendship of the community. Her dedication and passion have hindered the influence of drug trafficking over the community, preserved the environment, and taught the community to work side by side with the Colombian National Police.”


Jose David Solis Noguera
Ninos Sembradores de Paz (Children, sowers of peace)

Las Brisas de las Palmas, Commune 18, Santiago de Cali; 2011

Date: 2011 Location: Santiago de Cali, Colombia Description: Two young girls smile as they show the photographer their hands made dirty from planting the tree beside which they kneel.  Contest submission by Jose David Solis Noguera

“The photograph shows us the work done by boys and girls at high social risk to help the environment. They are participants of the “Rayuela” Civic Project (Hopscotch) by the Fundacion Siembra Comunidad, carried out at the Commune 18 in Cali. This project seeks to promote the development of the necessary abilities and attitudes to understand the relationship between people, their cultures and the biophysical world. The project has allowed us to see that among so many needs that exist in Commune 18, one of them is eco-educational cultural, aimed especially at children. The separation of our consumer society's connection with nature requires an urgent culture of justice, sustainability and peace. In implementing the workshops, we reinforce this connection. We try, in a fun and creative way, to make the children feel part of a global planetary reality that encompasses us all.”


Juan Guillermo Morales Arenas
Parque Eolico
Department of La Guajira; 2010

Date: 2010 Location: Parque Eólico, Department of La Guajira, Colombia Description: Modern windmills stretch off into the distance across a flat stretch of land, above which is a deep blue sky with white clouds. Contest submission by Juan Guillermo Morales Arenas

“I chose this picture because the wind farm is the first Jepirachi wind farm in Colombia, helping the environment. That wind energy is an abundant, renewable, clean resource, and it helps reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by replacing thermoelectric based on fossil fuels, making it a kind of green energy. Colombia begins to put your bit to help the environment and I want the world to see we are doing for him.”


Natividad Barajas Bohorquez
Embotellados (Bottled)
San Vicente Hospital, Ramiriqui, Department of Boyaca; 2010

Date: 2010 Location: Ramiriqui, Department of Boyacá, Colombia Description: A collection of clean soda bottles next to a small potted plant. Each soda bottle is filled with bits of multicolored trash. Contest submission by Natividad Barajas Bohorquez

“This photo shows exactly what I am doing as an inhabitant of this planet, what I am doing on a daily basis, to help mitigate the damage we humans are causing. This activity of collecting ordinary waste of everyday life and stuff them inside plastic bottles, I carry it out both at home and at work. I borrowed the idea from Bioexpo Neiva 2010 and copied it at work. My coworkers accepted it and every section at the hospital where I work, has a bottle where we place our daily waste.”