Andrea Fernandez was found by police wandering topless along the median strip of a busy highway in Bogota, Colombia. She was badly beaten and alone. The last thing Fernandez recalled was holding her newborn baby on a city bus, three days earlier. Fernandez was one of the hundreds of victims of the home-grown drug called scopolamine, which has been embraced by criminals in Colombia. Police believe Fernandez’s son was taken by an infant trafficking gang.
Scopolamine is a medicine widely used for motion sickness or tremors but in Colombia, is a scary zombie drug called ‘devil’s breath.’ In a recent document, Vice called scopolamine or ‘burundanga’ the ‘world’s scariest drug.’ That’s because scopolamine is a potent weapon to Colombian criminals who use it to put people into a zombie-like state where they lose their memory and free will, and can be convinced to do anything that they’re told. Finding the drug in Colombia is not hard. The tree which naturally produces scopolamine grows wild and is so famous in the countryside that mothers warn their children not to fall asleep below its yellow and white flowers. The tree is popularly known as the “borrachero,” or “get-you-drunk,” and the pollen alone is said to conjure up strange dreams.
Scopolamine has a dark history in Colombia. Legend has it that Colombian Indian tribes used the drug to bury alive the wives and slaves of fallen chiefs, so that they would quietly accompany their masters into the afterworld. These days, Burundanga is often slipped into beverages, and because it is odorless and tasteless, unsuspecting victims are none the wiser. Victims of the drug range from high-profile politicians, US Embassy employees to average Colombians. Colombia police reported nearly 1,200 cases of people victimized by the zombie drug. Since the 1970s, Colombian criminals have used scopolamine in order to rape women, force women into the Colombian sex trade, empty out houses and apartments, and even abduct children. It is also believed that many of these crimes go unreported because they involve married men frequenting bars and brothels, who are too embarrassed to fess up to what happened.
Maria Fernana Villota, a nurse at San Jose University Hospital in Bogota, Colombia told reporters about the repeated and devastating effects of the burundanga drug. “People go out to party and they wake up two or three days later on a park bench,” she says. “They arrive at the hospital without their belongings or any money.” Villota receives several scopolamine victims each week.
In the early 1980s a Colombian diplomat was arrested in Chile for trafficking cocaine. It turned out he had been dosed with scopolamine then, while under its effects, agreed to carry a stash of cocaine in his diplomatic pouch. The charges were eventually dropped on the grounds that he had been doped.
In 2012, kidnappers used the drug on the parents of a 7-year-old girl in northern Antioquia, and then took the child. She was rescued two months later. But because victims remember almost nothing about these encounters it’s often impossible for them to provide police with descriptions of the perpetrators.
There are so many scopolamine cases that they usually don’t make the news unless particularly bizarre. One such incident involved three young Bogota women who preyed on men by smearing the drug on their breasts and luring their victims to take a lick. Their victims readily gave up their bank access codes. The breast-temptress thieves then held them hostage for days while draining their accounts.
Colombia is home to the most violent cities in the world including Medellin, Cali, Bogota and Buenaventura. The country also has the tenth highest rate of kidnappings per capita in Latin America. Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada advises Canadians against all travel to most rural areas of Colombia, Buenaventura, and the southern parts of La Guajira. That being said, many tourists who have travelled to Colombia state that the ideas of a “coke-soaked land still lost in the days of the Escobar gang” are false and offensive. While many Colombians can remember growing up in a gangland battlefield, tourists claim that Colombia does not remain a gangster’s paradise as the drug war has migrated north, closer to the US-Mexico border.