The war on drugs is one of the longest and most futile wars the West has waged and one which ruins lives on both sides of the divide. Fuelled by loudmouth tosspots in US/Europe this multi-billion pound business touches all of us directly or indirectly and the world's most powerful governments have been incapable of getting to grips with it.
Fresh from a her expose of the horrors of Magaluf, Stacey Dooley presents a three-parter on BBC3 exposing the murky world of the drug trade. Think of her as a budget version of Louis Theroux, where serious subjects are tackled with the same knowledge and wide-eyed naivete you might find in your local 6th form media studies class.
Peru is now the largest producer of cocaine in the world. This fact amazes Stacey and her first subject Danny, a cockney moron who tried to smuggle 1.3 kilos of Peruvian marching powder (the clue is in the title Stacey) out the country and is currently residing at El Presidente's pleasure, inside a overcrowded Lima jail.
‘I always thought Columbia was the world’s biggest cocaine producer,’ he tells Stacey, in his England cap . ‘So did I" she grins.
Anyone with even a passing knowledge on the subject would be aware the two countries share a border, a massive jungle and more importantly the kind of grinding poverty which makes growing coca one of the only viable ways to make a living.
With her credentials fully established what we get is Tracey pissing about in various locations; from the coca growers in the hills of San Jose where Tracey has to overcome the not-at-all staged road block by riding to the location on some passing donkeys.
"If it is this hard for us to get here think of the Peruvian authorities."
to the infamous cocaine laboratories of Santa Rosa where her attempts at creating some TV jeopardy by whispering sotto voce how they all need to keep a low profile are somewhat undermined by her delivering said piece to camera in broad daylight.
For those of you who are interested the process itself is a fairly amateur affair. It involves picking coca leaf, sun-drying it and mixing it with salt, bleach, ammonia and gasoline in makeshift vats and treading all over it like a gap-student making wine in Provence. Whack the paste into microwave for 40mins and bingo!
Then she is off on a raid with a crack team of Peruvian commandos who are responding to a tip off. It might be revelatory to Stracey but they actually have helicopters that can reach those out of the way locations. As she tip-toes up a muddy jungle path her excitement gets the better of her and she starts to resemble a fake tanned Blind Date contestant who drew the short straw and instead of being sent on a spa treatment got sent on a go-karting holiday instead.
"This is the most insane thing I've ever done"
The commandos get there but all the bad guys have scarpered leaving them to burn the makeshift factory to the ground in what feels like a futile gesture. The outlook doesn't great for them as new varieties of coca leaf have been created that don't require the cooler hillside temperatures and can be hidden in the muggy Amazon basin well away from the prying eyes of law enforcement.
Despite the misery that cocaine inflicts upon the world you find it difficult to criticise the subsistence farmers who grow the crop in Cuchillo Cocha, an Amazonian backwater, when one says he is finally able to drink cold water for the first time in 50yrs as he can now afford a fridge. Dooley tries her best to emphasise the apparent wealth of this town
"There's tin roofs everywhere"
but these guys certainly aren't living like they're in an episode of MTV Cribs. Give them something else they can grow and make living and they will move on to that. Growing coca doesn't make them rich it helps them escape poverty.
With the best will in the world Dooley is not a serious documentarian and would do well tackling subjects more suited to her style (although I did enjoy her Blood Sweat and T Shirts expose in 2008). Perhaps she will develope with experience but here she just looks a bit lost and out of her depth.
The documentary may not be particularly eye opening but it is timely following the news that
two 19yr olds, Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid, were arrested in Lima on Tuesday trying to smuggle 11 kilos of cocaine worth £1.5m out of the country. Not to worry girls. I'm sure Danny will show you the ropes.
You can watch it for the next week in iPlayer but to be honest go check out Bruce Parry's Amazon or Channel 4's Cocaine series for more substance.