Feb. 12, 2006 — -- As you give your sweetie roses this Valentine's Day, did you know you're also buying into a program with roots in America's war on drugs?
Americans will buy almost 200 million roses for Valentine's Day, and almost all of them will come from South America, mostly from Colombia. Better-known for its fine coffees and its illicit cocaine, Colombia is also the world's biggest producer of roses, almost all of which go straight to the United States.
"We can produce around 16 million roses a year … on this farm," said Axel Jordan, general manager of Flores el Tandil.
If that sounds like a lot of roses, that's because "there's a lot of Americans," Jordan said.
Colombia's rose industry is only 35 years old. Established with American help to combat poverty and the drug trade, the industry now employs almost 200,000 people. The labor practices, which once were criticized, now are more carefully controlled.
There is simply no better place to be a rose than in a valley near Bogota, Colombia. Near the equator, the valley gets constant sunlight year round. It is 8,500 feet above sea level, so the nights are cool and humid and the days are warm and dry -- similar to New York weather in September.
Getting the roses from Colombia to cities across the United States in time for Valentine's Day requires the precision of a military planner. At nightfall on evenings preceding Valentine's Day, refrigerated trucks cross the valley and descend on Bogota's El Dorado Airport, where every single flower box must be X-rayed for illicit drugs before it is allowed to leave.
Thirty-five cargo planes head for Miami each night before Valentine's Day. From there, the precious freight is loaded on refrigerated trucks and driven across the continent.
"It boils down to millions of flowers," said Liborio Cuelar of Tampa Cargo, "millions of bouquets, millions of gifts that have to be delivered in one day. They have to be delivered on the 14th of February"
ABC News' Jeffrey Kofman reported this story for "World News Tonight."