Drug Trafficking from Central America: Why It Should Be Controlled in Any Way
The term “drug trafficking” does not have a specific definition. However, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) defines drug trafficking as “a global illicit trade involving the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, and sale of substances which are subject to drug prohibition laws” (Albanese, 2014). An important event which is fundamental for the understanding of the extent to which globalization contributed to drug trafficking was the founding of the Medellin Cartel by Pablo Escobar in 1976. This contributed to the expansion of the Cocaine trade from Colombia, through the rest of South America and even to Europe. This essay will be discussing the extent to which this caused an increase in the production, sale, and consumption of this substance.
Additionally, there will be an in-depth discussion about the way in which the process of globalization contributed and even facilitated this expansion. This will, therefore, be analyzed from a Transnational Criminology point of view. Cocaine re-appeared in the 1970s as the champagne of drugs due to its high economic value and the lack of serious consequences – also, the steady decrease of pricing helped this substance to attract producers and users. Although the so-called “war on drugs” was happening in the US, it did not stop at least 6 million Americans from using cocaine on a regular basis during the late 70s and 80s (Drug Enforcement Museum & Visitors Center, n.d.). Although this might overlap with the theme of drug trafficking, it will only be briefly mentioned so that this provides a clearer understanding of the extent globalization has impacted the manufacturing, selling, and usage of drugs in general. The structure of this essay will be as follows: there will be a thorough discussion about the extent to which the formation of the cartel contributed for the increase in the global trade of cocaine, followed by a critical evaluation about what this massive increase meant for the world in terms of economics and drug control, especially at a time where the US was and still is imposing very harsh sanctions for drug use and offenses. The essay will also make use of statistics and graphs taken from trusted sources in order to support the information provided and to provide a better understanding of the matter being discussed.
Before any critical analysis, it is worth looking at how drug trafficking took “advantage” of globalization. The drug boom of the 1960s allowed the drug trade to literally take off on the wings of globalization. This meant that with all the technological and transportation advances, the sale of drugs could reach beyond its country of production – which made it grow into the biggest industry in the world (Albanese, 2014). In 1976, Pablo Escobar gave the biggest boost in the production of cocaine. The formation of the Medellin Cartel meant that Colombia was about to start a new era for drug trafficking. Along with the cartels, came an increase in violent crime in Colombia – mainly as an attempt to demonstrate authority to the rest of the population and to the government as well. Cartels, in especial, the Medellin Cartel, benefitted from the protection of the so-called Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) – the way in which this contributed to the successful transnational trade of cocaine will be discussed later in this essay.
The production of cocaine is very specific to one section of the world – its leaf would only grow in certain climates, which are very much exclusive to South America (Buxton, n.d.). This is demonstrated by the fact that Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru are the main cocaine producers in the world, with a production percentage close to 100% (UNODC, 2011).
One may ask the question: where does all the drug go? Statistics demonstrate that only 19% of the cocaine produced was consumed in South American countries (UNODC, 2011). So, what motivates the population of these countries to help traffickers? As mentioned earlier, FARC is, in a way, the main cause. This organization offers money and protection for farmers who produce the coca plant. In order to understand this, it is worth looking at the economical situation of those living in such countries. The majority of these farmers have no choice but to accept the money offered by the guerrilla to survive – the lack of jobs and help from the government also influences their decision. However, the most important factor is the use of violence and threats. This violent culture dates to the formation of the Medellin Cartel, where violence was used as a demonstration of power and authority.
The Colombian government intervened with measures such as the implementation of the Plan Colombia in 1999. Although this program aimed at controlling the production and trafficking of drugs domestically, as well as trying to tackle military groups such as FARC, it had transnational ramifications as well. This is demonstrated by the intervention of US President Bill Clinton, where he agreed to contribute with $1.3 Billion for a period of 9 years (Buxton, n.d.). Plan Colombia had 3 main goals: “1) reduce the flow of illicit narcotics and improve security, 2) promote social and economic justice, and 3) promote the rule of law” (GAO, 2008). The goal was then to attack the supplier and eradicate the production of the coca bush, consequently, leading to less cocaine flowing through transnational routes and reaching the rest of the world (Albanese, 2014). From a non-drug-related point of view, Plan Colombia was successful in on recaptured many of the farms and roads controlled by FARC (ibid). However, coca production simply moved to areas of more difficult access, which did not stop its production. In contrast with this information, eradication efforts managed to destroy about 165,000 hectares of coca bush farms (ibid).
On the other hand, cocaine production in all 3 targeted countries only decreased by 15%, which is way below its 50% target – this is due to the so-called “balloon effect”. By diminishing the production of coca bush in Colombia, the global demand for cocaine increased, which led to countries such as Bolivia and Peru to boost their production in order to meet transnational demands. Therefore, it is possible to conclude that, whilst the government aimed at reducing the international traffic of cocaine, it, in fact, contributed to the expansion of coca bush production in other countries. Like a balloon, “no matter how hard you squeeze one side, the air will always flow to other areas” (Albanese, 2014).
Of all the cocaine produced in these countries, the US consumes an estimated amount of 88% – which leads us to question the extent to which the “war on drugs” is successful in tackling drug abuse. However, statistics like these clearly demonstrate that this war, which has been going on for more than 30 years, is being won by drug use and trafficking. Although there has been an increased presence of US vigilance in south American countries since 1971, America has been unable to eradicate or even control the production of illicit drugs and has failed to stop it from leaving South American borders. (Drug Policy Alliance, 2017). David Harvey (1990) points out that globalization has allowed an “increasing speed of communication (…), the shrinking of space and the shortening of time” (cited in Aas, 2013). In this context, one can see that communication between individuals in different parts of the world is much easier now than 30 years ago. The so-called “shrinking of space” relates to the fact that, whilst years, even months are taken to cross the Atlantic to get to Europe, planes can do that in hours. In general, the production of drugs is expanding even to developing areas such as South Africa, Kenya, and Congo (BBC, 2000).
By looking at this from a Transnational Criminology point of view, one can see the extent to which this became an issue which can no longer be controlled by one nation. Cocaine, unlike the other drugs produced in South America, has a centralized production, which makes it easier to track where all the drug goes.
Brazil is the biggest country in South America, and it is considered to be the main outbound route to Europe, Africa, and Asia. It`s a lack of border security and an outrageous number of criminal organizations allow the easy transportation of cocaine throughout the country. Another factor which facilitates the drug flow from Brazil to the rest of the world is the Port of Santos. This huge port allows cocaine and other substances to be easily shipped into the rest of the world without much problem. The main trafficking occurs between Colombia and Mexico and to the US. The main in-route to the African continent is through West Africa and to Europe, cocaine is mainly received through Portugal and Spain. With so many in and out routes, one may ask what can anyone do to stop or control this? The US has been, ever since 1971, imposing tough sanctions in order to control the amount of cocaine being smuggled into the country. On the other hand, it is important to note that these are only the amount recorded of cocaine which was seized, which means that the amount of cocaine that successfully got into the country was much larger.
In the same year, Albanese (2014) states, the US spent an estimated $50 billion on efforts to tackle drug smuggling into the country. America is considered the unofficial interdiction leader. This is a process where the illegal substances are seized directly from the hands of traffickers whilst in-route to the destination. The main objective behind interdiction is that, by seizing the substance, the value of the same will increase and, consequently, causing its consume to decrease (Chepesiuk, 1999). Recently, the US has been using its military force to police its waters, air traffic, and land. Although the above chart may create a sense of a successful operation, in reality, experts suggest that in order for the “war on drugs” to be won, the percentage of drugs being seized needs to reach at least 70% (Drug Policy Alliance, n.d.). Unfortunately, as demonstrated by Image 1.1, it would be impossible to block every route of trafficking – which makes, in a way, drug trafficking easy, successful, and profitable. This results in the consumption not decreasing and if, in a way it did, this would be more profitable for traffickers, as prices for the substances would rise.
In conclusion, the formation of the Medellin Cartel contributed to the expansion of drug trafficking to such extent that, nowadays, it is impossible to regain control of all the routes used. It is impossible to talk about drug trafficking without mentioning the “war on drugs”, and for sure, up until now, the drugs are winning. Although organizations try to tackle the use of harmful substances, it is now up to the governments of each country to try and work on the rehabilitation of individuals. However, we all agree that it is easier to be punitive than rehabilitative in a society where the main propaganda used by politicians is the tackling of drug use and trafficking.
- BBC. (2000). BBC News | WORLD | Globalisation boosts drug profits. Retrieved November 5, 2017, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/721104.stm
- Chapesiuk, R. (1999). The War on Drugs: An International Encyclopedia. Drug Enforcement Museum & Visitors Center. (n.d.). Coca: History. Retrieved January 5, 2018, from https://www.deamuseum.org/ccp/coca/history.html
- Drug Policy Alliance. (2017). The International Drug War | Drug Policy Alliance. Retrieved November 12, 2017, from http://www.drugpolicy.org/issues/international-drug-war GAO-09-71
- Plan Colombia: Drug Reduction Goals Were Not Fully Met, but Security Has Improved; U.S. Agencies Need More Detailed Plans for Reducing Assistance. (2008). Retrieved from https://www.gao.gov/new.items/d0971.pdf Drug Policy Alliance. (n.d.). The International Drug War | Drug Policy Alliance. Retrieved January 10, 2018, from http://www.drugpolicy.org/issues/international-drug-war
- J Albanese, J & Reichel, P 2014, Transnational organized crime, SAGE Publications Inc, Thousand Oaks, CA, viewed 14 January 2018, DOI: 10.4135/9781483349091.
- McCarthy, N. (2016). • Chart: The Globe’s Top Cocaine Producers | Statista. Retrieved January 5, 2018, from https://www.statista.com/chart/5749/the-globes-top-cocaine-producers/ UNODC World Drug Report (New York, NY: UNODC, 2011), p.36 UNODC World Drug Report (New York, NY: UNODC, 2011), p.120
- US Department of Justice. (n.d.). (U) Drug Movement Into and Within the United States – National Drug Threat Assessment 2010 (UNCLASSIFIED). Retrieved January 10, 2018, from https://www.justice.gov/archive/ndic/pubs38/38661/movement.htm
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