History and uses of the Coca leaf 
Other uses of coca, including the production of cocaine
The Drug Trade
Drug Wars
Andean History

Drug Wars

     The cocaine trade and the ensuing conflicts over trade and production of this powerful substance have had a profound impact on the entire world. The region that has been affected to the greatest degree, however, is that of the Andes in South America. Three countries in particular, Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia have been a center of the conflict over cocaine. In these countries, many forces have taken part in the internecine conflicts of the drug wars. The national governments and government officials of these countries have taken part both in the fight against and in the clandestine trade in cocaine. The drug barons, those who control large cocaine production operations, have of course played a crucial role in the drug wars, and have had a great impact on their own countries both politically and economically. Another group which figures into the drug war equation is that of the guerrilla groups. Increasingly, such groups have been labeled "narcoterrorist" by various agencies, particularly those of the United States, such as the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration]. Local farmers who grow coca and the workers who process the coca into its various stages have also played an important role in the drug wars. Finally, the United States and its governmental agencies, such as the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency], have played a crucial and controversial role in the conflicts over cocaine. While the United States has played one of the most influential roles in the drug wars, the countries with the most at stake are those in South America where the largest parts of the wars, or at least the most violent parts of them, are carried out.
     The national governments of the Andean states have a major interest in and are impacted profoundly by the drug wars. One of the reasons for this is the relationship between cocaine production and narcoterrorism. Jordan J. Paust defines terrorism as:
     …the intentional use of violence or threat of violence by the precipitator[s] against an instrumental target in order to communicate to a primary target a threat of future violence. The object is to use intense fear or anxiety to coerce the primary target into behavior or to mold its attitudes in connection with a demanded power (political) outcome (MacDonald 1989, 10).
source:     Narcoterrorism is, therefore, simply the use of such terrorist tactics by those involved in the production of cocaine. In the Andean states narcoterrorism has usually taken the form of either assassinations or kidnappings of individuals opposed to the drug trade. Such individuals have usually been prominent politicians, members of the media, and such government officials as ministers of justice, supreme court judges, police and military officers, and mayors. Narcoterrorists have ranged from leftist guerrilla groups, who were strangely allied with the predominantly right-wing drug lords, to right-wing death squads to hired guns of the drug lords to members of the armed forces (MacDonald, 1989, 10).
 Through narcoterrorism and the immense amounts of money that the drug lords amass through the production and trade in cocaine, these cocaine cowboys have been able to gain great political power in Andean countries. The drug lords have been able to create states within states. Rensselaer W. Lee III calls this situation the "drug-insurgency nexus":
     [D]rug barons today are major political forces in countries such as Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru, carving out states within states in coca-producing regions, sometimes forming alliances of convenience with local leftist guerrillas, undermining authorities with bribery and assassinations, and amassing enough armed might to keep governments at bay. Drug traffickers have also sought to play by the local political rules, banding together to lobby politicians to nominate candidates for public office and occasionally to negotiate with national leaders as quasi-equals (MacDonald 1989, 11-12).
     In this drug-insurgency nexus, the drug traffickers and the leftist guerrilla groups in the Andes, who rarely share an ideological perspective, have sometimes cooperated for common gain. Ideologically, the drug lords are generally conservative and favor the status quo. Leftist guerrillas, on the other hand, favor radical change, usually along a Marxist-Leninist line of ideals (MacDonald 1989, 12). 
source:    These two seemingly opposing groups, however, have sometimes allied themselves together for a common gain. This was the case in Bogota, Colombia, in November 1985. Drug traffickers were upset with the government’s implementation of the 1979 extradition treaty with the United States (the government had recently begun to extradite drug lords for trial in the United States) and cooperated with the guerrilla group M-19 in their attack on the Palace of Justice in downtown Bogota. The guerrillas who attacked the Palace and killed about one hundred people seemed to show their alliance with Colombian drug lords by burning documents in the Palace of Justice that dealt with drug dealers and also by killing four judges waiting to hear drug-related cases. Witnesses also claimed that the guerrilla attackers made comments that strongly implied connections with the drug lords (MacDonald 1989, 42-43). Such alliances and exertions of power and violence have impacted Andean governments greatly.
     The drug lords have also been able to exert great pressure in Andean states because of their large role in the economies of Andean countries. In 1984 many of the most powerful drug lords were forced to leave the country and go to Panama in order to avoid the recent government crackdown on narcotraffickers. They took much of their capital with them. When they re-entered Colombia later in the year, the value of the dollar on the black market showed the drug lords’ financial power. Earlier in the year the black market value of the dollar was 140 pesos and the official rate was 100 pesos. After the return of the drug lords, one dollar was worth 115 pesos, showing the drug lords’ power in the Colombian economy (MacDonald 1989, 40). The economies of such drug producing countries are largely dependent on drug money. According to Peter Drucker, editor of Against the Current, a bimonthly socialist magazine, about 300,000 Peruvians and a comparable number of Bolivians live off coca production. In a county like Peru, where a third of the population is unemployed, this means a lot of jobs. Also, coca brings between $800 million and $1.2 billion each year into the Peruvian economy and about $600 million into the Bolivian economy. Even though in 1989 coca prices were one-fifth of 1980 prices—and under 1% of the market value of cocaine—no other crop on the market was able to yield more than one seventh of coca’s earnings per hectare (Swisher 1991, 143). Policies that have been pursued by the United States and Andean governments throughout the drug war, such as the eradication of coca plants, threaten both the economies of Andean countries and the livelihoods of many people who live at mere subsistence levels. To the farmers who produce coca and the peasant workers who process that coca into cocaine, the war on drugs is something that is much more important than a fight to stop cocaine from reaching those who wish to purchase it. The war on drugs is a threat to livelihood and therefore life itself for many Andean peasants.
     One of the most influential participants in the drug wars has been the United States. The United States government and its agencies have sought for decades to eliminate cocaine use in the United States. As part of this effort, the United States and its agencies have given military and financial aid to Andean governments in order to support their efforts against drug lords and coca production. In these efforts, the United States has often helped to build up militaries that have questionable records regarding repression of human rights. As Melvyn Levitsky, the assistant secretary for international narcotics matters, admitted in 1990, many of the militaries that the United States gives aid to have committed human rights violations in the past. He seeks to justify this by arguing that this is necessary to fight the drug traffickers. Also, he claims that a well-trained and equipped military that is busy fighting a war on drugs is less likely to commit acts of violence against its own people (Swisher 1991, 117-118).
     It seems much more likely that United States efforts to fight the drug war in the Andes region is really a veiled effort to combat leftist guerrillas, which U.S. officials often blame for narcotrafficking. Not only has the United States directly sought to combat guerrilla groups which are said to be narcoterrorists, but the United States war on drugs has also indirectly aided Andean governments in their fight against leftist guerrillas. The U.S. gives aid and training to Andean militaries so that they can fight the war on drugs, but those militaries have expressed more interest in fighting guerrilla groups. U.S. aid therefore has a blanketing effect that combats not only cocaine, but also guerrilla groups, which the United States is ideologically opposed to.
     Another result of the United States War on Drugs is that it seems to have had little effect on the acceleration of cocaine trade with the Andes region. According to Peter Drucker, cocaine imports into the U.S. in 1981, when President Reagan chose George Bush to head the war on drugs, were about 24 tons a year. Imports rose to 85 tons by 1984 and over 200 tons by 1988, despite drug war programs costing $10 billion. During this time, Andean land planted in coca increased by 250%. The purity of cocaine sold on the street went from about 12% to about 80%, and the value of a kilogram of cocaine in Miami fell from about $60,000 to about $11,000 (Swisher 1991, 142). If the U.S. War on Drugs has had any effect on cocaine production at all, it seems to have boosted it.
     Many groups have had a great interest in these drug wars in the Andean nations of Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia. No group has been more affected by drug wars than the Andean nations themselves, however. In the United States it seems that we often look only at the U.S. interests in the drug wars, and we often forget that the people with the largest stake in the drug wars are the people of the Andes region, where the cocaine is produced. To the United States drug wars largely a health issue. To many of the people of the Andes, drug wars are a matter of life and death.

Page Created By:  Tricia Spencer, Seth Westby, Mark Massey, and Tom Haddox