Colombia and the War on Drugs

Courtesy Reuters

Aside from traffickers in the United States, Colombians earn more from the drug trade than do any other nationality of the western hemisphere. During the 1980s 70 to 80 percent of the refined cocaine and 50 to 60 percent of the marijuana available in the U.S. market have come from Colombia. Colombia also ranks as the world’s largest supplier of quaaludes, and there are indications that in the mid-1980s Colombian drug traffickers began experiments with opium cultivation as well. Moreover, Colombian criminal organizations have become involved in virtually every aspect of the narcotics trade, from financing drug plantations and laboratories in Colombia and other South American countries, through smuggling operations, to distribution networks at both the wholesale and street levels in the United States, Canada and Europe.

The infamous Medellín cartel alone is reputed to earn some US$2 billion to $4 billion a year and to rival many Fortune 500 companies in terms of its global reach. Including the entire spectrum of drug exports, probably $2.5-3 billion a year in profits are repatriated to Colombia; drugs now rank above coffee ($2-2.5 billion) as the country’s principal foreign exchange earner.

Colombia’s emergence as a key source and trafficking country has understandably attracted a great deal of attention from U.S. policymakers, law enforcement officials and journalists over the last decade. Indeed, in the minds of most Americans, Colombia is now essentially synonymous with drug trafficking. In view of the country’s sullied reputation, the Colombian government’s obvious failure to rein in the Colombian narcotraficantes and the growing concern in the United States about the drug problem reflected in the Reagan Administration’s "war on drugs," Colombia has inevitably come under increasing pressure from Washington to act more forcefully against drug production and trafficking within its borders.

Washington’s approach to the drug problem has focused on eliminating drugs at the source of production and refinement or seizing them before they reach American shores. The specific international policies it has promoted in

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