In This Review

Driven by Drugs: U.S. Policy Toward Colombia
Driven by Drugs: U.S. Policy Toward Colombia
By Russell Crandall
Lynne Rienner, 2002, 193 pp.

This examination of U.S. policy toward Colombia during the administrations of Ernesto Samper and Andres Pastrana shows how U.S. interests shifted from anticommunism to drug fighting after the end of the Cold War. In the process, Crandall writes, the cooperation that had once marked U.S.-Colombian relations broke down and was replaced by suspicion and unilateralism. Moreover, self-perpetuating bureaucratic interests in Washington had an interest in keeping relations with Bogota "narcotisized." From 1994 to 1998, as a result, the drug issue paralyzed the policy process. Convinced that Samper's presidential campaign had received several millions of dollars from the Cali drug cartel, U.S. officials led an aggressive attempt to bring down a severely tainted but nevertheless democratically elected president, creating one of the most abrasive periods in recent U.S.-Latin America relations. Yet this U.S. policy was directed not from the highest levels of the U.S. government but from the "viceroys" -- the U.S. ambassador in Bogota and the assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement in Washington. The United States circumvented Samper and worked directly with its allies within the Colombian armed forces and national police. This tactic, Crandall argues, weakened Colombian institutions at the exact moment when the drug trade, the guerrillas, and the paramilitaries were all becoming stronger. The Pastrana administration (1998-2002) promised a new start, but because the U.S. focus remained on drugs, Washington embarked on a costly and high-profile war that created a "military industrial narcotic complex." The author had hoped the Bush administration would rethink Colombia policy, but the war on terrorism has quickly precluded any reassessment.