The Politics of Cocaine

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In February 1982, motivated by rapidly spreading drug use in the United States, President Reagan declared a war on drugs. His administration immediately stepped up efforts toward eradication, interdiction, crop substitution, and law enforcement, including extradition, in the northern Andes. Rather than address the issue of demand at home, Reagan's war to shut off the narcotics supply, particularly from the source countries of Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia.

The War on Drugs began with the passage of the Defense Authorization Act of 1982, which for the first time, permitted the U.S. Coast Guard and navy to initiate counternarcotics operations. At the same time, the Reagan administration established the South Florida Task Force, under the direction of Vice President Bush, to intercept drug shipments from South America. This operation used CIA and DEA agents to gain intelligence about U.S.-bound drug shipments and then used the U.S. Coast Guard, Navy, and Customs Service to seize them. In a speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Reagan announced a foreign policy that would vigorously attack “organized criminal trafficking in drugs, international production, (and the export of) illicit narcotics” wherever those abuses occurred.

However, Reagan's War on Drugs did not result in the victory over narcotics trafficking that the United States hoped to achieve. In Colombia, joint counternarcotics operations by which the U.S. And Colombian governments attempted to rein in the Medllin cartel were met with increasing violence and terror. Instead of being disrupted, the Medellin cartel gradually corrupted Colombia's socioeconomic and political life and poses. In Bolivia and Peru Campesino resistance to narcotics control burgeoned, while eradication and interdiction programs generated increased anti-government sentiment. Emerging political instability created a lack of security, which in turn allowed traffickers and guerrillas to flourish in coca-growing regions.

Excerpt from pages 51-52 of The Politics of Cocaine by William L. Marcy, Ph.D.

politics, cocaine, foreign policy, coca