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Cocaine, Death Squads, and the War on Terror

Cocaine, Death Squads, and the War on Terror: U.S. Imperialism and Class Struggle in Colombia

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press,
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Cocaine, Death Squads, and the War on Terror
    Book Description:

    Since the late 1990s, the United States has funneled billions of dollars in aid to Colombia, ostensibly to combat the illicit drug trade and State Department-designated terrorist groups. The result has been a spiral of violence that continues to take lives and destabilize Colombian society. This book asks an obvious question: are the official reasons given for the wars on drugs and terror in Colombia plausible, or are there other, deeper factors at work? Scholars Villar and Cottle suggest that the answers lie in a close examination of the cocaine trade, particularly its class dimensions. Their analysis reveals that this trade has fueled extensive economic growth and led to the development of a narco-state under the control of a narco-bourgeoisie which is not interested in eradicating cocaine but in gaining a monopoly over its production. The principal target of this effort is the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who challenge that monopoly as well as the very existence of the Colombian state. Meanwhile, U.S. business interests likewise gain from the cocaine trade and seek to maintain a dominant, imperialist relationship with their most important client state in Latin America. Suffering the brutal consequences, as always, are the peasants and workers of Colombia. This revelatory book punctures the official propaganda and shows the class war underpinning the politics of the Colombian cocaine trade.

    eISBN: 978-1-58367-307-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 7-8)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. 9-16)
    Peter Dale Scott

    Colombia’s history is a chronicle of violence and class warfare dating back to the Spanish era with its institutions of slavery and semifeudal land allocation. But this important book shows how in the last halfcentury the United States has helped to centralize and militarize the class conflict, and above all how cocaine has come to play a central role in financing this oppression.

    American involvement in Colombian repression can be traced back to President Kennedy, who, faced with generals intent on ousting Fidel Castro from Cuba, authorized instead a program of anti-communist counterinsurgency in South America, and above all Colombia....

  5. INTRODUCTION: A War of Many Wars
    (pp. 17-20)

    This is a study of the political economy of Colombia, cocaine, and the U.S. imperial state. It examines the dynamics, structure, and context of the Colombian cocaine trade and its relationship to U.S. imperialism. Such an examination is necessary because Colombia is now simply seen as synonymous with the drug cocaine, or as an American theater of war on both terrorism and drugs. Without a critical investigation of the political and economic relations of Colombia, cocaine, and imperial America, the reasons why the cocaine trade flourishes and the simultaneous war on drugs and terrorism continues will never be understood.


  6. 1. From Coca to Cocaine
    (pp. 21-34)

    According to Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, a former coca farmer, and a longtime advocate forcocaleros,“Coca is not cocaine.”¹ This is a view shared by many Latin Americans, including Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, who has publicly stated that he chews coca every morning for its apparent health benefits.² Morales argues that it is a mistake to link the livelihood ofcocaleroswith drug trafficking.Timemagazine has reported that “the Evo phenomenon is partly a result of what Latin American critics call Washington’s anticoca ‘fundamentalism’—a heavy-handedness that seems to blame the remote cocaleros, or coca farmers,...

  7. 2. From the Golden Triangle to the Crystal Triangle
    (pp. 35-54)

    The Allied victory that ended the Second World War (1939–1945) saw the United States and the Soviet Union emerge as the world’s two leading superpowers. The Cold War that followed split the world into two ideological camps, one capitalist the other socialist. For successive U.S. presidents and policymakers, the Cold War necessitated the militarized containment and ideological defeat of communism, especially in areas of the third world where the threat of revolution was imminent. The role of U.S. imperialism in the drug trade can be traced to the height of America’s efforts to fight communism, particularly in Southeast Asia’s...

  8. 3. A Narco-State and a Narco-Economy
    (pp. 55-64)

    The cocaine decade of the 1980s, also known as the “lost decade,” was historically significant for the construction of a stable economic and political Colombian state based on the cocaine trade. Colombia took extraordinary measures to mobilize army and paramilitary forces in its war against the FARC as it implemented extraordinary measures in coca cultivation and cocaine production, marketing, transportation, and distribution networks to ensure profit-making opportunities. In the new “ narco-state,” major drug traffickers and paramilitary militias of the AUC were integrated into Colombian legal, political, and financial institutions.

    A narco-bourgeoisie emerged with the assistance of drug traffickers from...

  9. 4. The Narco-Cartel System (1980–1993)
    (pp. 65-80)

    The Colombian narco-economy’s driving market force is consumption, which is at the heart of the United States’ political and economic interest in cocaine. Many critics maintain that it is impossible to eliminate the drug trade by targeting drug production and that by ignoring the demand side that fuels market growth, the United States is only aggravating the problem.¹ Narcotics are produced, trafficked, and laundered in the United States (e.g. amphetamines, marijuana), and they are consumed there as well.

    Coca has been cultivated for thousands of years in the Andean region, and no doubt it will be cultivated for thousands of...

  10. 5. The Post-Cartel System
    (pp. 81-106)

    In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Colombian narco-bourgeoisie relied heavily on the drug cartels’ money-laundering specialists to deposit their profits in banks. The introduction of the U. S. moneylaundering Control Act in 1986 changed that, forcing a major restructuring of the Colombian narco-economy. The narco-bourgeoisie switched to contracting out money-laundering services,¹ which offered financial options beyond those offered by the usual banks that laundered drug money. They were now able to accumulate capital through ownership of various legitimate enterprises as well as attract foreign investors in legal business operations—for example, potassium permanganate companies, transport companies, and private...

  11. 6. The United States and “Plan Colombia”
    (pp. 107-114)

    In 2000, President Bill Clinton authorized “Plan Colombia,” a $1.3 billion U. S. package for the war on drugs with military assistance that included helicopters, planes, and training, a massive chemical and biological warfare effort, and electronic surveillance technology.¹ The total budget for Plan Colombia was $7.5 billion, of which the Colombian government originally pledged $ 4 billion, the United States $1.3 billion, and the European Union and other countries $2.2 billion.²

    The original version of Plan Colombia was initiated by then-president Andres Pastrana, who argued that drug crops are “a social problem whose solution must pass through the solution...

  12. 7. Narco-State Terror
    (pp. 115-128)

    The AUC paramilitary death squads in Colombia are directly linked to the counterinsurgency strategy devised by Washington and Bogotá to combat the FARC rebels. However, the AUC is also an important component of Colombia’s narco-military network. The FARC campaign has seen the Colombian state, backed by Washington, adopt a variety of measures to engage the guerrillas in direct and indirect warfare, and the civilian population is caught in the crossfire. In Colombia, the most significant decisions made by Bogotá in conjunction with Washington have been about what kind of war will be fought, a decision dictated by long-range goals, and...

  13. 8. The Consequences of Relocation and Regionalization
    (pp. 129-154)

    In the midst of the civil war, the U.S.-Colombian counterinsurgency campaign to destroy Latin America’s most powerful guerrilla army has become a nightmare for the campesinos , who live in an environment of state-controlled terror and political violence. One of the most devastating consequences has been the ecological destruction of peasant land with biochemical agents, which are sprayed over the rebel-held areas of coca cultivation. Washington and Bogotá justify the aerial fumigation strategy as a means to take away the source of cocaine, which they argue is the FARC. The spraying is part of a “relocation strategy” for the campesinos,...

  14. 9. The War on Drugs: Corporatization and Privatization
    (pp. 155-174)

    The counterinsurgency campaign against the FARC has not eliminated the drug trade in Colombia. Colombian cocaine continues to be produced and transported in large quantities for sale in the United States and Western Europe. This chapter examines the links between U.S. corporations and the private defense industry and how they profit from the drug trade via finance capital and banks that launder the proceeds of the cocaine trade.

    The networks of politicians, police, private security firms, and ordinary citizens investing in illegal enterprises for a high return can be described as state-organized crime.¹ Western governments smuggle arms and drugs, participate...

  15. CONCLUSION: U.S. Narco-Colonialism and Colombia
    (pp. 175-178)

    In contemporary Colombia, the cocaine trade is seemingly no longer a state security problem. The “evil hour” has passed. Opponents claim to see many signs that the FARC is a diminished force unable to bring fundamental change to Colombia. The FARC’s legendary leader, Manuel Marulanda (Tiro Fijo), is dead. Like every government since 1964, the governments of Alvaro Uribe and his successor and former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, are said to have waged sustained and successful military campaigns against the FARC, accelerating its demise. Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez has urged the FARC to free its political hostages and end...

  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 179-210)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 211-262)
  18. Index
    (pp. 263-272)