Academic journal article McNair Papers

5. Caribbean Geonarcotics

Academic journal article McNair Papers

5. Caribbean Geonarcotics

Article excerpt

The "Caribbean lies at what Jose Marti once called "the Vortex of the Americas," making it a bridge or front between North and South America. European leaders recognized the strategic importance of this vortex soon "after the 1492 encounter between Europe and the Americas. This strategic importance has persisted over the centuries, and it was dramatized in geopolitical terms during the Cold War. However, the strategic value of the Caribbean lies not only in its geopolitical value as viewed by state actors engaged in systemic conflict and cooperation. Over recent years the region has also been viewed as strategic by nonstate drug actors, also with conflict and cooperation in mind, but in terms of geonarcotics, not geopolitics.

Geonarcotics is a concept developed to explain the multiple dynamics of the narcotics phenomenon. It posits that:

* The phenomenon is multidimensional with four main problem areas: drug production, consumption-abuse, trafficking, and money-laundering

* These give rise to actual and potential threats to the security of states around the world

* The drug operations and the activities to which they give rise precipitate conflict and cooperation among various state and nonstate actors in the international system.

Over and above this, the term captures the dynamics of tour factors: drugs, geography, power, and politics.

Geography is a factor because of the global spacial dispersion of drug operations, and because certain geographic features facilitate some drug operations. Power involves the ability of individuals and groups to secure compliant action. This power is both state and nonstate in source, and in some cases nonstate sources exercise relatively more power than state entities. And politics, the fourth factor, revolves around resource allocation in the gets what, how, and when. Since power in this milieu is not only state power, resource allocation is correspondingly not exclusively a function of state power holders. Moreover, politics becomes perverted, and all the more so where it "already was perverted. (1)

Although the Caribbean drug phenomenon involves drug production, consumption and abuse, trafficking, and money laundering, (2) it is trafficking that best highlights the region's strategic value. Aspects of both the Caribbean's physical and social geography make it conducive to drug trafficking. Except for mainland Belize, French Guiana, Guyana, and Suriname, Caribbean countries are 'all island territories. Some are plural island territories, such as St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which comprise close to 600 islands, and the Virgin Islands, composed of about 100 islands and cays. Indeed, one, the Bahamas, is an archipelago of 700 islands and 2,000 cays. This island character permits entry into and use of Caribbean territories from scores, sometimes hundreds, of different places from the surrounding sea. For the mainland states, access is from various places from the Atlantic Ocean in the case of Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana, and from the Caribbean coast in the case of Belize. And when one adds to the matrix the inability of Caribbean countries to provide adequate territorial policing, their vulnerability to trafficking is more readily appreciated.

The most important location feature of the region's physical geography is proximity. This proximity is dual: to South America, a major drug-supply source, and to North America, a major drug-demand area. On the supply side, the world's cocaine is produced in South America, coming notably from Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, and Venezuela. Colombia alone produces about 80 percent of all the cocaine in the world, although only about 20 percent of worldwide coca leaf cultivation is done there. (Colombia's coca cultivation is reported to have grown 13 percent in 1995, making that country the world's second largest coca producer, after Peru. Bolivia's place is now reduced from second to third. …

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