"The War on Drugs" in Recent Literature

By Jansson, Oscar | Ibero-americana, July 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

"The War on Drugs" in Recent Literature


Jansson, Oscar, Ibero-americana


* Lesley Gill, The School of the Amerlcas: Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas. Durham: Duke University Press. 2004

* Alfredo Molano, Loyal Soldiers in the Cocaine Kingdom. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

* Donny Meertens and Michiel Baud, Colombia from the Inside: Perspectives on Drugs, War and Peace. Amsterdam: CEDLA, 2004.

* Christina Rojas and Judy Meltzer [eds). Elusive Peace: International, National and Local Dimensions of Conflict in Colombia. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

* Hugh O'Shaugnhnessy and Sue Bradford, Chemical Warfare in Colombia. London: Latin American Bureau, 2005

* Doug Stokes, America's Other War. London and New York: Zed Books, 2005.

* Michael Taussig, Law in Lawless Land: Diary ofuLimpieza in Colombia. London and New York: The New Press, 2003.

"So many controversial things have been said on the origins of narcotics trafficking in Colombia..." Alfredo Molano tells us, "...that it is almost impossible to approach the issue without being suspected of sympathy with one or another political orientation" (2004: 63). This is certainly true, just as it is true that a review of recent works on 'the war on drugs1, let alone on the armed conflict in Colombia, will certainly face the same dilemma. 'The war on drugs' becomes here also a text, which inevitably will be reviewed alongside the scholarly and activist works.

Within both the academic and activist communities concerned with the Colombian panorama there is a seeming consensus on the necessity of broadening, if not replacing, president Uribe's current security strategy with extensive social and economic reforms. Donny Meertens and Michiel Baud contend, in their introduction to Colombia from the Inside: Perspectives on Drugs, War and Peace - the volume where also Molano's essay appears - that the Uribe government's military definition of security fails to consider social, cultural and economic elements required for long-term solutions. Meertens' and Baud's observation, resonating with the discussion on a widening of the concept of security initiated almost a decade ago, finds support in the works of scholars of a variety of disciplines appearing both in their own edited volume and in Rojas and Meltzer's Elusive Peace: International. National and Local Dimensions of Conflict in Colombia. Álvaro Camacho, who appears with a contribution in both volumes, stresses the need for varied and integrated strategies, arising from the relation between poverty of Colombian peasants and illicit drugs production on the one hand and between illicit drugs production and expansion of irregular armed groups on the other. Gonzalo Sánchez, contributing to Meerten's and Baud's volume, concurs and recommends an agrarian reform through expropriation of drug traffickers' land.

As much as there is a seeming distance between the recommendations of concerned writers and the policy of the Colombian and the U.S. governments, there are however also sharp differences between actual interpretations of the trajectory of the present policy within the choir of recently published works. Doug Stokes points, in America's Other War to the continuity of a U.S. policy aimed at counterinsurgency in Colombia, articulated consecutively as cold war, war on drugs and war on terrorism. That view is supported by Hugh O'Shaugnhessy and Sue Branford in Chemical Warfare in Colombia whereas Camacho, on the other hand, stresses a gradual shift towards counterinsurgency within the framework of Plan Colombia (in Rojas and Meltzer).

While neither an intentionalist nor a functionalist interpretation of the genesis of U.S. policy seem fully convincing except in its own respective paradigm, the stated U.S. objective behind the fumigation of coca crops has since 2000 de facto varied from a means to reduce consumption of illegal drugs in the United States to reduce income that the FARC-EP (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - Ejercito Popular, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - the People's Army) and the AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, United Self-defense forces of Colombia) derive from the cocaine trade and, recently, to accomplish both a reduction of illegal drugs consumption and 'crucial revenues' for the FARC-EP. …

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