The Latin American Narcotics Trade and U.S. National Security

By Donald J. Mabry | Go to book overview

4
The New Hundred Years War?: U.S. National Security and the War on Drugs in Latin America

Bruce Michael Bagley


INTRODUCTION

No president spoke out more against drugs than President Reagan. No Administration signed more antidrug treaties or spent more money to stem the flow drugs into this country. But as the Reagan years drew to a close, American law enforcement officials acknowledged that they were losing ground in the fight against a new generation of drug smugglers who have the business skill--and capital--to threaten not only the streets of America but even the stability of countries long friendly to the United States. 1

When President Reagan declared his "War" on drugs in the early 1980s, the United States entered a new era of drug diplomacy in its foreign policy toward Latin America. Control of drug trafficking currently ranks higher than immigration, foreign debt, and communist expansion in Central America as a priority issues in U.S.-Latin American relations. In a March 1988 New York Times/ CBS News Poll, 48 percent of the respondents indicated that drug trafficking was the most important foreign policy issue facing the nation versus 22 percent for Central America, 13 percent for arms control, 9 percent for terrorism, and 4 percent for Palestinian unrest. Equally revealing, when asked whether it was more important to put a stop to Central American leaders' drug trafficking or to support them against communism, 63 percent expressed the belief that stopping drug dealing was the top priority while only 21 percent felt that stopping communism was more important. 2

Various factors combined during 1988 to renew concern in the United States about drugs. The exploding crack cocaine epidemic and accompanying increases in drug-related violence and deaths in many American cities was one reason. The attendant rise in media coverage clearly fanned public consciousness. The prominence given to drugs by First Lady Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign and by Democratic candidate Jesse Jackson during the 1988 presidential campaign lent additional visibility to the issue and prompted many other politicians from both parties to "get tough" on the drug question. The absence of other major

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