The Cocaine Dilemma in South America *
Rensselaer W. Lee III
This chapter surveys the main economic and political dimensions of the cocaine industry in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. Each country's cocaine problem is different; for example, Colombians play a different role on the trafficking chain than do Peruvians or Bolivians. The Colombian economy as a whole is probably less cocaine-dependent than are the Peruvian and Bolivian economies. Colombia does not yet have a large population of peasants who depend on the cultivation of coca for a living. Yet, Colombian trafficking organizations have successfully penetrated parts of the bureaucracy and political system, and they also appear to exercise a veto-by-assassination over national drug policy. In Peru, such organizations do not present a serious challenge to government authority--the cocaine industry in that country is weak, immature, and disorganized. In Bolivia, however, the cocaine mafia, although lacking the financial and logistical capabilities of its Colombian counterpart, has deep political and social roots and appears to have corrupted the government apparatus.
There are, on the other hand, certain common denominators to the cocaine menace. By bringing in foreign exchange, creating employment, and raising the standard of living of some people, the industry has spawned vast and powerful constituencies. Furthermore, Andean governments have more immediately pressing problems than drugs to deal with, for example, fighting inflation, keeping the economy afloat, and combatting guerrillas. For these reasons, U.S. efforts to attack cocaine trafficking at the source are not likely to be very successful in reducing supplies of the drug, although they do help keep the traffic underground. The key to eliminating the cocaine problems lies in wiping out the U.S. market, although changing the habits and preferences of the millions of U.S. citizens now consuming cocaine will be a protracted and difficult process.