defining the drug war


deFining tHe drug war

if there really was a war on drugs, it wouldn’t make for very good media fodder: bullet-riddled packets of cocaine (or cigarettes, for that matter) don’t bleed, and following the newspaper industry rhyme, they probably wouldn’t lead. “War on drugs” is a misnomer, as war is defined as an armed conflict between at least two groups, and not between one group and a substance. As we shall see, in Mexico, Co- lombia, and elsewhere, the primary victims of the so-called war on drugs are poor people, migrants, and Indigenous and peasant farmers.

Since the Nixon administration declared that the United States was embarking on a “war on drugs” in 1969, the phrase has been part of the popular imagination.1 Nixon’s declaration of war was followed by the passage of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, which serves as the legal basis for US drug policy today.2 Nixon’s war was based on policies passed at the outset of the twentieth century, including the Harrison Act in 1914 and the Hague Convention for the control of opium sales in 1912. The Boggs Act, passed in 1951, put marijuana on the same rank as heroin and cocaine, and introduced the mandatory death penalty as punishment for selling it to a minor.3 At the end of the nineteenth century, San Francisco banned opium smok- ing, and New York banned opium dens—laws that targeted primarily Chinese migrants.4 Similarly, early attempts to control marijuana use and distribution in the United States were guided by an anti-Mexican sentiment. Legislation passed in 1969 was followed, on July 6, 1973, by the creation of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), a new national anti-drugs force that would wage “an all-out global war on the drug menace,” according to Nixon.5 Beriah Empie and Lydia Anne M Bartholow use a Trojan horse analogy to describe the purpose of the war on drugs. “Despite the lack of evidence of a national narcotics issue, the war on drugs was the White House’s Trojan horse for inten- sified federal involvement in policing. It allowed Nixon to deliver on

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his campaign rhetoric of being tough on crime while stifling organized political rebellion.”6

The war on drugs kicked off on the heels of 1968, when world- wide protest and student movements shook the world, from Mexico City to Paris to San Francisco. It came at a critical moment of the Unit- ed States war in Vietnam (by the fall of 1971, half of all US soldiers in Vietnam had tried heroin, and two were dying of heroin overdoses each month),7 and at a time when youth were experimenting with legal and illegal drugs “to a degree unprecedented in American history.”8 The 1960s and ’70s marked high points in anti-war and anti-impe- rialist activism, and existing anti-narcotics efforts were adapted to quash protest. “Strict anti-drug laws, punitive sentencing procedures and harsh enforcement made it possible to suppress and curb dissent,” writes Julia Buxton in her book The Political Economy of Narcotics.9

It wasn’t just the US that rolled out anti-drugs measures as a way to get protesters, hippies, and radicals off the streets. Buxton explains that anti-drug measures during that period “served to unite systems as diverse as the communist governments of China and the Eastern Bloc, the right-wing authoritarian military regimes in South America, Spain and Portugal and democratically elected governments in Australia, the USA and Scandinavia.”10

The United States has focused its drug-control efforts internation- ally on supply reduction, which proposes that an attack on the supply of narcotics will reduce availability, causing prices to rise, and thus fewer people will use them. Take, for example, Operation Intercept, which was touted by the Nixon administration as aiming to stop the flow of marijuana from Mexico. Even this early in its existence, the war on drugs was interwoven with border control and controlling the migration of people from Mexico to the United States. According to Kate Doyle of the US National Security Archive, “Intercept was plotted in secret to produce an unprecedented slow-down of all plane, truck, car and foot traffic—legitimate or not—flowing from Mexico into the southern United States. In order to achieve their goals, the president’s top enforcement advisors deployed thousands of extra Border, Cus- toms and Immigration agents along the 2,000 mile line that separates the countries, from just north of Tijuana to Brownsville, Texas. Once in place, the agents were charged with stopping and inspecting any- thing that moved.”11 G. Gordon Liddy, a senior Nixon administration advisor who would later be convicted for his role in Watergate, wrote, “For diplomatic reasons the true purpose of the exercise was never


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revealed. Operation Intercept, with its massive economic and social disruption, could be sustained far longer by the United States than by Mexico. It was an exercise in international extortion, pure, simple, and effective, designed to bend Mexico to our will.”12

Over the next decades, the DEA would carry out various experi- ments in drug interception and crop destruction in Mexico, which will be described later. Domestically, Ronald Reagan revived the war on drugs a decade later, in 1982, which kick-started crop eradication and interdiction in South America. In 1986, Reagan signed National Secu- rity Decision Directive 221; from then on drug trafficking was legally considered a threat to the national security of the United States.13 That directive was updated in 1989 by George Bush Sr., and broadened the role of US troops in anti-narcotics activity in Latin America, allowing them to go on patrol instead of being restricted to their bases.14 In an address following the invasion of Panama in 1989, Bush said: “The goals of the United States have been to safeguard the lives of Ameri- cans, to defend democracy in Panama, to combat drug trafficking, and to protect the integrity of the Panama Canal Treaty. Many attempts have been made to resolve this crisis through diplomacy and negotia- tions. All were rejected by the dictator of Panama, General Manuel A. Noriega, an indicted drug trafficker.”15

Under Reagan, a new wave of racialized mass incarceration began in the United States, one that continues today. “Between 1980 and 2005, the number of people in US prisons and jails on drug charges increased by 1,100 percent. By 2010 there were 2 million people in prisons and jails across the country,” according to writer John Gibler.16 “The use of prohibition for racialized social control is the genesis of the modern drug-prohibition era,” he concludes. According to Michelle Alexander, a law professor and author of The New Jim Crow, “The racial dimen- sion of mass incarceration is its most striking feature. No other country in the world imprisons so many of its racial or ethnic minorities. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid. In Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital, it is estimated that three out of four young black men (and nearly all those in the poorest neighborhoods) can expect to serve time in prison. Similar rates of incarceration can be found in black com- munities across America.”17 As of February 2014, 50.1 percent of all federal inmates in the United States were imprisoned on drug charges.18

The number of prisoners in the United States soared along with increased budgets for the drug war. So have the number of drug users.

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The DEA admits as much, noting in a 2008 report that “in 1960, only four million Americans had ever tried drugs. Currently, that number has risen to over 74 million.”19 Meanwhile, the DEA enjoys a budget of over $2 billion (up from $75 million when it was created) and em- ploys over 5,000 agents (compared with its 1,470 agents in 1973).20

Drug users are sentenced to prison on the pretext of protecting communities from the impact of drug use. But in his groundbreaking work on drug abuse, Dr. Carl Hart emphasizes that drug addiction is not in fact what is devastating communities, as we are often led to believe. “The problem was poverty, drug policy, lack of jobs—a wide range of things. And drugs were just one sort of component that didn’t contribute as much as we had said they have,” he said in an interview in January 2014. “One of the things that shocked me when I first start- ed to understand what was going on, when I discovered that 80 to 90 percent of the people who actually use drugs like crack cocaine, her- oin, methamphetamine, marijuana—80 to 90 percent of those people were not addicted. I thought, ‘Wait a second. I thought that once you use these drugs, everyone becomes addicted, and that’s why we had these problems.’ That was one thing that I found out. Another thing that I found out is that if you provide alternatives to people—jobs, other sort of alternatives—they don’t overindulge in drugs like this.”21

Experiments in ending prohibition are taking place around the world: from legalized marijuana in Colorado and Washington states in the United States, to full decriminalization of narcotics in Portugal, and supervised safe injection sites, including one in my long-time home of Vancouver, Canada. In 2014, Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize the production, sale, and use of marijuana, in an open challenge to the United Nations’ international drug control conventions. Time and again evidence shows that addiction is a health issue, and that criminalization of drug users and people dependent on drugs exaggerates social and personal harms. There is virtually no com- pelling proof that the war on drugs has worked to cure addiction or meaningfully reduce the supply of narcotics over the medium or long term. A comprehensive study by The Lancet found that crop eradica- tion did little to reduce the supply of cocaine in the United States, that expensive interdiction campaigns only provide a temporary reduction in supply, and there was “some evidence but diminishing returns from imprisonment beyond specific levels.”22

Rather than actually dealing with controlling illegal substanc- es, the war on drugs is a concept invented and promoted by the US


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government, and a motto that has also been adopted by other states to serve their interests, both domestically and abroad. According to drug historian Paul Gootenberg, “Although its genealogy has not been rigorously researched, the contemporary metaphoric idea of a ‘war on drugs’ followed: a universal progressive reformist version be- fore World War II; a socially rooted, hard-nosed Cold War ideology version of the 1950s through 1970s (akin to containment); melding into the Reaganesque total victory ‘Star Wars’ drug war fantasy of the 1980s and beyond.”23 As mentioned, the Obama administration has made an effort to move away from the terminology of the war on drugs, and Gil Kerlikowske, the former director of the White House’s National Drug Policy, disavowed the term in his first interview on the subject. Though discourse has shifted, and the Holder memo modifies mandatory minimums in certain drug cases, little has yet concretely changed in terms of US federal policy.24

When it comes to the drug war and militarization domestically, it is worth pointing out that it was Colombian drug cartels that served as a pretext for the 1981 modification of the US Posse Comitatus Act, which forbade the military from participating in domestic policing. Amendments to the Act “allow [the Department of Defense] to support civilian law enforcement agencies and the Coast Guard. Although not explicitly stated, congressional intent was clear: the military needed to support law enforcement officers in combating drug smuggling.”25

Outside of the fifty states it is clear that the drug war is the means by which states are waging a war against poor people, workers, mi- grants, and others. The drug war model inside the United States pro- vides a mechanism of social control through criminalization and mass incarceration, which targets communities of color. In Mexico, Central and South America, the drug war model relies on the use of terror in order to impose social control.26

Empire and the Drug Trade

Leaving aside the concept of the drug war for a moment, even the word “drug” on its own poses challenges. In his book Forces of Habit, Da- vid Courtwright uses the word “drugs” “as a convenient and neutral term of reference for a long list of psychoactive substances, licit or illic- it, mild or potent, deployed for medical and non-medical purposes.”27

Courtwright goes on to write about what he calls the big three (alco- hol, tobacco, and caffeine) and the little three (opium, cannabis, and

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coca). Trade in the first three was an essential plank in the European colonial project—by 1885 taxation on booze, tobacco, and tea made up half of the revenues of the British government.28 “Historians of commodities know that key stimulants—exotic spices, coffee, tobacco, chocolate—played defining roles in consumption and class styles in the construction of European capitalism,” writes Gootenberg.29

Courtwright sums up the connections between narcotics and the colonial project succinctly. “The elites most responsible for promoting drug cultivation and use were European. They could not have over- spread the world so rapidly, nor brought it so completely under their dominion, without the large-scale production of alcohol and the culti- vation of drug and sugar crops, the latter commonly used in, or made into, potent drinks. With these psychoactive products they paid their bills, bribed and corrupted their native opponents, pacified their work- ers and soldiers, and stocked their plantations with field hands.”30 In the Americas, the introduction of sugar by the Spanish went hand in hand with the enslavement of millions of African people throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean. The colonization of North America was made possible in part through the introduction of alcohol into Indigenous communities. Today, coffee covers 44 percent of arable cropland in Latin America.31 And tobacco smoking spread from Hispaniola through European traders, eventually gaining a foot- hold as a cash crop in colonized lands around the world. But it is not to these substances, so vital in the creation and maintenance of empire, to which our minds turn when we hear of drugs, and especially not in the context of a war against them.

Instead, within the state framework of the drug war, the public is made to fear the by-products of what Cartwright calls the little three: opium, cannabis, and coca. Each of these substances was used for a long time by Indigenous peoples around the world. Opium was used for curing illness in Europe and North Africa before Arab traders in- troduced it to China more than two millennia ago. Marijuana, a hearty crop that produced not only cannabis but also strong hemp fiber, was long used in India and Asia. Indigenous folks throughout the Andean region ingested coca leaf to quell hunger and boost energy and strength.

Coca, opium, and cannabis have, to different extents, played key roles in state and elite formation, like their licit cousins. In the Andean highlands, Spanish colonizers commercialized coca plantations in or- der for mine workers to have access to the stimulant.32 The opium wars in China were key to British colonialism, and English and American


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colonialists defended their right to make money off the trade. “I do not pretend to justify the prosecution of the opium trade in a moral and philanthropic point of view, but as a merchant I insist that it has been a fair, honorable and legitimate trade; and to say the worst of it, liable to no further or weightier objections than is the importation of wines, Brandies & spirits in to the U. States, England, &c,” wrote Warren Delano II, who was the grandfather of FDR, and whose firm, Russell and Company, had a stake in the opium trade (smuggling opium into China) in the nineteenth century.33

The role of governments and particularly the US government in de- termining what constitutes illicit markets and illegal drugs is a crucial element of their war on drugs. “States monopolize the power to crimi- nalize: laws precede and define criminality. Through their law-making and law-enforcing authority, states set the rules of the game even if they cannot entirely control the play,” writes scholar Peter Andres.34

The ease with which substances can be prohibited by a state is the ease with which they can be made legal as well, a point not lost on drug pol- icy reformers or students of history. “For instance, alcohol smuggling networks linking the United States to suppliers in Europe, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean created a formidable policing challenge during the Prohibition Era—and were eliminated with the stroke of a pen with the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933.”35

It is also important to keep in mind the historical context of nar- cotics cultivation itself, as this too has been determined to a great extent by North American and European interests. The isolation of morphine, heroin, and codeine from opium was achieved by European chemists in the nineteenth century, and commercialized by pharmaceu- tical companies that still exist today. The first cocaine labs to trans- form coca leaves into concentrate were set up by German scientists, the process invented to prevent the leaves from rotting in transport to colonial centers. The US and German governments both played in- tegral roles, together with the government of Peru, in the promotion of coca and cocaine exports. “In the 1890s, US commercial attachés in Lima honed contacts with local cocaine makers.… And helped Pe- ruvians to upgrade their shipping and leaf-drying techniques.”36 By 1902, 2,400 kilos of cocaine were produced in the Andean region, and Merck, a German pharmaceutical company, controlled a quarter of the market.37 Around that same time, an estimated 600–1,000 tons of coca was being imported into the United States, mostly for use as an ingredient in Coca-Cola.38 It was Bayer that first marketed heroin as

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a cough suppressant, and later, Smith, Kline & French of Philadelphia promoted amphetamines for the treatment of the common cold.39 At that time there were no legal controls over the trade and marketing of pharmaceuticals, or over the claims the pharmaceutical industry made about emerging wonder drugs like cocaine.40 It wasn’t until the twenti- eth century that the international community got together, at the urg- ing of the United States, to create a global regime of prohibition.

Foreign Occupation and Drugs

Processes of modern colonization that reach back to the period when Nixon first declared a war on drugs have shaped the geography of drug production and trafficking. It was in that period that new marijuana plantations in Mexico were sown by US smugglers. Don Henry Ford, a blue-eyed smuggler-turned-organic-farmer in Texas, told me about pushing seeds on Mexican farmers in the Sierra Madre, the northern mountain range splitting Chihuahua from Sonora, Sinaloa, and Duran- go: “I was one of the guys that did it, see, I used to go down to Sinaloa you know, and show ’em the money. I’d say look, ya know, here’s some seeds, why don’t you plant these instead, this is what we want.”

Ford and I met in a small ranching town in Texas not far from San Antonio. He picked me up from the Greyhound station in a pick-up truck littered with hay, and we drove over to a classic Texas BBQ joint, where we talked over meat, pickles, and coleslaw. “It was like look, if y’all grow this shit for me instead of this other kind, I can sell this bet- ter. We were the ones that created the demand.… It’s like, I’ll pay you a shitload of money, $100 a pound or whatever, you know.”

Though there were lone wolves like Don Henry Ford, who even- tually ended up serving prison time for smuggling, the Mexican Army was historically the primary organization dedicated to marijuana traf- ficking. “The case based data collected by the author over a 7-year period unequivocally point to the army as the primary transporter of marijuana shipments to the border,” writes scholar Patrick O’Day, who relied on data he gathered through his own observations when he encountered an unwillingness on the part of authorities and police on the US side of the border to speak openly with him about drug traf- ficking.41 “The lack of reporting and misreporting of relevant facts, the disappearance of incident reports, and the extreme paranoia of law en- forcement personnel interviewed for the purpose of shedding light on this politically sensitive topic became so noteworthy during the course


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of the author’s research that the obstruction itself has become part of the findings,” he wrote.42

Eventually, also because of a push from the United States, mass marijuana production made its way south toward Colombia. Wash- ington ran interdiction programs in Mexico in the 1970s, in Sinaloa, Guerrero, and elsewhere,43 and in 1976 began aerial spraying of pop- py crops in Chihuahua, Durango, and Sinaloa as part of Operation Trizo.44 Twenty-two thousand hectares of land had been sprayed by the end of 1977. According to the DEA, “The large numbers of ar- rests that resulted from Operation Trizo caused an economic crisis in the poppy-growing regions of Mexico. In order to reduce the social upheaval, the Mexican government formally asked the DEA to stop participating in the surveillance flights.”45

In Mexico, in the 1980s, the US launched Operation Condor, a new program of aerial pot plantation spraying. Operation Condor and Operation Trizo, together with the intercept programs, pioneered the supply side, cat-and-mouse-style drug control tactics used up until to- day. In their book Drug War Mexico, Peter Watt and Roberto Zepe- da argue that these US programs made heroin and marijuana prices spike and encouraged the “cartelization” of the drug trade. “For the producers and traffickers with the best political contacts, the largest networks, and sufficient resources, and for those who had adapted to survive the initial years of this new phase of anti-drug policy, this sharp and sudden rise in the price of their exports was both rewarding and tantalizing,” they write.

There was international fallout from early US crop spraying pro- grams as well. “Some Mexican traffickers apparently made a fatal mis- take—they harvested poisoned marijuana and sent it to El Norte. Lab tests by the US government found Mexican ganja with signs of para- quat,” writes Ioan Grillo in his book El Narco.46 Paraquat, a toxic chemical used as a herbicide, also poisons and kills humans and ani- mals if ingested. Grillo continues: “The bad publicity pushed dealers to look for a new source of weed for millions of hungry hippies. It didn’t take long to find a country with the land, laborers, and lawlessness to fill the gap—Colombia. Farmers had been growing weed in Colom- bia’s Sierra Nevada since the early 1970s. As Mexico cracked down, the Colombians stepped up, creating a boom in their own marijuana industry known by local historians as the Bonanza Marimbera.”47 In a clear link between colonization and the introduction of narcotics pro- duction, coca plantations arrived in Putumayo, a southern province

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bordering Ecuador, which is inhabited by the Cofán people, as well as the oil industry. “The main coca crops began to appear in the 1970s, with the colonization of territory linked to petroleum interests. Many work contracts in the petroleum sector were temporary, and workers sought alternative sources of income, including coca cultivation.”48

The Magdalena Medio region, a geographically strategic area re- plete with oil deposits and pipelines, gold, lead, marble, quartz, for- ests containing rare and valuable wood, important water sources, and rich agricultural areas, was previously home to Shell, Texaco, and Frontino Goldmines (now Medoro Resources), and now to drug traf- fickers. Resource-rich areas of Colombia, like the Magdalena Medio, where multinational corporations distorted local economies and the populations had little access to state services were prime territory for drug traffickers. “The presence of the state in the area has not provid- ed for equitable development, which benefits local populations who have lived there since the distant past, or those who have arrived there searching subsistence, rather it has favored the interests of large com- panies with foreign capital, which introduce an exclusive development model of social, political, and economic domination. Many of these characteristics led to these lands being coveted by the big powers in drug trafficking, who made important investments in land there, ag- gravating all of the conflicts.”49

These examples provide some insight into how the geography of narcotics in the Western Hemisphere has taken shape over the last 150 years. Though it’s difficult to say exactly how much land is used for drug cultivation, the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law En- forcement Affairs—part of the US State Department—claims that in 2011, 12,000 hectares were sown with opium and roughly the same amount of cannabis. As economist Peter Reuter notes, “No detail has ever been published on the methodology of these estimates, beyond the fact that they are generated from estimates of growing area, crop per acre, and refining yield per ton of raw product; the information sources, even the technology used to produce them (for area estimates) are classified.”50

What is clear, however, is that free trade agreements and neolib- eral restructuring have defined the shape of the drug market today. A study of over 2,200 rural municipalities in Mexico from 1990 to 2010 found that lower prices for maize, which fell following the implemen- tation of NAFTA, increased the cultivation of opium and cannabis. “This increase was accompanied by differentially lower rural wages,


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suggesting that households planted more drug crops in response to the decreased income generating potential of maize farming,” write the study authors.51 Mexico scholars Watt and Zepeda argue that the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) “provided both the infrastructure and the labor pool to facilitate smuggling,” further de- veloping the idea of a narcotics industry intertwined with neoliberal transformation. For example, highways built to bring agricultural ex- ports to US markets also serve drug traffickers, and increasing inequal- ity makes more people willing to risk working in the illicit economy.

This book takes the long view on the drug war, positing that the United States and its allies control the demand and create the condi- tions for the production, flow, and demand of illegal narcotics.

It is in large part US policy that creates the criminal networks that traffic drugs, and US policy that generates extreme violence. Take, for example, the murder of Mexican drug runner Miguel Treviño Mo- rales, alias Z-40. As a member of the Zetas, Treviño Morales was said to have killed thousands, and was himself murdered in 2013. To get a handle on his death, which the media flaunted as a blow against the Zetas and a victory for the Mexican government, I interviewed Sean Dunagan, a former DEA intelligence analyst in Mexico and Guate- mala, and a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “The one thing that really stands out, that really isn’t reported, is that we created Miguel Treviño,” Dunagan told me. “I mean he is entirely a product of American drug policy. Without our current drug policy he wouldn’t exist. He might have been a carjacker who probably would be sitting in a Mexican jail right now. Our policy of prohibition is what creates people like that. It incentivizes violence to a tremendous degree, so we shouldn’t be surprised when someone rises to the top and commits 2,000 murders to get there, because in the scheme that we’ve created and forced on the Mexican government, that’s necessar- ily going to happen.… If we want people like him to stop terrorizing Mexico we need to stop our policies. He’s just a logical product of what we’ve done.”

But the impacts of US policy obviously go beyond individual play- ers and their connections to drug-smuggling empires. The violence con- nected to the war on drugs is moved depending on where the United States pumps anti-drug money, which is to say the explosive violence in narcotics-producing or transshipment countries is often directly linked with external pressures and the provision of resources to local security forces. American officials have admitted as much, noting that

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anti-drugs programs in Colombia pushed the problem into Mexico, and from there into Central America and the Caribbean, and so on. As we will see in Mexico, Central America, and Colombia, the shifting geography of the drug war fosters state and non-state militarization, and can deepen the ability of transnational corporations to exploit la- bor and natural resources.

In countries where US-backed anti-drug programs go—Colombia, Mexico, and the Caribbean, for example—drug flows often increase, as does violence. In the words of Peter Dale Scott, writing about Co- lombia in 2003, “Drug trafficking thrives in times of conflict; and by now it is obvious that US military interventions in drug areas have been, and will be, accompanied by significantly increased drug flows into [the United States]. The new [increases in trafficking] are more be- cause of US efforts than despite them.”52 Scott connects the police and army roles in facilitating the transport of narcotics, something that in- tensifies, as does violence, as their numbers and resources are boosted in the name of controlling illicit substances. To make the connection domestically, the periods with the most recorded homicides in the US between 1900 and 1990 were during Prohibition (1915–1930) and the period after Nixon declared the war on drugs.53

Today, the United States Northern Command has jurisdiction over the United States, Mexico, Canada, and part of the Caribbean, while the Southern Command is the US military’s primary organi- zation in Central and South America. For the Southern Command, transnational organized crime is the number one regional security is- sue, and particularly cocaine trafficking. But despite the billions of dollars the US has poured into combating drug trafficking, the threat continues to rise; “according to US Customs and Border Protection, there was a 483% increase in cocaine washing up on Florida’s shores in 2013 compared to 2012.”54 Rather than acknowledging that the drug war has designs other than stopping the flow of narcotics, we are meant to believe that the enemy is becoming increasingly sophis- ticated. “Mr. Chairman, gone are the days of the ‘cocaine cowboys.’ Instead, we and our partners are confronted with cocaine corpora- tions that have franchises all over the world, including 1,200 Ameri- can cities, as well as criminal enterprises like the violent transnational gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, that specialize in extortion and human trafficking,” said US general John F. Kelly, the commander of SouthCom, in the 2014 posture statement before the House Armed Services Committee.55


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If we cannot see how the drug war serves as a tool for expanding capitalism, we will be left imagining this imperial strategy as a futile whack-a-mole game, where feisty criminals consistently outrun a se- ries of multibillion-dollar military operations. In this scenario, drug traffickers are run out of the Caribbean into Mexico, out of Colombia into Venezuela,56 and from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic. But we have seen how marijuana, opium, and cocaine production not only re- sponds to US markets, but has been historically shaped and created by US demand. Now it is time to delve into just how the drug war serves to reconfigure trafficking routes, and as it does so, brings further mili- tarization and violence to said regions.