A Trafficker’s Paradise: The “War On Drugs” and the New Cold War in Colombia

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This paper shows how the marijuana boom in the Colombian Caribbean and the military suppression of it under the “Two Peninsulas” campaign ushered in a new era of inter-state and state-society relations between Colombia and the United States. The illegal marijuana export sector thrived in one of the poorest, most isolated regions of the country, the Guajira peninsula and its neighboring Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a lawless zone strategically located in the heart of the Caribbean basin, but never fully integrated into either Spanish colonial regime or the modern Colombian nation-state. This paper analyses the marijuana boom in two moments: its meteoric ascendance during the second half of the 1970s, which turned the country into the largest supplier of marijuana in the world, and its rapid decline in the early 1980s, which transformed Colombia into the first theater of the “war on drugs” in the Andes. The paper explains these two moments as a confluence of local, national, and global trends that were defined by the struggle over the legitimacy of production, distribution, and consumption practices that took place between the U.S. and Colombian governments, on one side, and marginal groups and frontier communities of both countries, on the other. It argues that geopolitical considerations of the U.S. government meshed with the national security imperatives of the Colombian government, and an aggressive military campaign in the core marijuana region was launched in 1978. The history of the emergence, rise, and fall of the marijuana economy in the Colombian Caribbean allows us to see how the “war on drugs” worked as a tool for strengthening the power of states, imperial and client, and consolidating a new militarism aimed at aligning South American states with the U.S. government’s New Cold War strategies.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)159-177
Number of pages19
JournalContemporánea: Historia y problemas del siglo
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2010


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