Authored by DPDF 2013 Global Commodity Studies Research Director, Paul Gootenberg.
This essay charts the entanglements and “blowback” effects of U.S. policy toward Latin American drug exports over the last century as the backdrop to today’s cascading drug violence in northern Mexico. The history of cocaine reveals a series of major geopolitical shifts (closely related to U.S. interdictionist drug war policies) that bring drug commodity chains, illicit trafficking centers, and conflicts, over the long run, closer to the United States. It analyzes shifts from initial legal cocaine and small-time postwar smuggling of the central Andes to the concentrating 1970s–1990s “cartel” epicenter in northern Andean Colombia, to the 1990s political shift north to Mexican transhipment and organizational leadership. Violence around cocaine has intensified at every step, and the present conflict portends another shift in the chain.