Drug is defined as “a substance used in the diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of a disease or as a component of a medication”. A definition like that sounds fine. They include the usual medicines (with prescribed doses) we intake. However, when drug is defined as “a chemical substance, such as a narcotic or hallucinogen that affects the central nervous system, causing changes in behaviour and often addiction”, the thoughts are not very pleasant and often disturbing. The names here are Opium, Cocaine, and Marijuana. Derivations get worse, when the later starts being traded vividly (illicitly, of course).

Drug trafficking, as per the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is “a global illicit trade involving the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of substances which are subject to drug prohibition laws.” These also include the manufacture and sale of counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs. The sustenance of such trade is supported through a variety of causes; the most crucial being the world’s drug consumption. The effects of opium have made the substance desired. Latin America has emerged and remained crucial for drug production and trafficking. Geographically, Latin America is marked as the drug-hub of the world.

While the Andean countries (including Colombia, Peru and Bolivia) remained the world’s major cocaine producers, Mexico and the Caribbean maintained routes for the transportation of illicit drugs to US and Europe. Each year the world consumes over 600 metric tons of cocaine, about 85% of which is made and routed from South America alone. Colombia is the major producer, solely accounting for three fourth of annual cocaine trafficked in the world. Very recently, Bolivia has emerged as the new hub of drug trafficking in South America producing about 10% of world cocaine.

Drug trafficking is unique. Its periphery of work is never limited. It may be carried out both on intra-regional and inter-regional stand. However, what promotes the illicit cross border trade is that it pays, big. As per the 2007 World Drug Report, UNODC, 4.8% of the world’s population within the age group of 15-64 intake illicit drugs per year, of which 25 million are problem users. The demand never falls, rather rises with time. As a result suppliers get the incentive to carry out their business irrespective of all prohibition laws. The stakes are high. From the allure of glamorous lifestyle to the trend of no-retirement, illicit drug market is estimated to be, by far, the largest in value of all illicit markets. The potential profit is significantly greater than other criminal commodities. The fact that the man leading the Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico “Joaquin ‘Shorty’ Guzman”, have been listed by Forbes magazine as the 701st richest in the world with a net worth estimated at $1 billion, supports my point to the fullest. Another crucial determinant here is the adverse effect of prohibition laws. Abandoning is not easy and forced abandoning is no solution at all. It simply makes matter worse. Ever since 2006, President Felipe Calderon’s war against drug trafficking has cost over 60,000 people to lose their lives in violence relating to drug prohibition.

The trading route is also very fascinating. The two important zones here are the US-Mexico land border and the sea routes of Pacific and Atlantic. Cocaine found in Europe mostly is tracked down to have a Colombian origin. Added to that direct shipments from Peru and Bolivia are more practised than in the American market. However, recently on the basis of importance Colombia has lost its high stand. There was a fall from 90% cocaine seized in 2002 to 65% in 2008 throughout UK. America gets 90% of its cocaine supply from the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico. Drug experts recently reported a hike in domestic consumption in Chile mostly among the upper section in the society and also the working class. Most cocaine enter Chile “on the backs of Indian runners” which then move to the town of Arica through the Chile-Bolivia border. Time and again cocaine is then sent for refining and later shipped out. Since they mostly act as mediators in the trade the drug lords in Chile earn big. The open and thriving economy of the country along with its allotments to bank secrecy, the country is, as experts put it, “an easy place to launder.”

Peru, next to Colombia has a reputation for being the second biggest cocaine producer. In actuality, even from before the Spanish colonization, farmers in Peru were growing coca (cocaine is produced later out of coca). Since coca is legal, they carry out production, unhindered. But apparently, reports spotted a 90% produced coca being utilised in cocaine production vehemently contributing to what experts call “a multibillion-dollar shadow economy in Peru.” Moreover, the resurgence of Shining Path, a Maoist organisation led to recent complications. This body in guerrilla warfare with the government has a profound history of claiming the lives of over 70,000 and this particular group has been a powerful body safeguarding and promoting security to the all wrong doers, extensively exploiting the poor. Unfortunately, this seems to be a signature act of oppression by any “elite trafficking organisation.”

Bolivia stands next in line after Peru in cocaine production. 2007 UN reports say “the country has allotted 28,900 hectares of its land to coca production, a figure that is more than double than what Bolivian law allows.” Moreover, the drug lords in Bolivia are merciless. They often break into violent fights almost giving itself a Mexican look everytime. Added to Bolivia’s growth in cocaine production, the country is also gradually emerging as an important transit point for cocaine to be shipped from Peru to Brazil.

The drug war is an organised international effort to systematically reduce and subsequently rub off the demand and supply for illicit consumables. They are necessarily formulated by the enforcement and undertaking of various global treaties which require a shared and mutual strife to not just stop international drug trading or criminalizing its use and possession cross border but also within domestic territory. Ever since the emergence of drug trafficking, the UN has taken serious steps. It is presently collaborating with about 2700 non-governmental organisations. One of them being the Addictive Drug Information Council, which primarily focuses on rendering nations with correct data and report, raise mass awareness, establish research centres for nation-wise assistance in policy formulation for combating drug trafficking. The Narcotics Anonymous in Central America and Caribbean is another such example. This group specialises in providing recovery remedy to addicted personnel and also motivate abusers to changes their ways through regular meetings and orientations. On combating drug, one common solution used in its majority is the usage of alternative developments, where farmers are encouraged to grow their produce without the usage of narcotics and psychotropic substances and also maintain the market success. Stricter border control measures have also been enforced to check trafficking. The work of the INTERPOL on this regard has been deemed important. Local rehabilitation centres, reintegration networks have come up. NGOs today are also funding such centres in prison for betterment of abusers.

However, these have not worked out well in preventing drug trafficking, mostly because law enforcement systems are too weak for progress in Latin America. Incapacity, lack of proper and sufficient capital, exploitation of local governments, and mistrust in the government, poverty and continuous overt violence has been real impediments. “When this vulnerability meets wealthy drug cartels and other criminal groups, it’s easy for corruption to seep in. The war on drugs magnifies and exacerbates institutional weaknesses,” said the WOLA drug policy expert, John Walsh. While the drug war isn’t the cause of such issues, “magnifying problems that are already so huge is a big deal.”

By: Senjuty Bhowmik


  • unodc.org/unodc/en/drugtrafficking
  • unodc.org/unodc/en/drug-trafficking/mexico-central-americaand-the-caribbean.html
  • thegooddrugsguide.com/blog/0754/7-countries-where-drug-lords-lord-it-over
  • interpol.int/Crime-areas/Drugs/Drugs
  • interpol.int/Crime-areas/Drugs/Cannabis
  • interpol.int/Crime-areas/Drugs/Cocaine
  • vox.com/2014/11/14/7189219/drug-war-mexico-colombia
  • informationisbeautiful.net