Kinsey Morrison

June 2, 2004

EDGE Spring Quarter

Final Paper

The ‘War on Drugs’

U.S.- Colombian Relations

On March 24, 1968 United States President Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs” that has proven to consume public policy across the world, and is still aimlessly being fought today. This declaration was in response to the health apprehensions and law enforcement concerns that arose as a result of prominent and illicit drug use. In the 1980’s Colombia became a main focus in U.S. international narcotics interdiction when they developed a monopoly on the sale of cocaine across the border to the United States. This war has continued to be fought despite the changing political philosophies that have accompanied various U.S. and Colombian presidencies, however none of these new perspectives has been able to come out victorious in this battle with drugs.

The United States drug problem was first born early in the nineteenth century. In this era the federal government had no explicit control over doctors and other health care professionals.[1] The U.S. Constitution reserved this right to individual states, thus essentially there were limited policies concerning narcotics. This lack of centralized control facilitated consumption trends that set the stage for future abuse. Opium and morphine use became popular before and after the Civil War. Users were able to acquire prescriptions through their doctors, as well as over the counter and through mail-order catalogues. Many distinguished and visible figures in society endorsed the use of cocaine. In July of 1884, Sigmund Freud published “Uber Coca,” the first of his five medical papers on cocaine.[2] In these papers he highly recommended cocaine for a variety of therapeutic uses, including the cure of alcoholism and morphinism, the treatment of poor health, for asthma, and for relief of digestive disorders. His commendation was endorsed by over 3,000 other doctors and celebrities. It became a favorite ingredient in medicine, soda, wines, and more. As a result, the U.S. annual per-capita consumption steadily increased over the years. In 1840 the average amount used per capita was twelve grains, which then rose to fifty-two grains per capita in the mid-1890s.[3] Statistics show that in the 1890’s 4.59 people per 1,000 were addicted.[4] Today that rate would be equivalent to about 1.1 million addicts. Most users were unaware of the damage such drugs were doing to their body and continued to use as they pleased.

However, tales of cocaine’s negative effects began circulating as early as 1886, and by 1914 the Federal government realized that a serious drug problem had emerged and took direct action. The Harrison Narcotics Act was passed in 1914 outlawing doctors from providing cocaine to patients. Medical use of cocaine became restricted only to surgical anesthesia, and all transactions had to be reported on standard order forms that would later be inspected.[5] The provisions of this law sent the cocaine market underground in the 1930’s and helped establish a drug trafficking relationship with foreign countries, especially those in closest proximity to the U.S., Latin America. Since the early nineteenth century countries in Latin America used narcotics to cope with psychological hardships imposed by native leaders and Spanish colonists, as well as to adhere to the customs of religious ceremonies.[6] They did not feel that the use of narcotics posed a problem in their country, as the U.S. seemed to claim about them, and used them as a way to produce revenue and follow cultural norms. However, given the large power and prestige of the United States, Latin American countries could not chose to ignore the U.S.’s complaints about drugs being trafficked across country lines for long. Being that cocaine was primarily produced in Colombia, the United States initiated a unique relationship with this country that has helped shape the tactics used in the war on drugs.

U.S.- Colombian relations predate the official War on Drugs. In 1821 Spanish independence leader Simon Bolivar and his troops overthrew Spanish rule of Colombia at the Battle of Carabobo. This triumph convinced U.S. president James Monroe to take vested interest in the republic of Colombia. In 1822 the U.S. Congress appropriated U.S. $100,000 to launch diplomatic missions in several Latin American countries, Colombia included.[7] While the U.S. would have liked to put more money towards this country and eventually take dominance over it, they did no have the resources at the moment to do so. However, a relationship was formed in the early nineteenth century that would continue to evolve over the decades. Throughout the century Colombia remained fragmented and poor as civil wars plagued the nation and devastated its economy. Meanwhile the United States gained strength and prestige they would later use to influence Colombian policy.

The development of the drug relationship between the United States and Colombia contains many stages and eras. In the 1960’s a small-scale cultivation of marijuana in Colombia began, that initiated ties between these two countries.[8] The U.S. market provided a source of wealth for the struggling Colombians, and the few laws intact concerning drug consumption were rarely applied. The trade promoted violence, but it only occurred between the few groups participating in the exchanges, thus it was not too problematic at a national level, thus not eliciting a large reaction from the Colombian government. The large-scale exportation of marijuana continued through 1981. The trade routes established and operational skills acquired through the U.S.- Colombian marijuana relationships facilitated the addition of cocaine to the mix from 1973-1975. Between 1974 and 1978 the leading groups of Colombian exporters were formulated. In Medellin two or three major cartels developed. In Cali two major cartels led by Jose Santacruz and the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers were formed, as well as Carlos Lehder’s operation, and Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha’s group in the central-east of Colombia.[9] For the next ten years after the formation of these groups, the cartels dominated 70-80% of the Colombian cocaine trade. Alfonso Lopez Michelsen, the leader of Colombia from 1974-1978 did not consider the formation of these groups or the drug trade to be a serious threat to the nation as a whole. While he did make some public addresses about its dangers, in 1975 he facilitated the laundering of dollars.[10] While Colombia traditionally has strict foreign exchange controls, Michelsen made it possible for people to make anonymous withdrawals of dollars from the Banco de la Republica.

Julio Cesar Turbay Ayala, who ruled Colombia from 1978-1982, handled the drug issue with an air of apathy. He did little to the individual traffickers within Colombian law and basically gave them free reign to handle their own business. However, in an attempt to maintain close ties with the ever powerful United States, he did pass the 1989 extradition treaty, which enabled banishment of Colombians for certain crimes. This treaty fashioned the first source on conflict between the government and the traffickers, but was successful in helping to maintain friendly relations with the U.S.

Drug trafficking reached its height in Colombia around 1982. They were importing foreign exchange estimating to range between $800 million and $2 billion, which is equivalent to about 10% and 25% of the countries net exports.[11] This immense wealth was going to a very small percentage of Colombian society who treated themselves to the finest luxuries. The country became fascinated with the economic success of the main traffickers and outwardly appreciated the cartel’s financing of newspapers, dwellings, sport centers, and safari parks. The traffickers, not content with their marijuana success, began setting up coca plantations and developing rural areas with their large estates. The plantations did not produce large supplies of coca, but instead served as a social base for traffickers and helped to regulate prices and supply.[12] They also created the arena for confrontation with guerillas and the government as the power of the drug traffickers emerged as a national security issue.

When U.S. President Richard Nixon began the “war on drugs” on March 24, 1968, he was referring to a domestic war on drugs. However, this term is now most commonly associated with the United States’ international interdiction efforts, particularly in Colombia. U.S. aid used to combat the Colombian drug issue officially commenced in 1973 when the two countries signed an agreement allowing such aid to be transferred.[13] This relationship continued to evolve into the next century. Former Foreign Service officer Robert Drexler illustrate the continual increase in U.S. aid:

By 1978…the drug syndicate had grown so powerful that the Colombian authorities had insufficient strength to overcome them…[We] had not foreseen it three or four years earlier…American authorities had become concerned about drug trafficking in Colombia in the early 1970s and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) stationed a small number of agents in our embassy in Botega. There was no sense of crisis in connection with the DEA operation, however, and narcotics issue was only one of several diplomatic problems facing the embassy when Viron P. Vaky was the ambassador, never the most important one.[14]

The 1970s marked a time period when awareness of the Colombian drug trade was heightened, but not a pressing public policy issue. However, starting in 1978 the drug war took precedence in the Colombian governmental actions. Liberal leader Julio Cesar Turbay Ayala took office from 1978-1982 and was the first president to declare war on the drug traffickers and cartel leaders, thus forging a closer relationship between the U.S. and Colombia. At this time, it is estimated that Colombia was producing 10,000 metric tons of marijuana a year[15] and supplied 70 percent of the marijuana reaching the United States.[16] The United States endorsed fumigating marijuana produced in the Northern most tip of the country with the herbicide paraquat, and the Colombian government complied. However, this initial tactic proved unsuccessful as it only relocated the marijuana production to other parts of the country and even increased incentives to produce cocaine, because it was harder to track than marijuana. Even though this initial attempt furthered and the cocaine production in Colombia and had little affect on cutting down marijuana production, it was the first step to forging a healthy and compliant relationship with the United States.

The intensity of the drug issue increased dramatically in the 1980s when U.S. President Ronald Reagan took office and initiated a more aggressive international interdiction policy. Drugs became the primary focus in the United States relationship with Colombia, which had taken a backseat to other policies in the previous decade. In April of 1984 drug barons assassinated Colombian Justice Minister Lara Bonilla, who openly expressed her anti-drug sentiments. This murder acted as a turning point in the Colombian Benancur government, and political action was finally taken against the drug lords. In 1978 Colombian President Julio Cesar Turbay Ayala signed a treaty that allowed accused drug traffickers to be extradited to the United States to face trial. At the same time the U.S. tripled their monetary aid to Colombia to help finance military action against the traffickers. The Colombian government’s strong reaction to drug trafficking led them to destroy laboratories and extradite many citizens. As Colombians started being extradited to the United States for trials, an increased risk for the cartel bosses to keep trafficking finally emerged as a serious threat. An immediate result was that a culture of violence materialized. The cartels fought extradition by threatening and attacking the Colombian judicial system.[17] More than 50 judges, including twelve members of the Supreme Court were killed between 1981 and 1986. Luis Carlos Galan, a notable public figure was assassinated in 1989. His death was followed by thousands of arrests and confrontations between police and possible suspects. Threats surfaced claiming to kill five Americans for every compatriot extradited to the United States.[18] This violence gained momentum and quickly increased until 1991.

Traffickers Escobar and Rodriquez Gacha led the retaliation efforts consisting of various terrorist attacks and that finally ended in the proposal for a treaty with the Colombian government. The twelve leading traffickers, self proclaimed, the ‘extraditables,’ promised that they would retire from the business as long as the government pledged that they would not extradite them to the United States, that they could maintain their fortunes, and that they would receive a total judicial amnesty.[19] In response to this offer, a stalemate occurred. The government, unwilling to respond to the terrorist attacks light heartedly would not negotiate with the traffickers. With no agreement being reached, the traffickers continued their acts of violence, bombing civilians and destroyed the offices of the Departamento Administrativo de la Seguridad( DAS). Despite attempts of the government to control such attacks, the brutality ensued.

As terror ravaged on extensive corruption developed in the Colombian police and court systems. Even though the government was doing all they could in their power to terminate drug production, the drug lords proved stronger. Through their drug sales they had acquired a power of their own, wealth. The large amounts of money they received for their drugs enabled them to buy off the police and judges. They paid police to inform them about upcoming drug raids and rewarded judges for dismissing their charges or lightening their sentences if actually convicted. “Elaine Shannon, reporter and longtime analyst of the international drug traffic, poignantly describes the Colombian government’s travails of being caught between the traffickers it cannot control and the American government it cannot please.”[20] As the Colombian political system continued to be corrupted in the 1980’s, the Colombian government proved ineffective at stopping drug production or doing enough to placate the United States’ demands.

The United States’ concern over the Colombian drug issue reached unparalleled levels by the time George Bush was elected president of the United States in the late 1980s. In his 1988 campaign speech, Bush said, “The logic is simple. The cheapest way to eradicate narcotics is to destroy them at their source…. We need to wipe out crops wherever they are grown and take out labs where they exist.”[21] The anti-drug methods used earlier in the 1980s consisted of using agencies such as the Coast Guard to interdict the drugs before they got over the border and into the states. Bush’s new approach was to attack the producers of the raw materials used in cocaine and marijuana. At the same time that this new U.S. policy was being put into play, havoc once again started being wreaked in Colombia. Many of the former guerillas grew tired of fighting the establishment, laid down their arms and formed a new political party called the Union Patriotica (UP; Patriotic Union). The drug lords, skeptical of the ex-guerillas sudden change in heart and thinking they were only trying to further their revolutionary agenda through legitimate and legal ways, started declaring war on them. Several ex-guerilla politicians were assassinated, including Liberal party presidential candidate Luis Carlo Galan in August of 1989. The United States, who viewed Galan as a “reliable and modernizing politician who was committed to warm relations with the United States,”[22] became outraged and thought it necessary to expand their support to Colombia. An additional $65 million of counter narcotic aid was sent to Colombia. Furthermore, on September 5, 1989 President Bush publicized the Andean Initiative, a plan consisting of a five-year U.S. $2.2 billion aid package. In the first phase of this aid, $65 million were sent to Colombia, most of which was military equipment. U.S. military advisors were also sent down South to train the Colombian military in counter narcotics efforts. However, despite after three years of support and $2.2 billion, a dent was not made in the sales of cocaine in the U.S.

In the 1990’s Colombia’s autonomy in dealing with their national drug issues ended, as the U.S. enforced more control and influence over their policies. This relationship was first called into conflict with the election of President Ernesto Samper in 1994. Even before stepping into office, Samper was accused of financing part of his campaign with a large donation from the Cali cartel.[23] Ironic, being that he made a name for himself in 1981 when he called for anti marijuana trafficking legislation as the director of the National Association of Financial Institutions. However, despite Samper’s claims that he was unaware of any Cali cartel donations, the United States immediately opposed his presence in the Colombian government. The strong pressures they put on him led him to remove the chief of police and make other gestures making it appear that the U.S. had complete control over the Colombian drug policies.[24] They wanted the Colombian government to detach any ties they had with the traffickers and completely adhere to their own anti-drug policies. However, the Colombian government was unable to stick to such demands at this time. Tape recordings surfaced proving that communication took place between Samper’s election campaigners and the Cali cartel. In 1996 former Defense Minister Fernando Botero also claimed that Samper had been aware of such communication. Although investigations into these allegations proved inconclusive, the Samper administration remained tainted in the eyes of the United States government. In March of 1996 U.S. President Bill Clinton ‘decertified’ Columbia.[25] This forced Samper to attack the Colombian drug issues aggressively, conducting more arrests, crop eradications, and drug seizures. He promised stricter sentences for convicted drug traffickers and better compliance with U.S. demands. Despite Samper’s submissive behavior, the Leahy Amendment to the international affairs budget was passed in 1996 to act as another safeguard. It banned assistance to any military unit “if the Secretary of State has credible evidence to believe such unit has committed gross violations of human rights unless the Secretary determines and reports to the Committee on Appropriations that the Government of such country is taking steps to bring the responsible members of the security forces to justice.”[26] It served as a reminder that human rights also needed to be kept in mind when dealing with the war of drugs. The U.S. government became split on issues concerning this amendment in the months ahead, as the Republicans continued to disagree with Clinton’s apparently weak stance on enforcing the law. In 1994 the U.S. Congress transferred majority from the Democrats to the Republicans, marking a new era of harshness in the drug war.