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  • Anti-Drug Policies in Colombia: Successes, Failures, and Wrong Turns eds. by Alejandro Gaviria and Daniel Mejía
  • Paul Gootenberg
Anti-Drug Policies in Colombia: Successes, Failures, and Wrong Turns. Edited by Alejandro Gaviria and Daniel Mejía. Translated by Jimmy Weiskopf. Knoxville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2016. Pp. xi, 326. $65.00 cloth. doi:10.1017/tam.2017.163

This book, edited by two leading economists who study the Colombian drug trade, is a translation of a Spanish-language volume published in 2011 by their influential home institution, the Universidad de los Andes, which has led the way in policy critiques of the long hemispheric drug war against cocaine. Some data were gathered as recently as 2012, but revisions cannot really keep up with the pace of twists and turns around coca and cocaine in Colombia. For example, the 2016 FARC peace treaty, if successful, has provisions that would peaceably and systematically reduce coca crops and the violence around illicit trade. And then there is the surprise resurgence in southern Colombia of coca in 2014–15.

Fifteen chapters and 24 authors long, the book is a compendium of information—at times almost overwhelming—and sober analyses from social scientists of Colombian anti-cocaine policies before, during, and after Plan Colombia (1999–2008), the much debated US-Colombia state campaign to reduce cocaine exports to the United States and the drug's impact on Colombian society. None of these writers repeats the official story that Plan Colombia "worked" in the effort to reduce cocaine traffic. There are no explicitly historical chapters. Indeed, the academic history of drugs in Colombia is in its infancy, aside from the work of journalists, nor is much attention being paid to other drugs, such as opiates or marijuana. But this book might be [End Page 423] read as a detailed snapshot, or as a coda to what historians might now study as the Colombian Age of Cocaine (my periodization is 1975–2005), a period which finally seems to be winding down as the twenty-first-century cocaine trade moves southward (in my view) to eastern Peru and to Brazil's consuming and trafficking routes.

The key concerns of the volume's five sections are measuring drug production, trafficking, and use in Colombia; past policies for supply and demand reduction; international relations and anti-drug policies; legal and institutional aspects of the war on drugs; and political institutions and trafficking. Its perspective is holistic—history aside—including chapters on national drug consumption and treatment, and, for example, money laundering, relationships with Europe, Colombia's on-and-off personal use decriminalization, and the effects of decentralization.

Daniel Mejía and Daniel M. Rico's "The Micro Economics of Cocaine Production and Trafficking" (Chapter 1) presents a wealth of data, using a commodity-chain analysis that shows (through 2012) a marked decline of cocaine in the Colombian economy to about 1.3 percent of GDP, even as anti-drug policies resulted in more efficient processing of cocaine. Chapter 3, Mejía's "Anti-Drug Policies under Plan Colombia: Costs, Effectiveness, and Efficiency," is a devastatingly clear and already classic critique of repressive coca policies—the essence of Plan Colombia—that shows the vast inefficiency and cost of manual and aerial eradication campaigns against campesinos in comparison to alternatives like "smart interdiction" against laboratories. Arlene Tickner and Carolina Cepeda's "The Role of Illegal Drugs in Colombia-U.S. Relations" (Chapter 8) is a strong history of Plan Colombia's transformation into a heavily militarized bi-lateral drug pact and state-building project and the current eclipse of the "war on drugs." In Chapter 12, the late Álvaro Camacho's "Colombian Institutions and Narcotics Trafficking" offers a periodization showing the transforming power of traffickers and, later, paramilitary groups on Colombian politics. Another outstanding essay (Chapter 15) is "Violent Non-State Actors and Narcotics Trafficking in Colombia" by Tickner, Diego García, and Catalina Arreaza. It is a densely packed political history of cartels and their successor organizations like BACRIMs (bandas criminals) and VNSAs (Violent Non-State Actors), framed by commodity linkage visuals of the country's trafficking spaces.

Colombia has produced a remarkable range of social scientists who...


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