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Abstract || 1: In the beginning...


The Spanish word coyuntura is defined as conjunction, structure, occasion, and opportunity.(1) Coyuntura is the matrix or prism through which this study, employing endogenous and exogenougous factors, examines Colombia's status as drug capital of the world. While the study focuses narrowly on the effects of the illegal narcotics trade (INT) on Colombian economic and legal institutions it also examines the world context within which these activities occur. As such, a historical context for Colombian development as well as the development of the illegal narcotics trade is required.

The historical context is established by identifying several coyunturas in Colombian history. For an event to be considered a conjuncture, it must serve as an opportunity for social, political, and economic change through a revolution or on an evolutionary basis. It represents a coming together of the old forces with the introduction of new forces. Colombia has had several such conjunctures in its history. Contingencies associated with progress and tradition have offered opportunities to alter the "muddling through" pattern of governance dominating Colombian policy making since its independence. The development of the illegal narcotics trade in Colombia is considered one of those conjunctural periods in this study. To understand the opportunity that coyunturas or conjunctures provide, one must be aware of previous patterns set the historical context. In the following section, I identify several conjunctural periods in Colombian history important for understanding the context that existed when the illegal narcotics trade began to dominate Colombian life.


In 1819 Colombia gained its independence from Spain forming the confederation of Gran Colombia with Venezuela and Ecuador. The distinct differences between the regions became clear during the first decade of independence. The result was that, in 1830, Colombia separated from the confederation and pursued its own path. As Nueva Granada, it comprised Colombia's present boundaries and a distant province later known as Panama.(2) The fierce competition between criollo elites settled into the political norm prevalent in present-day Colombia, civilian partisan politics. Liberal and Conservative parties were elite-instigated parties rather than parties developed by popular demands. As each party altered public policies to suit themselves, during their respective tenure in office, Colombia's constitutional structure remained fluid. The state was viewed, by those who possessed the instruments of state, as bounty for having won control of the state.(3)

During the nineteenth century there were six civil wars as party leaders mobilized the peasants socially and economically dependent upon them. Party identification became largely a function of one's social relationship to one's patron. Thus Colombia's first historic conjuncture resulted in polarized partisan elite politics that through its capacity to mobilize troops delayed centralization and penetration of the Colombian state into Colombian society. Such polarization, however, did not represent a homogeneous elite. Elite politics in Colombia were heterogeneous and often fraught with intra-elite quarrels. These quarrels only resolved themselves when it became evident the elites might not survive if they did not find areas of accommodation among themselves.

A second conjuncture in Colombian history was the production of coffee for export in the 1860s.(4) Previous export booms had been short-lived. Local producers lacked interest in making the investment in irrigation, fertilizer, and scientific management necessary to place the "boom" on a permanent basis.(5) Interestingly, Colombia's entry into the world coffee market did not occur until improved river transportation developed. This technological change highlights the interdependence between technological innovation and increased exports. Technological improvement in transportation infrastructure would repeat itself almost a century later with Colombia's emergence as a transshipper of illegal narcotics. The twin developments of the airplane and sophisticated electronic communication were key technological variables contributing to Colombia's status as a leader in the illegal narcotics trade.

Additional consequences of Colombia's first coffee boom in the late nineteenth century is the conflict that emerged over how to manage the coffee boom. Coffee cultivation was extremely labor intensive and coffee trees do not produce a harvest for three to five years from the first planting. Thus, policies providing effective credits for beginning cultivators and regulating labor became important.

Coffee cultivation developed principally in two forms. Small farms or fincas in the Antioquia, Santander and Tolima departments encouraged the emergence of small, independent producers who, for the first time, had the opportunity to become part of a middle class. Colombia's political and social elite developed larger coffee plantations in Cundinamarca. Conflicts soon erupted over land acquisition and labor issues. Government attempts to arbitrate these conflicts often resulted in contrary and confusing public policies. Moreover, the Colombian state had limited capacity to enforce these policies. The result was that enforcement was left in the hands of the political parties which enforced them in ways enhancing their own interests. This pattern of political relations between the Colombian state and the political parties would persist in varied form until the establishment of the National Front regimes.

Another effect of the coffee boom was increased material prosperity in Bogotá. The almost frugal lifestyle of upper-class bogotanos changed dramatically with the coffee boom exacerbating the difference in wealth between the classes. Efforts by the Colombian government to recover part of the coffee bonanza via a coffee export tax resulted in the abolition of the tax by a Conservative dominated Congress. Abolition of the coffee export tax is but one example of failed fiscal policies by the Colombian government as negotiation, compromise, and bargaining failed among elite leaders and set the stage for the War of a Thousand Days, 1899-1902. The inability of the Colombian government to develop a sound economic foundation resulted in an "uncritical reliance on emissions of paper money to balance every deficit . . . "(6) impeding the development of a sound monetary system. As coffee production met demand with an accompanying decline in coffee prices, the fiscal crisis of the Colombian government attained enormous proportions. The government increasingly was unable to meet its payroll amidst a persistent reluctance to reduce the number of bureaucratic and military employees.(7)

The War of a Thousand Days began as a partisan conflict and ended with a written truce that each party would recognize and honor the rights of the other party. Although the armistice marked the minimizing of class differences, it left unresolved the economic and political issues that accounted for the initial cleavages between the political parties. Also it would not be the last time a war so damaged transportation and communications that economic progress was retarded and productive investment prohibited by a general climate of insecurity. So what picture emerges of state-societal relationships as Colombia enters the twentieth century? It is an image of a state with a heterogeneous fragmented elite who has formed political parties and developed patterns of political inclusion along patron-client lines. Abundant political rhetoric about the nobility of public service aside, self-interested political participation and partisan rule dominated to such a degree the constitution as a solid instrument of authority remained in question. The Colombian state's limited enforcement capacity resulted in subcontracting the state's enforcement responsibility to political parties who in turn subcontracted it to private individuals. This was just part of a cycle that in turn strengthened the pattern of patron-client relationships. The state's attempts to gain control over macroeconomic management of economic booms were continually frustrated by a congress composed of elite leaders who had yet to develop either for themselves or for Colombia's rank and file a strong sense of Colombian nationalism.


The 1920s, frequently called the "Dance of the Millions", represent another conjuncture in Colombian history. During the 45 years of peace that existed between 1902 and 1945, Colombia recovered from its wartime devastation and began building a solid economic foundation. Accomplished with loans provided by foreign governments and foreign investors, a boom in international trade in the 1930s accompanied the recovery. Payment of a $25 million indemnification by the U.S. for Panama provided the center from where economic expansion developed. The growth of multinational corporations such as Tropical Oil and United Fruit also fueled Colombia's economic expansion.(8) This juncture in Colombian history is significant for three reasons. First the marked increase in available monies coincided with the Kemmerer report which made several economic and fiscal recommendations. Indemnification monies enabled the Colombian government to comply with the study's chief recommendation to create a central bank, thereby increasing investor confidence.(9) The Colombian government also decided to use these funds for internal improvements, selling more than $235 million in bonds and similar securities. The boom persisted until late summer of 1928 when the bond market collapsed. This represents the Colombian state's first systematic use of scientific studies via the Kemmerer mission to rebuild and modernize its economic institutions.

Second, developing its economic institutions during the "Dance of the Millions" reflects more unification than conflict among Colombia's elites in that goals of industrialization did not clash with agricultural goals. This allowed the assumption of stronger leadership among members of the traditional parties to address the problems of economic and social change during this period.(10) Third, using elements of statecraft rather than violence to deal with proponents of change encouraged and sufficiently strengthened state institutions so that economic interdependence characteristic of modernizing societies began in Colombia.

The assassination of Jorge Eliécer Gaitan on April 9, 1948 represents a fourth conjuncture in Colombian history. Gaitan's assassination triggered a riot in Bogotá called the bogotazo and ushered in a new phase of interparty warfare known as `la violencia'. Violence was not new to Colombians, but a relative peace had existed for the past forty-five years and `la violencia' took on different characteristics from previous violence. First, although promoted by elites, `la violencia' generally lacked direction, feeding itself on levels of brutality and extraordinary damage to property and life. While the causes of `la violencia' remain complex and varied, it's significance for the purposes of this study lies in the serious erosion of an existing fragile state legitimacy. The accelerated social change that occurred during this period outstripped the development of solid pluralistic democratic values, modes, beliefs, and sensitivities. Larry Diamond notes that political culture is a dynamic concept, providing either strength or weakening values and goals. He notes that the "semiconsociational arrangements in Colombia became outdated and yet difficult to restructure because they served so well the interests of the existing elite."(11) A strong state with a solid foundation of legitimacy will possess institutions established and recognized as legitimate arbiters and/or enforcers of public peace. This was not the condition of the Colombian state at the outbreak of `la violencia'. (12) As a result, a conjuncture developed in Colombia's history, the establishment of the Frente Nacional (National Front).


The National Front was a bipartisan coalition whose goal was to end the violence and reestablish institutions of the Colombian state. Incorporated into the Colombian constitution by plebiscite in 1957, the plan's cornerstone was parity or equal division between the Liberal and Conservative parties for all legislative and appointive positions. The presidency would alternate between the two political parties. Designed to last only sixteen years, a constitutional amendment in 1968 extended the National Front regimes. Coalition rule was prolonged in the executive until 1986 and the municipalities until 1988. Elite agreement that a constrained democracy was the only way to restore civilian rule to Colombia was bipartisan in its support of anti-majoritarian instruments that ensured that neither party could win nor lose an election.(13) This period in Colombian history is critical for not only ending the violence and partisan hegemony. It is critical for the opportunity it gave the Colombian state to engage in institutional reform to reinvigorate democratic institutions with authority and legitimacy.

At the end of `la violencia' and with the parity guaranteed by the National Front, Colombia's military became more de-politicized and professional. The institutionalization of a governmental role for the military was guaranteed by reserving the post of Minister of Defense for a military person, but with a Superior Council of National Defense designated to oversee not only ministerial policies, but also the policies of the commander in chief of the armed forces.(14)

With respect to the types of patron-client relationships that fueled `la violencia' and which the National Front regimes sought to control through parity and alternation, scholars such as Dix and Leal Buitrago are of different minds about the type of relationship change that occurred. Dix argues the National Front served to diminish the expectation that benefits for certain regions or groups could be obtained by traditional political clientelism and suggests strengthened linkages between government agencies and officials proved more effective. Leal Buitrago argues that the style of clientelist politics changed from patron-client to brokerage clientelistic politics.(15)

The expanding role of producer associations examined in this study suggests that both scholars are correct. Loss of party hegemony and traditional politics created a vacuum in which interests could not be articulated and met. The Colombian state had not yet reached a level of institutional rebuilding and growth that allowed it to perform this function. Producer associations gained in their political power serving as channels for interest articulation. The study will show, however, that the role of the producer associations did not end there. Producer associations were charged with carrying out and enforcing public policy, functions usually reserved to the State.

However, the state's capacity to manage economic and social reforms was enhanced by modernization of state institutions during the National Front regimes. Executive power to legislate on certain questions increased as fear of party hegemony and party identification decreased . A more technocratic style of policy making emerged and effectively diminished the role of the traditional parties. The pattern of elitist democracy in Colombia continued in a fundamental sense during the National Front regimes. What changed was the nature of political relationships between the parties and the military and the state. Increased power over economic development by the state promised, at least, the potential of social reform.


The emergence of the illegal narcotics trade represents a sixth historical conjuncture in Colombia. Smuggling generally and narcotics trafficking specifically have long coexisted with the growth of capitalism. It was not until the middle to late 1960s that the economy of illegal narcotics "took off" first with marijuana and later cocaine. While not a primary producer of coca leaf, the United Nations declared Colombia, as early as 1976, the major center for the processing and transshipment of cocaine.(16) During the first of the 1980s, Colombia was viewed as a nation held hostage with its political regime experiencing a "generalized crisis of state authority and a wave of violence whose consequences whose end are not clearly in sight."(17) Narcotics policy in the United States and Colombia has focused on interdiction and seizure. Success is measured in assets such as cash and property, narcotics, and chemicals confiscated. For the past fifteen years, U.S. policy in the War on Drugs has dominated literature on the illegal narcotics trade. While these studies provide important insights, they have failed to explain in precise ways the reasons for the perdurance of the INT. While some literature exists examining the effects and consequences for those upon whom the INT depends for support, it is rarely set within the context of the Colombian state. Domestic bargaining tactics used by the Colombian state have received little, if any, close attention.

H. Richard Friman's research examines state capacity as reflected in its domestic bargaining tactics within the state and societal structures. A comparative analysis of the cocaine industry in Germany in the 1920s and Colombia in the 1980s offers some preliminary research conclusions about the failure of policy implementation in Colombia. Friman concludes that the "case studies suggest that structural determinants of state capacity offer only partial insight into the dynamics of German and Colombian compliance with the American agenda."(18) Friman suggests that examination of specific decisions made as a result of domestic bargaining strategies reveal the willingness of state leaders to engage the INT compared to the specific degree of societal opposition to governmental policy. In this study, the explication of the organizational structure of the INT over time will suggest that Friman's findings are useful as there develops an organizational entity with which the state may bargain.

Current Research

Within the past five years the dominant focus of drug policy research has slowly broadened to include studies that specify the effects and consequences of the INT upon its constituencies.(19) Morales examines the consequences, not only of governmental drug policies on peasant growers of coca in Peru, but also the short term and long term effect on peasants engaged in coca cultivation. He examines the economic effect upon peasant lifestyles, the effect of coca cultivation on land fertility and its effect on social structures.

Rensselaer Lee focuses on the organizational structures of the lower, middle, and upper class managers of the drug production chain as it stretches across the Andean countries.(20) This multiple country approach highlights INT organizational differences within each culture. The increasingly transnational nature of the INT requires its adaptation to whichever political and historical context in which it finds itself. In turn, points of access increase through which the INT might deal. Identified points of access raises levels of vulnerability effective drug policies might exploit.

T. David Mason's work on the political economy of death squads suggests that a state engages in alliances and tactics to retain its position if not autonomy. This occurs by "farming out" some duties that define a state: the legitimate monopoly on the mechanisms of physical coercion and control.(21) Mason's work is particularly useful in helping explain how and why the Colombian military which, after WWII had a strong constitutional base, has begun to develop a more autonomous political base coincident with the growth of the INT.

The above mentioned studies represent a growing corpus of literature that recognizes the successful inauguration, maintenance, and growth of illegal narcotics trafficking requires an articulate constituency capable of alliance formation. This constituency, present in both producer and consumer nations, is capable of articulating demands and exerting pressure upon governments through its capacity to marshal significant material and people on its behalf. From this aspect the INT presents a formidable challenge to the state and requires investigation.

Anecdotal and journalistic accounts about the emergence of the INT and the Colombian cartels abound. However, there does not yet exist a historical chronology tracing the evolution of the Colombian cocaine cartels. Nor, except for Colombian scholars Sarmiento and Krauthausen(22), has there been an attempt to theorize about the evolution of the INT. Therefore, the goals of this study are twofold. The first is to establish a historical chronology of the emergence and development of the Colombian cartels. Despite various articles on certain aspects and periods of cartel development, there does not exist, at the time of this study, a typology of INT evolution in Colombia. A chronology of this sort can help identify organizational structures as well as alliances and to pinpoint to what extent, if any these have changed overtime. This tool can be directed toward developing a theory about the organizational behavior of the INT in any of its stages and about the power relationships between the INT and the Colombian state.

The second goal of the study is an attempt to place state dealings with the INT into the broader context of the political development literature. Political development literature has itself gone through various stages over the past forty years. The work of early developmentalists such as Rostow, Lipset and Deutsch which demonstrated "close correlations between literacy, social mobilization, economic development, and democracy"(23) was criticized and refined by the work of Samuel P. Huntington. Using case studies demonstrating increased political repression and exclusion even in the face of socioeconomic modernization, Huntington challenged the notion that there was an automatic evolution and mutual support between socioeconomic modernization and political development.(24) Criticism calling for a more sophisticated understanding of the role of traditional institutions as filters of modernization has resulted in the rise of alternative models for understanding national political development. Dependency theory, the corporatist approach, a political economy approach, the models of the bureaucratic-authoritarian state, and neo-marxist represent examples of alternative explanations. So where does the development of Colombia and its dealings with power challengers such as the INT fit into this rich and diverse literature?

The Colombian example is best explained by the earlier political development models which hypothesized that socioeconomic modernization would, through the development of a middle class, lead to a more pluralistic, just, and stable society. Colombia has enjoyed steady and consistent economic success accompanied by moderate levels of modernization as measured by socioeconomic indicators. But the success has not been necessarily accompanied by an increasingly pluralistic society with the accompanying attributes of increased democratization, social justice, and managed conflict. To the contrary, despite considerable economic success, especially when compared to other Latin American states, Colombia's present political history remains as dominated by political violence as its past political history.

Paul Oquist argues the first three to four decades of the twentieth century represents a partial collapse of the Colombian state culminating in twenty years of civil war, la violencia. This collapse, according to Oquist, was rooted in the state's inability to "mediate conflict effectively secondary to the disintegration of the state's judicial, military, paramilitary, and economic institutions."(25) The National Front coalition with its rules of parity and alternation of the political parties in the governance of the state was an effort to stop the violence and allow time to rebuild institutions. The National Front regimes are considered to have effectively brought to an end la violencia and to have so thoroughly rebuilt state institutions that Colombia's entry into modernity accelerated.

If this is so, what explains the state's seemingly continued fragility in the face of challenges by the INT, an actor considered political in its early stages? Does the Colombian state's effort to deal with the INT more accurately reflect an ongoing struggle for autonomy in a nation where, historically, regionalism has been the predominant political structure? And in its efforts to retain or regain more autonomy, how have the traditional tools of dealing with political challengers, co-optation and political mobilization, served the Colombian state?

Chapter One outlines the study, detailing its thesis, identifying the concepts and variables used and the theoretical foundations from which the study is drawn. Concepts defined include the illegal narcotics trade, drug cartels, the state, and institutions. Chapter Two provides an in-depth review of the literature on the state and institution-building violence as an agent for social change and the illegal narcotics trade. Literature from both North American and South American scholars is presented. A historical chronology of the INT in Colombia and the emergence of the cartels beginning in the middle 1970s to the present is developed in Chapter Three. This chapter also sketches the dimension of the drug problem delineating exogenous forces including drug preference changes in consumer countries. and endogenous forces such as the Colombian tradition of contraband smuggling.

Chapter Four continues the historical evolution of the INT in Colombia through Phases Two and Three bringing the study to the present. An historical overview of the Colombian banking and monetary system is provided in Chapter Five. Only recently have analyses of Colombian economics and finance been available in English. To understand the impact of the INT on Colombian economic institutions requires an understanding of their historical development. Critical in linking formal policy to local implementation is the role of `los gremios' or the producer associations.

Chapter Six focuses on the INT's impact on the economic institutions within the Colombian state. In its efforts to plan, develop, and implement its economic policy, how has the INT affected the Colombian government's policy decisions in terms of its backward [internal or domestic] and forward [external or international] linkages to the economy? Do these policies reflect a socioeconomic rationale such as that suggested by Juan Tokatlián?(26) With which powerful players does the government intersect and engage? I attempt to distinguish between private and public financial sectors by which the relationship between Colombian financial institutions and the INT is examined. Finally, some conclusions are drawn from this analysis concerning the relationship between Colombian financial institutions and the INT.

Chapter Seven traces the development of the Colombian judicial system. The impact of the INT on the Colombian judicial system is examined using the phased evolution of the INT as an organizational framework in an attempt to link the impact to organizational changes in the INT.

In Chapter Eight, I conclude with some observations about what constitutes the present relationship between the INT and the Colombian government sketching out some possible alternative policy scenarios. More broadly I discuss avenues for theorizing about illegal activities in the discipline of international political economy.

1. Editors of Biblograf, S.A. Vox Modern Spanish and English Dictionary (Lincolnwood, Ill: National Textbook Company, 1986)

2. Howard J. Wiarda and Harvey F. Kline, eds. Latin American Politics and Development, 3rd ed. (Boulder: Westview Press, 1990) Chapter 11, 231-257.

3. David Bushnell, The Making of Modern Colombia: A Nation in Spite of Itself (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993) 74-139.

4. Charles W. Bergquist, Coffee and Conflict in Colombia, 1886-1910 (Durham: Duke University Press, 1989).

5. Bushnell, 132.

6. Ibid., 57.

7. Ibid., 117.

8. Robert H. Dix, The Politics of Colombia (Praeger: New York, 1987) 32.

9. William Paul McGreevey, An Economic History of Colombia, 1845-1930 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1971) 205-206.

10. Robert H. Dix, The Politics of Colombia (New York: Praeger, 1987) 33.

11. ...Political Culture and Democracy in Developing Countries, ed. Larry Diamond (Boulder: Lynn Rienner, 1994) 243.

12. Dix, 39.

13. Ibid., 42.

14. Ibid., 43.

15. Francisco Leal Buitrago, Estado y Política en Colombia 2nd edición (Bogotá: Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 1989)

16. Richard Craig, "Domestic Implications of Illicit Colombian Drug Production and Trafficking", Journal of InterAmerican Studies and World Affairs, Summer 1983 page 331 as referred to by Jonathan Hartlyn in "Drug Trafficking and Democracy in Colombia; paper presented at the Conference on Drug Trafficking, Human Rights, and Democracy in Colombia, Washington, D.C., March 1989.

17. Jonathan Hartlyn, "Drug Trafficking and Democracy in Colombia", paper presented at the Conference on Drug Trafficking, Human Rights, and Democracy in Colombia, Washington, D.C., March 1989, 16.

18. H. Richard Friman, "State Capacity and the International Cocaine Trade: Structure, Bargaining, and Drug Control in Germany and Colombia" Paper presented at the 34th Annual Convention of the International Studies Association, 23-27 March 1993, Acapulco, Mexico. 26.

19. Edmundo Morales, Cocaine: White Gold Rush in Peru (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1989)

20. Rensselaer W. Lee III, The White Labyrinth: Cocaine and Political Power (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1990).

21. "The Political Economy of Death Squads: Toward a Theory of the Impact of State-Sanctioned Terror", International Studies Quarterly Vol. 33, 1989, 175-198.

22. Ciro Krauthausen and Luis Fernando Sarmiento, Cocaína & co: un mercado ilegal por dentro (Bogota, Tercer Mundo Editores, 1991) Unfortunately this work has yet to be translated into English.

23. Dankwart A. Rustow and Kenneth Paul Erickson, eds., Comparative Political Dynamics: Global Research Perspectives (New York: HarperCollins Publisher, 1991) 43.

24. Ibid., 35.

25. Paul Oquist, Conflict and Politics in Colombia (New York: Academic Press, 1980), 165.

26. Juan Tokatlián, "National Security and Drugs: Their Impact on U.S.-Colombian Relations", Journal of InterAmerican Studies and World Affairs Vol. 30, Number 1, Spring 1988. 133-161.