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Cocaine Politics, Review of

Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies, and the CIA in Central America. By Peter Dale Scott, and Jonathan Marshall. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992. Notes. Index. xv, 279 pp. Paper. $13.00.

    Both the Reagan and Bush administrations used the so-called "War on Drugs" as a cover to aid the U.S.-backed Contras in the latter's efforts to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. Moreover, the authors assert that both administrations utilized the help of known drug traffickers, and also facilitated the exchange of guns for U.S.-bound cocaine. As part of its anti-leftist strategy, the U.S. government asserted the bogus narcoterrorism thesis, an alliance between Latin American drug traffickers and leftist groups. To the contrary, whatever alliance existed consisted of U.S. government officials (Oliver North and members of the CIA, for example), drug traffickers, right-wing politicians and military officers in Central America and Argentina, and assorted stooges of the U.S. such as Panama's Manuel Noriega. To the Reagan and Bush administrations, the Sandinista government in Nicaragua was a greater national security threat than the importation of cocaine and marijuana into the U.S.

    The argument is developed in two parts: "Right-Wing Narcoterrorism, the CIA, and the Contras" and "Exposure and Cover-Up." In the first part, the authors trace the various connections among drug traffickers, Argentine, Honduran, and Contra military officers, Noriega, Cuban exiles, the Cali cartel, Costa Rica In the second part, they show how various U.S. government officials, including members of Congress, managed to control the revelation of the CIA-Contra-drug nexus. Further, they argue that most of the U.S. media chose to ignore what was occurring.

    Had it not been for the persistence of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chaired by Senator John Kerry, the Executive branch would have succeeded. The authors relied principally upon the Kerry report, which provided rich primary sources, including testimony by many of the principal actors, reprints of letters, memoranda, and government documents. To supplement the report, they made extensive use of articles published by investigative journalists and political activists. Nevertheless, all the relevant documents may never be made available, for some of them may have been destroyed. In spite of these limitations, the authors make a strong case. Subsequent revelations from the Bank of Credit and Commerce International scandal and the trial of General Manuel Noriega confirm many of the authors' assertions.

    Students of contemporary Latin American history and of U.S. foreign policy will find this book useful but not definitive.

Donald J. Mabry