CW2 – Globalisation, Crime and Control


Drug Trafficking

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Pablo Escobar and the formation of the Medellin Cartel in 1976



term “drug trafficking” does not have a specific definition. However, the UN
Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) defines drug trafficking as “a global illicit
trade involving the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of
substances which are subject to drug prohibition laws” (Albanese, 2014). An
important event which is fundamental for the understanding of the extent to
which globalisation contributed to drug trafficking was the founding of the
Medellin Cartel by Pablo Escobar in 1976. This contributed for the expansion of
Cocaine trade from Colombia, through the rest of South America and even to
Europe. This essay will be discussing the extent to which this caused an
increase in the production, sale and consumption of this substance.
Additionally, there will be an in-depth discussion about the way in which the
process of globalisation contributed and even facilitated this expansion. This
will, therefore, be analysed from a Transnational Criminology point of view. Cocaine
re-appeared in the 1970s as the champagne of drugs due to its high economic
value and the lack of serious consequences – also, the steady decrease of
pricing helped this substance to attract producers and users. Although the so
called “war on drugs” was happening in the US, it did not stop at least 6
million Americans from using cocaine on a regular basis during the late 70s and
80s (Drug Enforcement Museum & Visitors Center, n.d.). Although this
might overlap with the theme of drug trafficking, it will only be briefly
mentioned so that this provides a clearer understand about the extent
globalisation has impacted the manufacturing, selling and usage of drugs in
general. The structure of this essay will be as follows: there will be a
thorough discussion about the extent to which the formation of the cartel
contributed for the increase in the global trade of cocaine, followed by a
critical evaluation about what this massive increase meant for the world in terms
of economics and drug control, especially at a time where the US was and still
is imposing very harsh sanctions for drug use and offences. The essay will also
make use of statistics and graphs taken from trusted sources in order to
support the information provided and to provide a better understanding of the
matter being discussed.


Main Body

any critical analysis, it is worth looking at how drug trafficking took
“advantage” of globalisation. The drug boom of the 1960s allowed drug trade to
literally take off on the wings of globalisation. This meant that with all the technological
and transportation advances, the sale of drugs could reach beyond its country
of production – which made it grow into the biggest industry in the world
(Albanese, 2014). In 1976, Pablo Escobar gave the biggest boost in the
production of cocaine. The formation of the Medellin Cartel meant that Colombia
was about to start a new era for drug trafficking. Along with the cartels, came
an increase in violent crime in Colombia – mainly as an attempt to demonstrate
authority to the rest of the population and to the government as well. Cartels,
in especial, the Medellin Cartel, benefitted from the protection of the so
called Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) – the way in which this
contributed for the successful transnational trade of cocaine will be discussed
later in this essay.

production of cocaine is very specific to one section of the world – its leaf
would only grow in certain climates, which are very much exclusive to South
America (Buxton, n.d.). This is demonstrated by the fact that Colombia, Bolivia
and Peru are the main cocaine producers in the world, with a production
percentage close to 100% (UNODC, 2011).



Image 1.0
Main Cocaine Producers in relation to hectares of plantation (McCarthy, 2016)


looking at this chart, one may ask the question: where does all the drug go?
Statistics demonstrate that only 19% of the cocaine produced was consumed in
South American countries (UNODC, 2011).  So, what motivates the population of these
countries to help traffickers? As mentioned earlier, FARC is, in a way, the
main cause. This organisation offers money and protection for farmers who
produce the coca plant. In order to understand this, it is worth looking at the
economical situation of those living in such countries. Majority of these
farmers have no choice but to accept the money offered by the guerrilla to
survive – the lack of jobs and help from the government also influences their
decision. However, the most important factor is the use of violence and
threats. This violent culture dates to the formation of the Medellin Cartel,
where violence was used as a demonstration of power and authority.   

Colombian government intervened with measures such as the implementation of the
Plan Colombia in 1999. Although this programme aimed at controlling the
production and trafficking of drugs domestically, as well as trying to tackle
military groups such as FARC, it had transnational ramifications as well. This
is demonstrated by the intervention of the US President Bill Clinton, where he
agreed to contribute with $1.3 Billion for a period of 9 years (Buxton, n.d.).
Plan Colombia had 3 main goals: “1) reduce the flow of illicit narcotics and
improve security, 2) promote social and economic justice, and 3) promote the
rule of law” (GAO, 2008). The goal was
then to attack the supplier and eradicate the production of the coca bush,
consequently, leading to less cocaine flowing through transnational routes and
reaching the rest of the world (Albanese, 2014). From a non-drug related point
of view, Plan Colombia was successful in the on recaptured many of the farms
and roads controlled by FARC (ibid). However, coca production simply moved to
areas of more difficult access, which did not stop its production. In contrast
with this information, eradication efforts managed to destroy about 165,000
hectares of coca bush farms (ibid).

the other hand, cocaine production in all 3 targeted countries only decreased
by 15%, which is way below its 50% target – this is due to the so called
“balloon effect”. By diminishing the production of coca bush in Colombia, the
global demand for cocaine increased, which led to countries such as Bolivia and
Peru to boost their production in order to meet transnational demands.
Therefore, it is possible to conclude that, whilst the government aimed at
reducing the international traffic of cocaine, it in fact, contributed to the
expansion of coca bush production in other countries. Like a balloon, “no
matter how hard you squeeze one side, the air will always flow to other areas”
(Albanese, 2014).

all the cocaine produced in these countries, the US consumes an estimated
amount of 88% – which leads us to question the extent to which the “war on
drugs” is successful in tackling drug abuse. However, statistics like these
clearly demonstrate that this war, which has been going on for more than 30
years, is being won by drug use and trafficking. Although there has been an
increased presence of US vigilance in south American countries since 1971,
America has been unable to eradicate or even control the production of illicit
drugs and has failed to stop it from leaving South American borders. (Drug Policy Alliance, 2017). David Harvey
(1990) points out that globalisation has allowed an “increasing speed of
communication (…), the shrinking of space and the shortening of time” (cited in
Aas, 2013). In this context, one can see that the communication between
individuals in different parts of the world is much easier now than 30 years
ago. The so called “shrinking of space” relates to the fact that, whilst years
ago a ship would take weeks and even months to cross the Atlantic to get to
Europe, planes can do that in hours. In general, the production of drugs is
expanding even to developing areas such as south Africa, Kenya and Congo (BBC, 2000). 

looking at this from a Transnational Criminology point of view, one can see the
extent to which this became an issue which can no longer be controlled by one
nation. Cocaine, unlike the other drugs produced in South America has a
centralised production, which makes it easier to track where all the drug goes.

main routes for the cocaine traffic are demonstrated in the image below.


Image 1.1 Main
Cocaine Trafficking Flows, 2011-2015 (UNODC, 2017b)

The green areas represent
the countries where the most amount of cocaine is apprehended – therefore,
indicating that these are the main routs of trafficking. Brazil being the
biggest country in South America, is considered to be the main outbound route
to Europe, Africa and Asia. It`s lack of border security and an outrageous
number of criminal organisations allow the easy transportation of cocaine
throughout the country. Another factor which facilitates the drug flow from
Brazil to the rest of the world is the Port of Santos. This huge port allows
cocaine and other substances to be easily shipped into the rest of the world
without much problem. As shown in the graph, the main trafficking occurs
between Colombia and Mexico and to the US. The main in-route to the African
continent is through West Africa and to Europe, cocaine is mainly received
through Portugal and Spain. With so many in and out routes, one may ask what
can anyone do to stop or control this? The US has been, ever since 1971,
imposing tough sanctions in order to control the amount of cocaine being
smuggled into the country. The graph bellow relates to the amount of cocaine
seized in 2009 alone. On the other hand, it is important to note that these are
only the amount recorded of cocaine which was seized, which means that the
amount of cocaine which successfully got into the country was much larger.

1.2 Cocaine
seized by land 2009 in kilograms (US Department of Justice, n.d.)

In the same year,
Albanese (2014) states, the US spent an estimated $50 billion on efforts to
tackle drug smuggling into the country. America is considered the unofficial
interdiction leader. This is a process where the illegal substances are seized
directly from the hands of traffickers whilst in-route to the destination. The
main objective behind interdiction is that, by seizing the substance, the value
of the same will increase and, consequently, causing its consume to decrease (Chepesiuk,
1999). Recently, the US have been using its military force to police its
waters, air traffic and land. Although the above chart may create a sense of a
successful operation, in reality , experts suggest that in order for the “war
on drugs” to be won, the percentage of drugs being seized need to reach at
least 70% (Grug Policy Alliance, n.d.). Unfortunately,
as demonstrated by Image 1.1, it would be impossible to block every route of
trafficking – which makes, in a way, drug trafficking easy, successful and
profitable. This results in the consumption not decreasing and, if in a way it
did, this would be more profitable for traffickers, as prices for the
substances would rise.




In conclusion, the
formation of the Medellin Cartel contributed for the expansion of drug
trafficking to such extent that, now days, it is impossible to regain control
of all the routes used. It is impossible to talk about drug trafficking without
mentioning the “war on drugs”, and for sure, up until now, the drugs are
winning. Although organisations try to tackle the use of harmful substances, it
is now up to the governments of each country to try and work on the
rehabilitation of individuals. However, we all agree that it is easier to be
punitive than rehabilitative in a society where the main propaganda used by
politicians is the tackling of drug use and trafficking.




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profits. Retrieved November 5, 2017, from

Chapesiuk, R.
(1999). The War on Drugs: An International Encyclopedia.

Drug Enforcement
Museum & Visitors Center. (n.d.). Coca: History. Retrieved January 5, 2018,

Drug Policy
Alliance. (2017). The International Drug War | Drug Policy Alliance. Retrieved
November 12, 2017, from

GAO-09-71 Plan
Colombia: Drug Reduction Goals Were Not Fully Met, but Security Has Improved;
U.S. Agencies Need More Detailed Plans for Reducing Assistance. (2008). Retrieved

Grug Policy
Alliance. (n.d.). The International Drug War | Drug Policy Alliance. Retrieved
January 10, 2018, from

J Albanese, J & Reichel, P 2014, Transnational organized
crime, SAGE Publications Inc, Thousand Oaks, CA, viewed 14 January 2018, doi:

McCarthy, N.
(2016). • Chart: The Globe’s Top Cocaine Producers | Statista. Retrieved
January 5, 2018, from

UNODC World Drug
Report (New York, NY:UNODC, 2011), p.36

UNODC World Drug
Report (New York, NY:UNODC, 2011), p.120




US Department of
Justice. (n.d.). (U) Drug Movement Into and Within the United States – National
Drug Threat Assessment 2010 (UNCLASSIFIED). Retrieved January 10, 2018, from