This essay appeared as part of the Potosi Principle Exhibition in Madrid, Berlin and La Paz in 2010

It can also be found in MUTE magazine:

In December 2009,  British Observer newspaper reported the assertion made by the United Nations illegal drugs ‘Czar’, Antonio Maria Costa that he had seen evidence that the proceeds of crime were the ‘only liquid investment capital’ available to some banks on the edge of “Credit Crunch” collapse, and that a majority of the estimated $315 billion drugs profit had been absorbed into the legitimate financial system.[1]  He was, needless to say, coy about which banks had benefited, but what it did do is to blow away the myth that drugs profits are laundered only through  dodgy offshore concerns.[2] Ben Ehrenreich reminds us that such coyness is unnecessary: writing of the Mexican drugs business he notes that, “Investigations in the USA and Mexico have implicated Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citigroup, HSBC and Santander (among others) in cartel-related money-laundering.  Sr. Costa’s observations as to the significance of criminal money to the global economy however  does not prevent him from being a hard-line exponent of the ‘War on Drugs’, a ‘war’ without which those profits would not be realized and ready for use as that ‘liquid investment capital.’


Cocaine is now the most financially significant of the illegal drug industry subject to this ‘war’. At the same time the dynamics of  the very capitalism which has recently needed that injection of liquid  capital regardless of its origins, create the conditions that make coca growing the most rational economic choice for many small-scale Andean farmers, while it is they who are most penalized by this ‘war-without end’. Instead cocaine is not just functional to the creation of private capital, but the war against it is useful  ideologically, and for the selective repression it requires and entails  both internationally and internally. This involves notions of ‘backwardness’ in the case of small-scale farming,  and of the individualised racial character defects of particular consumers. In the USA specifically it has [3]played a large part in creating a self-perpetuating, and racist, ‘prison-industrial complex’.


The drug is also  functional to capital as an aid to  the  ‘productivity’ of certain kinds of labour in what are called creative  and financial industries.  The capacity of cocaine for both a promiscuous enthusiasm and  controlled perseverance being especially suited to such project-defined work. In recent years the demand has increased still further as other areas of work demand worker performance.. [4] This reality however, cannot be given any official or academic recognition.


.           The 16th century pragmatism of the Spanish King Philip on the matter of the legality of coca when he overturned the Catholic Church’s ban on it in the name of labour

productivity,[5] is ideologically impossible now, except for the indigenous peasant movement in Bolivia that has fought to make it legal. That is, for recognition of its cultural significance and a properly scientific appreciation of its qualities.





It is  hardly coincidental that the major producers of  the war-targeted drugs, are countries designated as ‘under-developed’ areas of the world. This word is new version of the racial superiority of colonialism. It sounded more benign and entered the world in Harry S, Truman’s Inaugural speech at the time of the creation of the UN and the Bretton Woods institutions. In the Truman speech, under-development was to be combated with American technology.


Just two years later in 1950 (Truman’s mid-term), one Howard Fonda, a banker and President of the US Pharmaceutical Association lead a UN Commission to study coca. His study of Aymara and Quechua people (with one translator) concluded that coca chewing was the cause of poverty in the Andean countries because it lowered the capacity to work, in flat contradiction of the seriously concerned opinions of the Conquistador exploiters of silver mines that the opposite was the case. Apart from its denigration of two ‘backward cultures, Fonda’s report was clearly self-interested and unscientific, “plagued by prejudices, unfounded speculation and third-hand sources.”[6]


This did not prevent it being ratified by the World Health Authority’ in 1952, and then in 1961 when President John Kennedy was refreshing the development/under-development discourse with his Alliance for Progress  and with the  Fonda ‘evidence’ unchallenged – ’ the United Nations Geneva Convention on Drugs outlawed coca except as a flavouring agent.


Despite its powers of enforcement, capitalism, cannot tolerate other socio-economic modes of living, not and Andean culture where coca is sacred and life-enabling. In the war on Drugs narrative we don’t hear that cocaine was actually synthesized by a European using those ‘industrial and scientific techniques’ Harry Truman boasted of. The affront is that its production still depends on the coca leaf. Equally the 1961 Geneva Convention On Drugs which proclaimed the total prohibition (and therefore eradication) of chewing coca to be completed in 25 years, and made cocaine Public Enemy Number One,[7] had a get out clause, Article 27, by which “It is allowed to plant, transport, market and possess coca leaf in the quantity necessary for the production of flavouring agents.”. This, as Jorge Hurtado describes was soley in the interests of the Coca Cola Corporation. [8]

At this time ‘wars’ were monopolized by the Cold War. 1961 however, marks the beginning of what in our age has become one of many thematically-defined Wars: On Drugs, and subsequently on  Terrorism, and now  –grotesquely – on poverty and cancer. It is ironic that when realpolitik intellectuals routinely talk of a ‘new Middle Ages’ in the context of ‘underdeveloped’ countries,  their masters talk not just of wars, but pitch drug Czars  against drug Barons.[9] A  minority of  academics and various people who have worked in drug enforcement agencies have talked of the ineffectiveness of this ‘war’, and that in many ways it is counter-productive. [10]Why then its continuation which depends on the continued illegal status of cocaine, and which has not altered the demand for the drug in a performance-oriented world of capitalist work?




The ‘war against drugs is then,  in part ideological, of the type that used to be called ‘cultural imperialism’, that is, a racist association of drugs deemed to be illegal, with peoples considered to be inferior. Built on this there has developed  a ‘War on Drugs’ industry which is a perfect representation of  Marx’s mordantly witty riff on the productivity of the criminal “Apologist Conception of the Productivity of All Professions.” [11]


This edifice of jobs and ‘technical’ developments has been built up around the world but, as in many other instances, the USA has been the pioneer. The Drug Enforcement Agency, established in 1973 is the neo-colonial arm of the ‘war on drugs’, and yet it is but part  of one of 12 government  counter-drugs policies agencies.. agencies now estimated at having  $30bn a year budget [12]   Such an edifice of interests requires first of all, am overestimation of the problem.[13] It  also requires ideological input from those Armchair Spartans of the US “Power Elite” who see decadence in their own citizens, or rather certain groups of citizens.[14] Decadence in this case is both a mirror of ‘backwardness’ but also a perceived threat to ‘morality’ and ‘authority’.  Back then, when the ‘War’ started, the prison population of the USA stood at 380,000 in 1975[15], but this was to change


It is the unprecedented increase in the numbers of people in USA prisons which really tells the ‘war on drugs’ story. It has involved far greater levels of public expenditure, but at the same is a considerable source of corporate profit. Between 1975 and 1985 it had more or less doubled to 740,000 prisoners. This was 5 years into the life of the Reagan Administration during which the USA’s interest in Latin America involved stepping up its training of local military and police torturers. The Cold War was still the context,[16]  but it is one in which neoliberal political-economic policies also demanded an increase in internal repression, one portrayed as a ‘culture war’.[17]


From then on Democrats and Republicans vied to be the toughest on drugs with the present Vice-president Joe Biden  instrumental in creating The AntiDrug Abuse Act of 1986. 26 new drug crimes with mandatory minimum sentences were included and prosecutors given the right to appeal against sentences considered lenient. It coincided – 15 years into the War Against Drugs – with an increase in drug-related violence and the rapid growth of crack cocaine, a form of free-basing for the poor; and with the  first stage in American deindustrialisation and attacks on the welfare system. It’s at this time that the War becomes overtly what the celebrated novelist Toni Morrison called an attack on, and extreme marginalisation of black men; and what Jerome Miller called the American Gulag. Specifically an attack on black men and, as it transpires, black women blinkered by a “culture of poverty.” This, when  to be poor for psychologizing neoliberalsim, is a character defect.


A prototype drug czar and armchair Spartan with a severe nicotine addiction William Bennett, had no doubt as to the problem as Dan Baum has described: drugs were ‘immoral;’ because they were ‘illegal’, and ‘illegal’ because immoral[18] .The notion of drugs as  a health-problem was ditched to avoid questions about tobacco and alcohol, but more than that as Bennett made clear “The drug crisis is a crisis of authority, in every sense of the word ‘authority’”. Which could mean only one thing: “a massive wave of arrests is a top priority for the War on Drugs.” Which in turn meant a fresh explosion in prison numbers.


In 1995, after a further ten years, the prison population had more than doubled again to 1.6 million. It now stands at around  2.2 million with 5 million either on probation or parole with the state corrections budget standing at $50 billion annually.[19]  The racial divide figures also show that Toni Morrison was not being rhetorical.  In 2005 there were 4789 black males per 100,000 in prison compared to 786 white males. For black men between 25 and 29 it’s 11,695. In parts of Detroit, that icon of US deindustrialisation 1 in 16 males is under correctional control. In addition to the racial disparity, 40% of  imprisonment had been for drug offences.[20]


An A to B connection between de-industrialisation and an increase in drug convictions, is impossible to make, but this increase has accompanied the imposition of insecure and underpaid jobs, and ‘re-structuring’ of  the social welfare system to make it more punitive. What is much clearer is how this huge arrest-and-conviction pool has a symbiotic relation with the prison business.


”What was once a niche business for a handful of companies has become a multi-billion dollar industry with its own trade shows and conventions, its own web sites, mail order catalogues and direct marketing companies…it now includes some of the nation’s largest architecture and construction firms, Wall St investment banks that handle prison bond issues and invest in private prisons, plumbing supply companies, food service companies…companies that sell everything from bullet-resistant security cameras to padded cells available in a vast colour selection…and now has its own trade paper, Correctional Building News.”[21]


In the case of state prisons the construction boom has involved a process of geo-social engineering, bringing jobs and income to highly selective locations. Malone, North Country New York is the example spotlighted by Lynne Duke.[22]A Republican-voting town in decline – with factories shut or downsized and where dairy farms had collapsed. Now it boasts 3 prisons which has brought in 1600 well-paid jobs and with the employment that will service those incomes. This is prison Keynesianism






It’s not hard to see that there are powerful interests at work in the maintenance of this particular war without end. More than that,  globalized capitalism creates and re-creates the conditions which make the growing of coca and transportation of cocaine become the only rational options for people in the poorest parts of the world. Rational in the neoliberal sense: individualized and calculating; how ‘human nature’ is, and ought to be. The emphasis on the virtues of international ‘free trade’ has increased both the necessity and opportunity for different peoples to become involved in the cocaine business. The opportunity factor is obvious, exponential growth in international trade, proclaimed as an absolute virtue  has with its millions of containers, air flights, penetration of new markets and so on, created far more possibilities for the transportation of cocaine across borders.

At the same time other distinctive characteristics of ‘global capitalism’ have provided motivation both for growers and transporters.

* The constant push to liberalize capital markets and capital flows has made the laundering of money that much easier.

*Its intolerance of anything but itself, and of particular indigenous, non-capitalist cultures means, materially, an intolerance of non-capitalist agriculture, whether it involve communal land or peasant (campesino) farming.[23]

* International trade is not free. The assumption of equal power amongst market participants is an obvious lie, and especially so in agriculture. The West while preaching it has consistently used subsidies, export credits and import quotas to serve its own interests. Combined with an imposition of its version of free trade and its version of development as monoculture crops for export, it has destroyed a whole class of small farmers producing food for their own markets. This has been most spectacular in the case of Mexico since the imposition of NAFTA, something so clearly foreseen and opposed by the Zapatista movement.

*Risk–taking by capital as making for the optimum allocation of resources, has been its self-proclaimed virtue. The banking crisis of the present period has made a mockery of this claim, the risk has been passed on to the people of the world at large. In agriculture this has been the experience for far longer.  The power of wholesale oligopolies and increasingly of supermarkets has shifted   the risks  of  small-scale farming for export still further onto the farmer. Already faced with the vagaries of climate, and  the possibilities of interest rate and fertiliser price increases, there are now systems of Supply Chain Management made possible by IT developments, which give all power to the buyer.

*Where quotas favourable to small-scale producers did exist like for Caribbean banana growers, corporate lobbying – in this case by Chiquita – has undermined them so that they can boast of its levels of exploitation in the plantations of Ecuador. This follows a pattern started in the Reagan-Bush era of undermining commodity price agreements which offered some security to farmers. At the same time, in the case of sugar for example – produced in Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia as well as the Caribbean – the USA imposed import quotas. It prompted  US Congressman Thomas J. Downey to write an amazingly frank letter to The New York Times September 20th 1989 which addressed this matter. Just as President George H.W. Bush was announcing an $8bn solution to the ‘drug problem’ , the Congressman  pointed out that in the period 1983-9 imports of 200,000 tons of sugar from these countries fell to less than 85,000.[24] The trend was already apparent in 1987 when he notes that State Department officials writing in the Washington Monthly warned that this would lead to “an unfortunate style of crop diversification.”  .”





Links then between coca production and the  politico-economic realities of  the capitalist world are not paranoid fantasy. On the other hand I do not intend to make anything of  the well-known US green light to cocaine smuggling in its support for the Contra war of destabilisation in Nicaragua; [25]  nor to claim that there are always A-to-B causal links.  Mexico as a major cocaine trade route and the extraordinary levels of violence associated with it, has to do with its location; history and experience of politically controlled smuggling. But the business has seen an exponential increase since the imposition of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). Practically this ‘free trade’ agreement meant smuggling was easier with the increase in cross-border trade transport, and the deregulation of the Mexican financial system made monet laundering that much easier. As subsidized American corn flooded the market, over a million smack farmers and another 1.4 million dependent on the agricultural sector lost their livelihoods. Monthly incomes for self-employed farmers fell by 90% between 1991 and 2003[26]  Ehrenreich notes that in Bandiraguarto, people “have little choice but to become narcos” because there is so little other work, “ and with a government that largely doesn’t care and a formal economy that takes pity on no one.”[27]And as is now well-known the War on drugs’ as launched  by President Calderon using the army, more than 30, 000 deaths have been recorded. Last year alone over 3000 murder in Ciudad Juarez with an official narrative of ‘cartel’ wars (as if these were specific to drugs and not iron ore producers), which has been so thoroughly demystified by Charles Bowden and others, the role of the state and its army to the fore.


Mexico as a main route followed increased drug police activity in the Caribbean which had previously been such an important entrepot with links to marketing in the USA itself. Again its location and a history of political gang violence preceded the cocaine business, but it was also preceded by shifts in the political economy of both sugar and bananas. In their case  effective lobbying from Chiquita via the USA at the WTO, the EU was forced to cap its preferential trade terms for Jamaican bananas. Its markets are now full of subsidized American produce that local farmers cannot compete with. It leaves that country and other islands with the choice of  tourism or cocaine. To repeat these are not A-to-B explanations but the capitalist ideological apparatus is much focussed on its own forms of ‘delinkage’ by which it is able to selectively moralize or produce psycho-social explanations of its own. destabilization war. But it is too a place of deep poverty and high unemployment, and this in a country where elsewhere, banana pickers are the lowest-paid of all in Latin America.


West Africa has now emerged as a main entrepot for the transportation of cocaine into Europe. Guinea-Bissau, a favourite in the circles of ‘failed state’ discourse  and voyeuristic-moralizing journalism, has been replaced as a favourite for cocaine transporters by Senegal with its advantage of better roads and telecoms which is now saddled with the same discourse. 3,120 Kg were seized off its seaboard on 2009, Again there is the geography, and a smuggling history  described by Christopher Thompson: a use of satellite-equipped canoes (‘pirogues’) which had been used to smuggle human beings into Europe, until that business moved further south. [28]. But there is also an element of ‘failed state’ in his account:  “unmonitored coasts, poorly paid officials, porous borders and booming informal markets.” No reference is made to the destruction of local fishing by bottom trawl net fishing – in which around 75% if the catch is discarded dead – by unregulated factory ships which, flying ‘flags of convenience’ enforce slave-like crew conditions.[29]  The real historical context, is that Senegal’s most prosperous year was 30 years ago.




“Coca just grows, it’s a weed . Farmers don’t have to worry about markets and diseases. It always gets a good price.” Liliana Ayalde, USAID 2004



The very first mission from the post-war western world following the Harry Truman speech to develop the backward was, as it happened, to Colombia in 1949, A later World Bank mission in 1996, as Héctor Mondragón[30] was to create a ‘market-based agrarian reform.” In the hands of the Pastraña government as of 1998, “it didn’t seek to strengthen the campesino (peasant farmer) economy but rather sought the subordination of campesinos and the handing over of their property to large farms.” With a sleight of hand characteristic of contemporary capitalism, those whose ‘development’ policy entails the ‘maintenance and consolidation of large rural properties, dismiss real land redistribution as “’obsolete’ or ‘antiquated’”. And this, Mondragón argues has pushed campsinos beyond the ‘agricultural frontier’ and into the jungle to grow illicit crops. These circumstances have been augmented by the dynamics of  ‘neoliberal’ capitalist globalisation.[31]


In 1990 Colombia’s  food imports accounted for just 6% of GDP. By 2004 it had amounted to 46% with an emphasis instead on large-scale production of African palm, pineapples and cocoa. Given the history of coffee production, and in indeed of many instances of export monocultures in the ‘backward’ world, this is likely to end in tears. In 1997 the price of organic coffee[32] was $1.34 a kilo. By April 2004 it was down to $0.89. It was a process that started with the July 1989 dissolution of the International Coffee Agreement (ICA) negotiated in 1975, a period when the articulated possibility of a New International Economic Order on the back of OPEC’s success, was sidelined by the politico-economic bulldozer of neoliberal policy for whom such commodity price

agreements, which had given producers some security of income, were  ‘ideological.’


President George H.W. Bush talked awareness-talk on the coffee-coca nexus at the very time Congressman Downey was explicitly linking coca growing to US sugar policy. On September 28th 1989 with a team including drug ‘czar’ William Bennett, he met with Colombia’s President Barca to praise him for his ‘heroic fight’ against the drug trade and said he was prepared to resolve problems with the now hobbled coffee agreement. In fact he did not resolve it, so that by 2003 Gabriel Silva the President of the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia was saying, “We’ve seen some marginal areas of the Colombian coffee region farmers switching to illegal crops.”[33]  By this time the breaking of the Agreement had been cemented by the power of the coffee-buyer oligopoly (consisting of  Sara Lee; Kraft; Procter & Gamble; and Nestle). This is part of a trend whereby risk is imposed still further on the farmer. In this instance the ICA being replaced by the supplier-managed inventory (SMI) system whereby the supplier is responsible for maintaining the stocks used by the purchasing firm even if the stocks are held at a port in that firm’s country or its own storage.[34]


In all these  circumstances the obvious irony is that the crop with least  income risk is the illegal one, coca, and this despite long periods of murderous repression in all three producing countries. “It has a secure market that guarantees a steady flow of income to the individual peasant households. This is coca’s basic advantage.”[35]  In Bolivia too, the collapse of the coffee price, had a crippling effect on the farmer, and  put paid to one element of  the UN’s Fund for Drug Abuse Control’s AGRO YUNGAS programme that began in 1986.  Described by Noam Lupu[36] it tells an exemplary security/insecurity-of-income story augmented by the arrogant wishful thinking of UN officers bringing with them what Harry Truman had called “the benefits of our scientific advances.” In this case to the Yungas area of Bolivia, the traditional coca growing-and-chewing, and coffee growing valley in La Paz province.  The deal, which was to introduce 4 high-yield coffee plant varieties from Brazil and Colombia. These required a ‘technical package’ of fertiliser and insecticides. Several years later only half the plants were in good condition and then a massive infestation of Broca disease destroyed 90% of coffee crops including the local Creole variety. It’s like a morality tale of arrogant ‘development, added to by wishful thinking. There was no alternative plan when the coffee price fell (60% in the period 1986-90).[37]

Herbert Klein[38]  notes that what was special is that  coca was overwhelmingly produced on small farms  which were grouped into colonies or large peasant unions that were an effective voice for them.  Adding insult to injury, grown in combination with food crops it requires less investment and attention than other crops once it has been planted and will only require manual labor and no special skills….Also the production of cocaine is not a very elaborate or difficult process…the manufacturing process is not capital intensive, does not have large economies of scale, does not require large amounts of skilled labor, and uses production processes that are relatively easy to organize.” [39]In short there is no place for the inputs of corporate capital. No capitalist boasts about efficiency. No small farmer indebtedness. And finally, as Klein puts it, “Thus for the first time in modern Bolivian history, a primary export product was dominated by small peasant producers.”






This crucial security of income for the coca farmer depends a on steady demand for cocaine, though this is less true in Bolivia. The evidence that there is such a steady demand in the richer world is well-known, and has sometimes prompted under-fire politicians of coca-producing countries telling the  richer world that that it is their problem. But ‘problem’ is the most overused word in the vocabulary, and it is rather the case that cocaine is a means of production, or more specifically a component of the reproduction of certain kinds of labour in this richer world, paid for by the person doing the labour. With the growth of the ‘white-collar’ economy in the late 19th century a new kind of intensity of labour was required and cocaine came into its own. Familiar names like Merck, Parke Davies, and Burrough Wellcome advertised it as both a performance and happy drug. Marek Kohn’s comprehensive Cocaine Girls  goes on to describe how a mixture of sexual, racial and military discipline paranoias lead to its outlawing, but that in the mean time those who used the drug were “The individuals believed to be particularly at risk from the pressures of modern life were those with the most refined and sensitive nervous systems, those who worked by brain rather than hand; professional men, businessmen and “new women”…trying to make their own way in the world.”  [40]


In the present period there has been a revolution of ‘brain work’ prompted especially by the IT revolution, and a whole section of the population (a group, but still class-differentiated) engaged in different forms of the ‘digital economy’. This includes both the till-now burgeoning financial sector and a whole range of the ‘creative economy’. It is no longer an ‘elite’ drug though one imagines that degrees of quality of the cocaine are still class-income based, and there are horror stories. When free-basing was simplified to crack the evidence of its effect on US city ghettoes is well documented, though less so that it is a younger ghetto generation who have fought back. In the streets of London it is truly depressing to see a crack ‘head’ early in the morning making speeches to the street minus socks and in a puffa jacket whose zip has broken long ago.


But this is a small section of the market. Even when it is a dance club drug, it is, when there is so much sociological evidence of the blurring of work and not-work time, quite likely to be from the IT/media/finance world. Cocaine is especially suited to this work because, as I’ve said it can create indiscriminate but focused enthusiasm, by which I mean that the most banal piece of advertising or TV trailer can be felt as truly important. Unlike amphetamine whose sense of excitement tends  to have a serially digressive effect, cocaine will allow you to stay single-mindedly on the task in hand for long hours.[41] This is especially given how much of such work is overtime, and is on short-term contracts. You are only as good as your last performance, while at the same time you may find your next work while having a line or two socially.


Yet its productive use cannot be admitted. There is for example not a single reference to it in Richard Florida’s once-iconic Rise of the Creative Class.  Similarly there has been no reference made to its use in the ‘financial sector’ in this period when unrestrained, over-confident risk-taking caused an unprecedented financial crisis which we, the non-bankers of the world, are now paying for.  It has not been even mentioned as a possible causative factor, though in the 1990s there were frequent newspaper articles on City of London cocaine use. In coded language they warned that its  confidence-boosting quality might become dysfunctional when combined with a ‘masters of the universe’ view of the world.


A post-crash report by Penny and Baker[42] also concentrates on city traders who are now ‘clean’ or trying to be ‘clean’ with reference to how “Professionals in the detox business say bankers have swamped them with calls since the financial crisis widened a year ago…some bankers are questioning whether the diminished  rewards of the City are worth sacrificing their health.”


Yes, read it twice, and, given that ‘sacrificing of health’ refers to cocaine use, it’s clear that it is functional to banking ‘labour’ but only if the rewards are astronomical as they have been, and are becoming again,  more than enough to buy as much of the best flake as wanted at any given time. No mention in Baker and Penny’s article of any possible link to the crash, but rather a highlighting of that macho Fourteen and Sixteen hour working days with which bankers used to justify their fabulous incomes and which they have started to do again.




It seems then all too fitting that $315bn worth of illegal drug profits should have been used, as claimed by the UN’s drug ‘czar’,  as “the only liquid capital” available to some banks on the brink of collapse in 2008. To get some idea of the significance of this amount, the IMF estimated that US and European banks losses between June 2007 and September 2009 amounted to $1trillion. Señor Costa has no need to big-up this phenomena, the very existence of the ‘war on drugs’ and its media support means his organisation will continue to be well-financed.. What Costa’s assertion suggests is the significance of drug money as capital, ie of realized profit to the mainstream banking world, and as Ehrenreich says of the Mexican case, “The cartels are not revolutionary cells so much as organizations of global capital.”[43]


Figures extrapolated by Feiting[44] suggest that just 1% of the retail price of cocaine in the USA goes to the Colombian coca farmer; 4% to its processors and 20% to its smugglers. 75% therefore is realized In this way it can honestly be said that a large portion will be realized as capital. Other estimates reckon that people working in jungle labs are paid 75 cents a kilo..


The mayhem and waste of resources caused by the War on Drugs demands however that we open a debate on the political economy of legalization. This might start with a comparison with cocoa bean farmers in Ghana who get around 7% of the price of a chocolate bar. The government of Ghana take a larger share in the form of tax. This is at the very least nominally accountable; some at least will go into public health and education facilities. There is no guarantee as the position of such farmers in Côte d’Ivoire show, but it is open to a public input into how cocoa income is distributed.[45]


There are no guarantees that coca legalization wouldn’t simply mean the development of corporate cocaine oligopolies and high levels of tax in the consuming countries. It should also be remembered that though coca is also consumed by its producers, it is a cash crop. So far it has been grown alongside farmer-consumed food crops. Might this change, and the dangers associated with monoculture develop?  Might it also become a substitute for the redistribution of land in favour of the campesinos which is what really matters in Colombia. Bolivia, since the election of Evo Morales is, by its legalization of coca and the removal of the DEA from its territory, is a ‘test case’. Some Bolivian indigenous people that although cocaine is still illegal, some people have got more involved in it as a business and that this will destroy local communities. If that were the caseall the more reason to support the Bolivian governments diplomatic attempts to change the UN 1961 law on coca and to assert its medical and nourishing qualities as described in a Harvard report by Duke and others as far back as 1976 as against the patently unscientific work by Fonda the banker and corporate pharma industry ma

[1]              Rajeev Sayal: The Observer: 13/12/09

[2]              London Review of Books, October 21st 2010, page 16

[3]              Drug Policy news, Drug Policy Education Group Vol1`2 No 1 Spring/Summer 2001

[4]               J. Barker: “Intensities of Labour: from Amphetamine to Cocaine”: Mute magazine 2005

[5]              The shift of attitude during the Potosí, Bolivia,  silver boom – a boom that was an important kick-start to European capitalist dynamics –  began with the Eccelsiastical Council in Lima condemning coca as the Devil’Amulet in 1551, and the Holy Inquisition was charged with enflorcing it in 1567. But by 1573 silver mine production was so badly affected that King Philip of Spain abolished the prohibition. Just as in the present capitalisty crisis the cost of the reproducytion of labour-power was pushed on to the labourers themselves: Coca was taxed. Anthony Henman  in “Mama Coca” estimated the coca market in 17th century Potosí had twice the turnover of food and clothing

[6]              Silviua Rivera Cusicanqui: An Indigenous Community and its Paradoxes: Indigenous Affairs Journal 1-2/07, p62

[7]              Even though it was heroin  which was the scare at the time. The relationship between this trend and the Vietnam War was exhaustively described by Alfred W. McCoy at the time.

[8]              Jorge Hurtado Gumucio: “Cocaine the Legend” pps 55-8. He goes on to describe how cocaine is mis-named as a narcotic, to give it place in the ‘lazy native’ discourse.

[9]              The “Drug Czar” title was first coined by the present USA Vice-President, Joe Biden in October 1982

[10]            Academics like Ransalaaer Lee, Eve Bertram and Jeffrey A. Miron; ex-law enforcement officers like Leigh Maddox and Jack Cole; politicians like ex-Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, Gilberto Gil ex- Culture Minister of Brazil and now ex-President Vicente Fox

[11]            Karl Marx: Theories of Surplus-Value: “The criminal produces not only crimes but also criminal law and with this the professor who gives lectures on criminal law…The criminal moreover produces the whole of the police and of criminal justice, constables, hangmen, juries etc.”

[12]            Tom Feiling: “The Candy Machine: How Cocaine took over the World: Penguin 2009.

[13]              Max Singer described how the numbers bump worked (or ‘duking the stats’ as it is now) in the case of New York City heroin statistics in his The Vitality of Mythical Numbers: The Public Interest , 1971; Global Drug Trade

[14]            See J. Barker “Armchair Spartans and the “D” Word: Variant magazine Number 24, Winter 2005

[15]            Loic Wacqant: “From Welfare State to Prison State: Imprisoning the American Poor: Le monde Diplomatique, July 1998

[16]            When the USA was engaged in a not-so-secret destabilization war against the Nicarguan government and in the process – the evidence is well-sourced – helped the Contra rebels smuggle cocaine into the USA.

[17]            Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance has  naïve of neoliberal capitalismwhen he says “Drug policy was one of the few areas where Reagan strayed from his conservative philosophy by expanding the power of the government and undermining the Constitution.

[18]            Dan Baum: Smoke and Mirrors: Little Brown, 1997

[19]            Pewcentre on the


[21]   The Wall Street outfits with an interest included  Merrill Lynch, Sheason  Lehman and American Express

[22]            Lynne Duke: “Building a Boom Behind Bars”, Washington Post September 2000

[23]            This can be seen in several phenomena like  the leasing and buying of large tracts of land in Africa by the capitalist corporations either on their own or from with sovereign wealth funds;  the concentration of capital in the biotechnology sector; the development of ‘terminator’ seeds. There is push by large capital to control all the basic necessities of life.

[24]            Import quotas in favour of domestic production saw sugar imports in general fall by 80% btween 1975 and the early 90s/

[25]            It is impossible to say how much the chronological coincidence of this episode and the explosion of the ‘crack epidemic’ in US ghettos was in any way a significant causal connection.

[26]            White, M., C.Salas & S.Gammage: Trade Impact Review: Mexico Cae Study: Women’s Edge Coalition Washington DC 2003 p iii

[27]            Ben Ehreenreich, London Review of Books October 21st p18

[28]            The Guardian, 10th March 2009

[29]            For descriptions of this dirty business see publications of the Environmental Justice Network.

[30]            Colombia: Agrarian Reforem, fake and genuine:

[31]            Colombia does have particular features though it is hard to know the weight of their significance. Francisco Thoumi points to the deligitimization of the state which precedes the more general trend in this direction in other ‘inderdeveloped countries. While Menno Vellinga talks in “The Political Economy of the Drug Industry of Colombia’s “production-speculation mentality with little investment in long-term equipment, a focus on commerce, quick turn-over and high short-term profit as conducive to the illegal drug industry”. Since this sounds rather like the UK it’s hard to know how distinctive this makes Colombia.

[32]            In an instance described by Gary Marx campesino-coffee bean selling entailed a five hour mule journey to the point of sale. Chicago Tribune 19th April 2003


[34]            Citing an Oxfam report, Lines, Making Poverty: Zed Books 2008 p105 on the loose arrangement in export horticulture for example, “Agreements are often verbal, so there is no written contract to break…Such informality gives buyers flexibility to delay payments, break porogrammes, or cancel orders, forcing suppliers to find last-minute alternatives.”

[35]            Vellinga: The political Economy of the Drug Industry”: University of Florida Press 2004, p4

[36]            Development Policy Review 2004 22 (4) 405-21

[37]            Lupu’s scathing account talks of a “counterproductice conditionality on credits, a narrow vision and emphasis on short-term success, blind adherence to pure economic competition model, inadequate market appraisal of viable alternative crops, and paternalistic attitudes. Dominic Streatfield also mentions how the one instance of an Agro Yungassuccess, a  soya project, brought down the wrath of US soya farmers

[38]            “A Brief History of Bolivia”: CUP pps 246-8

[39]            Vellinga op cit, p5

[40]            Marek Kohn: “Cocaine Girls”: Lawrence and Wishart 1992 p. 106

[41]            There is a perverse mirror here where crack users spoke of the pleasure they got from ‘running about’ and ‘being on a mission’. Desribed in “On the Rocks” Criminal Policy Research Unit, South Bank University

[42]            Cocaine Survivors losing London Bonus: Stephanie baker and Thomas Penny: Bloomberg 8th October 2009

[43]            Ben Ehrenreich; London Review of Books, October 21st 2010, p18

[44]            Feiting: The Candy Machine: How Cocaine Took Over the World: Penguin 2009 page 177

[45]            For details see Orla Ryan: Chocolate Nations: Zed Books 2010