A drug is any substance that changes the bodily function when taken into a body of a living organism. In Latin America, drug trafficking has become a major problem in its countries, which include Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Venezuela, Panama, Honduras, Bahamas, Cuba, Mexico, and Dom republic (Bruce, 1990). The United States foreign policy in Latin America has three major objectives. The first one is a prohibition of cocaine overseas before it leaves for the United States. The second one is the improvement of the concerns of human rights in Latin America, and finally, it is a reinforcement of the democracy in America. The major concern of the three has been the fighting of cocaine and other drugs trafficking in and out of Latin America. It has taken the government of United States very many years trying to eradicate drug abuse and drug trafficking, since countries like Columbia have been involved in producing three plant based drugs: cocaine from coca leaf, marijuana, and heroin from poppy. The trade of these drugs began from mid 60’s, with marijuana trade being the first (Earlywine, 2005).

The major contributing factor for Latin America to be highly involved in drug trafficking is that there are many jungles in most of the countries (Burton, 1998). This facilitates the putting up of laboratories and airstrips, which have been believed to initialize drug trafficking. Also, drug trafficking is a major source of income for many people and so they cannot even think of stopping it. However, in countries such as Colombia, the police and the military are mainly interested in defeating the organizations that have allied themselves with various drug cartels in drug trafficking. Such ties corrupt some security force personnel into collusion with drug traffickers, thereby reducing the effectiveness of drug trafficking prohibition efforts.

In addition, some Colombian military organizations tend to abuse human rights. The assistance of the police and the military ensures this. As a result, the political, military, and financial assistance provided by the United States is not only failing to prohibit cocaine and other drug trafficking, but it is also degrading the other two objectives of improving human rights and fostering democracy.

Effects of Drugs in Latin America

Over the past decades, there has been a rise in organized crime, caused both by the international narcotics trade and by the drug trafficking control measures exercised by the government. Drug related violence has increased as well and it has affected the whole society, in particular the poor and the young (Bruce. 1990). Today in the United States, around 500 thousand people are imprisoned for drug related crimes, twelve times more than those arrested in the 1980s. Use of drugs also causes many deaths among the youth. This rate surpasses even those of many countries in a state of war in other regions of the world.

The War against Drugs

The current drug control campaign is governed by three major conventions that make sure that illegal drug abuse is stopped. The first one, which was established in 1961, mainly focused on research drugs only. It used the directive that all drugs determined to be illicit under the Conventions may exist only for medical and research purposes. This implies that production for any other type of drugs or a drug for a different use is a crime.

The policies derived from the Conventions supported the elimination of any recreational, ritual, experimental or self-medicating usage of coca, cocaine, opium, heroin, marijuana, and a variety of other drugs. The control systems were mainly implemented through punishment to those associated with drug illegal use.

Convention signatory countries can, therefore, be flexible in their treatment of consumers, but should fight the production and commercialization of illegal drugs (Peet, 2004). These United Nations Conventions dictated that some substances should be eliminated from the so called illegal drugs like opium, cocaine and marijuana, and the controlled or eliminated substances should be replaced with new drugs.

The second Convention on Psychotropic Substances, 1971, was created to respond to the growing variety of drugs that emerged in the 1960s and 70s, such as stimulants and amphetamines. This Convention defined methods of control for the preparation, use and sale of these new substances. The third Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1988, dealt with the most critical questions on drug trafficking, which included how to control substances that are not dangerous but are used in the production of illegal drugs. These conventions were geared towards a drug free world.

The American government advocates for stronger supply-side reduction measures, which include aerial spraying of coca crops (Peet, 2004). This involves the use of aircrafts to spray herbicides on the drug plants like coca crops so as to wither them. The second measure is the criminal prosecution of drug traffickers and consumers by the law.

Impact of the War on Drugs on Latin America

Positive Impact

Due to the fact that drugs are considered illegal, the drug trade profits are mostly unknown. According to the reports of World Drugs the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in 1997 the value of the drugs market amounted to 400 billion USD, which ranked drugs next to oil and arms among the largest traded goods in the world.  And in 2007 the UK Home Office reported that the illicit market of drugs in the UK was estimated at £4–6.6 billion.This is so much money and it is very profitable to the economy.

In December 2009, Antonio M. Costa claimed that “illegal drug money saved the banking industry from collapsing”. He claimed he had witnessed that most of banks in 2008 had cash coming only from organized crime. During that year, “a majority of the $352bn of drugs profits was absorbed into the economic system”. Thus, the drugs money was regarded as the only highly liquid investment of the capital.

By mid 2008, most banks had no money and they were funded by loans from money gotten from drug trade and illegal activities. If not this, some banks would have collapsed and forgotten that they ever existed. This report reveals the positive impact of drug trade and illegal activities on an economy of a country.

Negative impact

Economic Impact

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Drug trade is a major source of hard currency in many American Latin countries, and it creates job opportunities thereby eliminating local poverty among the people. This is the major reason behind the reluctance of the authorities to fight drug trafficking and abuse in Latin America. For example in Peru, cocaine exports constitute 30% of the value of their total legal exports and in Colombia, it contributes approximately $3.4 billion yearly (Peet, 2004). Colombia and Peru were pressured by the United States to reduce the number of cultivated areas of poppy and coca crops by adopting certain programs of substitution. Over the years though, it is evident that the coca and poppy cultivation areas have increased to a large extent.


The drug trafficking measures therefore tend to affect the economy of the Latin America. Many people become jobless and they engage themselves in criminal activities like theft so that they can at least buy food for their families.

Environmental Impact

The War on Drugs has also increased the environmental concerns in Latin America. The main concern is about the health effects of the people who are affected by the residue from herbicides, fertilizers and other chemicals that are sprayed and applied to the drug crops so as to wither them (Scott, 1991). The influence of drugs on the environment in Latin America is of two types: the ecological impact of drug production and of drug destruction. The first problem is deforestation so as to have more space for the crops cultivation. Also the erosion of the lands that have high drains and the contamination of water sources from the fertilizers, pesticides, and chemicals used to produce the crops. While trying to eradicate the drug crops, the government uses an herbicide called tebuthiuron, which is very dangerous since it contaminates water sources (Cockburn, 1998). This is a threat to the people’s health and it also destroys the soil fertility.

Country to Country Relations

The War on Drugs has greatly affected the relations between the United States and the Latin American countries, because the United States has increased pressure on them to stop the flow of coca and cocaine at its source (Scott, 1991). Many Latin American governments do not like the pressure from the United States and the leaders perceive U.S. drug policy as a violation of Latin American powers, because the United States is attempting to solve its domestic drug problem by interfering in the internal affairs of other countries.

Human Rights

The other major impact of the war on drugs has been the increase in the number of human rights abuses that have occurred in Latin America. The United States war on drugs is forcing Latin American governments to involve the military in civilian responsibilities, that is to get information from its people on drug trafficking, and this is against the democracy. This intimidates the people and poses threat and inflicts fear to them.

In addition, curbing of drug farming leads to the dislocation of farmers. As per now more than two million are internally displaced, thousands more are refugees from drug combat in Columbia. This is against human rights, since every citizen is supposed to reside somewhere in a country. The stigmatization of traditional cultures on the coca cultivation is also against the human rights.


There has been an increase of violence in Latin America, which is in large partially linked to drug trafficking. This has been a major problem to the people. The use of prohibition, repression, sanctions, and punishments to help to fight drugs has posed new and more serious problems. The experience with legal drugs, such as nicotine addiction and alcoholism, indicate that highly positive results can be reached using information campaigns, education, and consciousness building, and when necessary, therapeutic support. Drug profit is the principle financier of the illegal arms trade (Scott, 1991). Thousands of youth die in internal wars for control of commerce or in battles with the police and military, who are also fatal victims of this singular war. Even with heavy military police domination so as to eradicate of plantations, drug traffickers’ organized crime maintains to bring very high profits that are far much higher than the losses.

Public support and opposition

Since its beginning, the War on Drugs has always been a highly arguable issue. A poll tally carried out on October 2, 2008, “found that three in four Americans believed that the War on Drugs was failing”. Many people also believe that drug eradication methods cause “unnecessary deaths and imprisonments, increased levels of violent crime and gang activity, wasted government funds, violation of civil liberties, lack of public support, and environmental destruction from drug eradication programs”. (Cockburn, 1998)

Critics claim that war on drugs “creates cyclic permanent underclass to the society”. Thus, the drug crimes penalties of young people almost always lead to exclusion from very vital opportunities, such as education and voting rights. Also, through imprisonment, a criminal record is created and this makes employment much more difficult for the youth. This makes War on Drugs to be rejected by the people (Burton, 1998). Supporters, however, claim that the War on Drugs is very effective since it protects families and communities and makes people more productive with healthy social conditions (Bruce, 1990).


Although the war on drugs has not helped much in the total eradication of drugs in the Latin American countries, it has helped to determine many democracies in them. Now the issue has even greater urgency, since there has been an increased drug trafficking activities. In the 1980’s, the war on drug policy has increased the tension between the U.S government and the Latin American countries. This has occurred because of the increased pressure exerted by the U.S government on these countries.

In order to make the problem less intense, some balanced and considerate policies must be adopted by the United States. Firstly, the United States must implement policies that would “recognize that the drug problem in America is one of demand, not supply” (Burton, 1998). Secondly, the U.S. must conduct drug eradication as a “law enforcement responsibility and not as a military mission”, because the military uses force on the people and this is against the democracy and human rights.

The truth is that many people believe that the U.S. government has relied on a wrong method of fighting drugs in the Latin America. This is due to its focus on punishing those involved in drugs rather than preventing the use and trafficking of drugs. The government has made drugs illegal instead of regulating them (Cockburn, 1998). This has led to a very profitable black market on drugs. The U.S. government has also spent too much money on the drug control budget over the last years, which has led to an unsubstantial spending

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