Title

Cocaine Trafficking and the Transformation of Central America Frontiers

Author Information

Kendra McSweeney

Date of Publication

2020 12:00 AM

Security Theme

Transnational Organized Crime

Keywords

Central America, Colombia, Mexico, cocaine trafficking, global cocaine supply, cocaine flows, illicit economies, transnational organized crime, transnational crime, cocaine trafficking

Description

IN THE MID-2000S, A COCAINE TSUNAMI hit Central America. The region had long been a 'bridge' connecting Colombian exporters with Mexican buyers, receiving roughly 100 shipments annually from South America. But about 2006, counternarcotics campaigns to the east and north increasingly funneled traffickers towards the isthmus (UNODC, 2012). For the next ten years, smugglers sent, on average, more than 1,000 shipments—about 800 metric tons—annually into the region, a majority of the global cocaine supply.1 In recent years this flow has declined somewhat, but it is predicted to increase as the Covid-19 pandemic closes land borders in Colombia, thus encouraging more cocaine trafficking via air and sea into Central America (UNODC, 2020). Throughout this period, an array of researchers has been documenting and analyzing how those cocaine flows are shaping the transformation of Central America's rural areas, in particular its famously biodiverse frontier forestlands. Collectively, their work exemplifies the sort of inquiry that is being championed by publishers and funders promoting greater understanding of the links between illicit economies and development (Gillies et al., 2019; NSF, 2020). This Perspective seeks to inform that research agenda by offering a primer on aspects of the Central American corpus and related work that seem particularly relevant. I then review possible empirical and conceptual directions for future research on the topic, in Central America and elsewhere.

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Jan 1st, 12:00 AM

Cocaine Trafficking and the Transformation of Central America Frontiers

IN THE MID-2000S, A COCAINE TSUNAMI hit Central America. The region had long been a 'bridge' connecting Colombian exporters with Mexican buyers, receiving roughly 100 shipments annually from South America. But about 2006, counternarcotics campaigns to the east and north increasingly funneled traffickers towards the isthmus (UNODC, 2012). For the next ten years, smugglers sent, on average, more than 1,000 shipments—about 800 metric tons—annually into the region, a majority of the global cocaine supply.1 In recent years this flow has declined somewhat, but it is predicted to increase as the Covid-19 pandemic closes land borders in Colombia, thus encouraging more cocaine trafficking via air and sea into Central America (UNODC, 2020). Throughout this period, an array of researchers has been documenting and analyzing how those cocaine flows are shaping the transformation of Central America's rural areas, in particular its famously biodiverse frontier forestlands. Collectively, their work exemplifies the sort of inquiry that is being championed by publishers and funders promoting greater understanding of the links between illicit economies and development (Gillies et al., 2019; NSF, 2020). This Perspective seeks to inform that research agenda by offering a primer on aspects of the Central American corpus and related work that seem particularly relevant. I then review possible empirical and conceptual directions for future research on the topic, in Central America and elsewhere.