Cocaine, Death Squads and the War on Terror: US Imperialism and Class Struggle in Colombia

    Impact: Cultural Impact, Social Impact, Public policy Impact, Environmental Impact

    Impact summary

    ‘Cocaine, Death Squads and the War on Terror' details the complex nature of Colombian society and fostered recognition that the drug trade was a driver in global politics, and of the US's foreign policy with respect to drug-producing zones. 'Cocaine, Death Squads and the War on Terror' has impacted politics, culture and society, bringing the link between the global drug trade and the legitimate global economy to light. Following the book's release, it has been used by experts, journalists and community groups to critique the financial system, the war on drugs, the war on terror and US policy towards Colombia.

    Research and engagement activities leading to impact

    In 2008, Oliver completed his PhD on the political economy of contemporary Colombia in the context of the cocaine drug trade, offering a radical critique of the ‘war on drugs’, the ‘war on terrorism’ and the global drug trade. Ten years of research culminated in his and Drew Cottle's 2011 book, 'Cocaine, Death Squads and the War on Terror: US Imperialism and Class Struggle in Colombia', published in the prestigious Monthly Review (Albert Einstein wrote its first lead article, 'Why Socialism?', in 1949).

    The book was formally launched at events held in Bathurst, Sydney and Melbourne in 2012.

    Publication of the book generated worldwide media interest and engagements concerning the politics of the drug trade and the Colombian civil war including:
    • Media engagements in the US, Canada, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Sweden, Russia, Iran and Hong Kong across a variety of mediums including radio talk shows, TV, the internet and newspaper
    • Australian national media engagements including: TV documentary series for WildBear/History Channel, ABC National PM, World News Australia (SBS) including:
    • “The political economy of the Columbian cocaine trade”, Resistance Recovery with Piers Kaniuka, (The United States), 20 May 2021,
    • “Jungle War” (2020), television documentary series, episode four ‘Colombia’, WildBear Entertainment, (first broadcast in Australia on ANZAC day on the History channel. Foxtel will re-air the series throughout the year).
    • “On Brink of a Stable Peace, Colombia Faces Familiar US-Backed Right-Wing Elements Seeking to Subvert It", (interview) Mint Press News, (The United States), 22 March 2018,
    • Radio interview, "Oliver Villar on the Colombian holocaust", The Kevin Barrett Show, (The United States), 4 May 2016,
    • "In Whose Hands is Colombia's Future?", Telesur, (Venezuela), 18 April 2016,
    • Radio interview on book, Traces of Reality Radio Show, (The United States), 9 September 2013,
    • 'Renewed fighting threatens Colombia peace talks', World News Australia Radio (SBS), 26 February 2013,
    • Radio interview on Colombian peace negotiations, Latin Waves, CJSF 90.1 FM, (Canada), 1 December 2012.
    • Television interview on shifting drug trade to Central America, Press TV, (Iran/Nicaragua), 16 November 2012.
    • Radio interview on book 'Cocaine, Death Squads and the War on Terror: U.S. Imperialism and Class Struggle in Colombia', Latin Waves, CJSF 90.1 FM, (Canada), 7 October 2012.
    • 'Decriminalising drugs good sense, CSU academic', Prime News Television, 17 September 2012.
    • Schall, L. "Under the Mask of the War on Drugs", (interview) Asia Times Online, (Hong Kong), 8 September 2012,
    • Radio interview on decriminalisation of drugs, 2BS Gold Radio, 14 September 2012.
    • Radio interview on Colombian peace talks, ABC National Radio: PM Program, 5 September 2012,
    • Radio interview on book, The Kevin Barrett Show, (The United States), 31 July 2012,
    • Radio interview on book, The Expert Witness Radio Show, (The United States), 10 April 2012,
    • Radio interview on book, KPFA 94.1 Berkeley, Letters & Politics Show (The United States), 9 April 2012,
    • Radio interview on book, Café Stereo en Español (Colombia/Sweden), 6 April 2012,
    • Radio interview on major cocaine bust at Bundaberg marina, ABC National Radio: PM Program, 14 November 2011,

    As an established commentator and expert Oliver was invited to discuss key themes from his long study and book at key community events and political forums including:
    • “Applying a Marxist perspective to the political economies of Colombia and Bolivia” via Zoom, Claremont McKenna College, California, 12 February 2022.
    • Expert forum participant, "Imperialism, Globalisation and the Challenges of 2017", Federation of Italian Migrant Workers and Their Families, Granville Public Library, 8 July 2017.
    • Guest speaker, "The left in crisis? Problems of strategy and ideology in the age of 21st century imperialism", Latin American House Inc. Sydney Australia, 29 October 2016. (Presented in Spanish).
    • Expert panel participant, "Voting yes or no to peace: Implications for upcoming Plebiscite on ending the Colombian civil war," United for Colombia, Sydney, 24 September 2016.
    • "In Whose Hands is Colombia's Future?" Guest speaker, "Colombia: Prospects and Challenges in the Context of the Peace Process," Latin America Social Forum/United for Colombia, Sydney, 9 April 2016.
    • Invitation as expert to "Colombia: Inside Out," Debate hosted by LATITUDES / Latin American Research Group Australia, University of New South Wales (UNSW), 8 August 2014.
    • Talk on the current situation in Colombia and neighbouring countries – Guest speaker for postgraduate students, University of Technology Sydney (UTS), 31 May 2014.
    • Talk on "Analysis of the Situation of Colombian Farmers" – Guest speaker for United for Colombia committee, Newtown community centre, 30 November 2013.
    • Guest lecture on the Latin American drug trade, Centre for Transnational Crime Prevention, University of Wollongong, 24 August 2012.
    • "The Great Struggle in Latin America", guest speaker, Latin America Social Forum (LASF) Conference, Sydney, 18-19 August 2012.
    • "Critiques of international political economy", Chair for the Annual Historical Materialism Australasia conference, Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts, 20-21 July 2012.
    • Talk on Colombia for International Solidarity Conference for Latin America, Trades Hall, Melbourne, 28-29 August 2009.
    • Talk on US counterinsurgency operations in Central and South America since the Cold War – Guest speaker for Committee for Human Rights in Guatemala, 24 January 2009.
    • Talk on "Parapolitica" scandal and International Criminal Court investigation (ICC) of the Colombian government of Alvaro Uribe Velez – Guest speaker for Peace and Justice for Colombia (PJFC), Sydney, 29 November 2008.
    • Talk on Colombian conflict for Latin America Conference, University of Technology Sydney (UTS), 10 October 2006.
    • Guest lecture on US policy towards Colombia, University of Western Sydney (UWS), 3 September 2004.

    Research outputs associated with the impact

    Books chapters:
    • Villar, O. and Cottle D. 2015 FARC in Colombia: 21st Century US Imperialism and Class Warfare, 1st Edition. In Ness, I. and Cope, Z. (eds.). The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-imperialism. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.
    • Villar, O. 2012 Untouchable Compradores? Colombian State Narco-Terrorism and the People's Struggle for National Liberation. In Poynting, S. and Whyte, D. (eds.). Counter-Terrorism and State Political Violence: The 'War on Terror' as Terror. Routledge, New York.

    Journal articles:
    • Villar, O. 2021 From the War on FARC to the War on Dissidents: a Critique of Imperial Peace in a Post-Agreement Theatre of War. Journal of Labor and Society. Vol. 24, Issue 2 (New York) 282-303.
    • Villar, O. and Cottle, D. 2013 One-Hundred Years of Solitude or Solidarity? Colombia's Forgotten Revolution. A Contracorriente: Journal on Social History and Literature in Latin America. Vol. 10, No. 2 (North Carolina) 167-202.
    • Villar, O. and Cottle, D. 2011 From La Violencia to the War on Terror: A Re-examination of Colombia's FARC-EP Inside Bolivar's 'Gran Colombia'. Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal. November, (Sydney) 1-33.
    • Villar, O. 2009 Inside the Crystal Triangle: The US 'War on Narcoterrorism' in Colombia. International Review of Business Research. Vol. 5, No. 4 (Melbourne) 1-10.
    • Villar, O. 2007 US Narcocolonialism? Colombian Cocaine and Twenty-First Century Imperialism. Research in Political Economy. Vol. 24, Spring, (New York) 97-128.

    • Conferences:
    “The Black Hole, Colombia and the Class War", paper presented at the Violence Studies Conference 2012, University of Newcastle, 23 August 2012.
    • "FARC-EP: La Insurgencia Del Siglo XXI", paper presented at the Association of Iberian & Latin American Studies of Australasia (AILASA) Conference. The Australian National University, Canberra, 7-9 July 2010.
    • "Colombia, a political economy of drugs", paper presented at the Latin American Studies Council of Asia and Oceania (CELAO) I Conference – La Trobe University, Melbourne, 14–16 July 2005.
    • Villar, O; Cottle, D; Keys, A. 2003 The Kill for Drugs Policy? Ecocide in Rural Colombia. Greening Sustainability - XIV Ecopolitics Conference of the Ecopolitics Association of Australasia. RMIT University, Melbourne, 27-29 November.
    • "Rumble in the Jungle: FARC vs US imperialism", paper presented at the War, Society and Culture Conference – University of Newcastle, Newcastle, 29 September 1 October 2002.

    Researcher involvement

    I have been actively involved in community and political forums since the early 2000s, as well as with media outlets, where I have been invited to contribute my expertise. This has influenced external publications and articles.

    Outcomes of research leading to impact

    Research findings demonstrate that the US ‘war on drugs’ and ‘war on terror’ has ensured that drug profits continue to flow to the United States-led global financial system. A conclusion that was acknowledged at the height of the global financial crisis in 2008–2009, when drug money worth billions of dollars permeated the financial system. Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime acknowledged that the majority of the $352 billion of drug profits that were generated was absorbed into the global economic system: “It is understood that evidence that drug money has flowed into banks came from officials in Britain, Switzerland, Italy and the U.S.”

    The book outlines how the US has shaped the means of production, exchange and distribution of the cocaine trade centred in the ‘Crystal Triangle’ of Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru since the 1980s resulting in the deaths of millions across the world through conflicts and drug use fostering a ‘narco-colonialism.’.

    It has been used by experts, journalists and community groups to critique the financial system, the war on drugs, the war on terror and US policy towards Colombia- today the worlds’ leading producer of cocaine.

    See provided evidence of citations and references linked.

    Beneficiaries of the impact

    The beneficiaries of the impact are the audiences of the articles, forums and presentations (which occurred pre and post 2019) – across Australia and globally in mainstream Western media outlets, leading alternative media websites and media of the Global South.

    Details of the impact achieved

    The impact is social and cultural in that the research contributes to international global commentary and political discourse about how the drug trade has been a driver in global politics, and of the US's foreign policy with respect to drug-producing zones for profit and social control. It highlights the link between the global drug trade and the legitimate global economy. My work continues to attract attention.
    Impact date2011
    Category of impactCultural Impact, Social Impact, Public policy Impact, Environmental Impact
    Impact levelInternational


    • cocaine
    • commodity
    • capitalism
    • imperialism
    • Colombia
    • United States
    • war
    • terrorism
    • class struggle
    • death squads
    • political economy

    Countries where impact occurred

    • Colombia
    • United States