The political economy of Colombia in the context of the cocaine drug trade

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


For Colombia, cocaine is a product that is sold for profit in the United States, Europe, and globally. Mainstream political economy (as do other social sciences), which locates profits generated from the cocaine trade in an economic model of crime, has little to say about the process of extraction of surplus value in the production and distribution of cocaine, i.e. how cocaine is exploited for profit. Mainstream economic discussions of illegal drug production are based almost entirely on crime, and consequently, ‘money laundering.’ Only a conventional view of the cocaine drug trade has been offered in most of the academic literature and popular commentary due to the conventional framework of an economic model of crime and the dominant US ‘War on Drugs-War on Terror-Narcoterrorism’ paradigm. Central to understanding the political economy of Colombia in the context of the cocaine drug trade, I argue from a Marxist perspective that the conventional framework masks a much deeper reality than a simpler ‘legal problem.’ My thesis contends that the drug trade in general, and the cocaine economy in particular, is a vital aspect in the construction of US imperialism in the global economic system. Consequently, the cocaine trade in general, and the cocaine economy in particular, are vital aspects of US imperialism in the construction of the Colombian economic system. The thesis is premised on a link between Colombian cocaine production and trade, class struggle between capital and labour, and US imperialism. It examines how the production and distribution of cocaine is exploited for profit. My thesis, therefore, addresses a critical issue, namely the place of cocaine in the ‘re-colonisation’ of Colombia – defined as ‘narcocolonialism’ – and the implications of the cocaine trade generally for US imperialism in this context.
Cocaine lies at the centre of the agrarian – land problem in Colombia, which has made a negative impact on the agricultural sector of the economy with critical effects in rural areas. Colombia has a long history of class struggle over this complex and unresolved land issue. This particular struggle is represented and waged by the national business class – the compradores – and the poor peasantry – the campesinos – and has intensified the opposing class forces in the country. At one end a deeply rooted national liberation movement, Latin America’s oldest and most powerful insurgency, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP), whose rank and file and mass base of support are campesinos. On the other, the Colombian ruling class and the US sponsored ‘War on Drugs and Terror’ to combat FARC as ‘narcoterrorists.’ This research explores this critical aspect of the class struggle that is confronting the Colombian state and US imperialism.
My perspective on the political economy of Colombia utilises a methodology drawn from Marx and Lenin with the aim of demonstrating how cocaine functions as an ‘imperial commodity’ – a commodity for which there exists a lucrative market and profit-making opportunity. Besides the US interests in this market opportunity the cocaine trade is also a means of capital accumulation by Colombia’s ‘narcobourgeoisie,’ a comprador class which shares the interests on the same market as the national business class and as such becomes dependent on US imperialism. If we consider cocaine as an ‘imperial commodity’ – a lucrative source of profit and capital accumulation and of vital economic importance to the US imperialist economy then we can point to the role of cocaine as a ‘political weapon,’ a pretext for US intervention via the ‘War on Drugs-War on Terror-Narcoterrorism’ paradigm. The outcome is to maintain rather than eliminate the economic conditions which allow the cocaine trade to thrive.
My research aim central to the thesis is to make sense of the class forces in Colombia’s complex political economy by considering its historical dynamics. To explore and explain why there is a powerful cocaine drug trade in Colombia which flourishes, benefits, and operates under the US sphere of domination, my research method utilises a political economy analysis drawn from Marx’s research method: the concrete analysis of concrete situations in their historical context and from a class perspective. This is combined with Lenin’s analysis of imperialism which includes a concrete analysis of the law of capitalist development and its manifestation. My Marxist political economy analysis critically reflects on primary and secondary sources in English and Spanish despite the difficulty in accessing primary data on the cocaine trade. My intellectual position in this thesis aims to validate and substantiate the theoretical and analytical utility of my Marxist interpretation in a critical perspective, political economy approach, and class method of analysis, to the political economy of Colombia in the context of the cocaine drug trade.
Latin America and the Caribbean have been and continue to be battlegrounds for tumultuous developments that have profound political importance for the struggle of the working class. Meanwhile, in Colombia, a “narco-connection” between Colombia and the United States remains a difficult to understand and unexplained phenomenon. The same place where a growing and immovable insurgency is also based makes the thesis all the more important in the contemporary historical era of drug addiction; drug trafficking; ‘money laundering;’ and terrorism from state and non-state actors. Applying class and imperialism in its historical context to a specific item of private property offers new ways through which to learn about the economic development of Colombia and its premier ‘illegal’ export cocaine, the nature and formation of the Colombian ruling class and state, and their relationship with US imperialism.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Western Sydney
  • Coronado, Gabriela , Principal Supervisor, External person
Award date24 Apr 2009
Place of PublicationSydney, Australia
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2009


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