The Cocaine Wars

THE COCAINE WARS presents a depressing picture of greed and corruption reminiscent of the worst aspects of the Prohibition Era. The billions of dollars to be made smuggling this drug are more demoralizing than the drug itself. The reader is left wondering who is more guilty, the ragged Andean peasant harvesting his coca leaves as his ancestors did in the time of the Incas or the affluent American consumer whose greenbacks provide the ultimate incentive. Entire nations, such as Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, and the Bahamas, have become addicted to these illicit dollars, and the men who control the cocaine traffic have become their de facto rulers.

The authors, who have good credentials as investigative reporters, keep their material interesting by focusing on dramatic incidents and colorful personalities. The picture that emerges is one of a huge, nearly helpless nation under siege by a small army of ruthless men using airplanes, high-speed boats, and electronic technology to circumvent the efforts of American law-enforcement officials who are understaffed and highly susceptible to corruption. A photograph reprinted among the book’s illustrations tells the story with eloquence: It shows a whole roomful of American currency seized by the United States Customs Service from a private jet involved in a single drug transaction. The caption reads: “Money, of course, is at the root of the cocaine trafficking--sums of money so vast as to be almost meaningless.”

Like most books based on investigative reporting, THE COCAINE WARS piles facts upon facts but does not attempt to draw conclusions or offer solutions. A large part of the overall problem is that the gringo drug money is actually beneficial to the economies of many Latin American nations. Decriminalization, which is being cried up more and more stridently these days, would be tantamount to poleaxing the price of the basic commodity. This would drastically affect already marginal standards of living and possibly make the affected countries more vulnerable to the inroads of Communism. A total victory of law enforcement in the war against drugs--as improbable as this sounds--would have the same effect.