Cocaine Politics is a book by Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall which sets out to show that US intelligence agencies, such as the CIA, measured what they saw as potential national security issues against the efforts to control drugs in Latin America; the latter suffering inconceivably in the process. They go on to add that, in fact, the efforts of the CIA effectively encouraged drugs when it helped to set up agencies in countries like Mexico, Honduras and Peru to apparently combat communist elements but instead helped to create repressive and corrupt organizations that allowed for drug trafficing.
The authors collected information from various sources including newspaper articles and magazines and, they used documents from the Iran Contra affair of 1986 as a starting point. American hostages, held in Lebanon, were, according to the book, effectively traded for weapons. President Reagan denied implicit knowledge of such dealings but ultimately could not deny that the funds appear to have been used to further the Contra cause. The book makes the connection between this and the growth of drug smuggling, answering questions that, the authors feel, were not suitably addressed in the findings of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations of the Committee on Foreign Relations of the United States Senate which was headed by Senator John Kenny. The book is thus, their way of explaining those things that Senator Kenny and his "Kenny report" failed to do and linking them to the battle against drugs in those susceptible central and southern American regions.
Part I of Cocaine Politics is entitled "Right-Wing Narcoterrorism, the CIA, and the Contras," and takes up the main body of text. Part II is called "Exposure and Coverup." In summary, Scott and Marshall list five essential claims or contentions in explaining their argument:
- Nicuragua under the control of the FSNL- the Sandinista National Liberation Front - was considered to be more of a threat than drugs to US security and the US therefore worked with drug traffickers, supporting the Contras, to prevent rebellion in central American countries.
- Due to the fact that "the "war on drugs" was so prominent, the government was able to use it to cover up its real intentions- to support the Contras. However, this just allowed drug cartels to increase their influence in other non-communist countries.
- Political agendas allowed the government to act selectively in prosecuting well-known drug traffickers. However, as soon as they were no longer of any real use, they could prosecute them. Manuel Noriega is a classic example. As soon as Oliver North could no longer protect him, after the Iran- Contra scandal, he could be prosecuted, maintaining the facade that made it look like drugs were the government's main agenda.
- The fourth point is extensively covered in the book and refers to a lack of importance placed on the "Kerry report," the fight against drugs and the apparent indifference of Congress and the lack of support to the cause by the news media to the point of favoring the US government.
- The fifth issue raised in this book suggests that, as the drug trade is so entrenched, it will be difficult for the US to ever rid itself of the "governmental drug problem."
The authors and the book's critics are aware that some of its sources are not necessarily respected citizens and political agendas cloud some issues. It seems that speculation and presumption also form part of this book and it is suggested that it is viewed with open mindedness in considering fact and opinion.
One element of cocaine politics is the controversy over the sentencing of those who used and sold cocaine as opposed to those who used and sold crack-cocaine. This political conflict came to a peak with the riots that extended throughout the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 1995. Federal Correction Institution in Talladega, Alabama, where the riots began, sustained the most damage [information gathered from an employee there at that time].
The Associated Press quoted two witnesses to the riot at Talladega prison as saying that inmates were upset over a vote in Congress to reject a recommendation from the U.S. Sentencing Commission to lower penalties for crack possession and trafficking.
In Allenwood, Pennsylvania, a melee involving 150 inmates began when inmates set off fire alarms and broke windows, officials said.
The protests began as a result of the ruling that maintained the disparity between the sentencing for cocaine and that for crack-cocaine. Those who used and sold crack-cocaine were mostly minorities while the sellers and users of cocaine were not. Inmates felt that the ruling was racially motivated and prejudicial.
Cocaine is a drug derived from the leaves of the South American coca plant. Like other plant-produced substances such as caffeine, the amount of cocaine present in the actual plant is relatively small, and historically it was used as a mild stimulant by native peoples. It was only after the advent of modern chemistry techniques that the molecule was isolated and purified into the form we recognize as a drug today. Cocaine was never restricted to a particular economic or social class, either in South America or in its refined form, and still enjoys broad public appeal (though illegal). Case in point: Coca-Cola originally contained, and was named after, its cocaine content.
In terms of its legal and medicinal history, cocaine is not terribly different from marijuana. It enjoyed popularity as a recreational and medicinal drug following its chemical isolation in the mid-1800s, and the United States has always been one of if not its most prolific users. Despite its popularity, it slowly garnered a negative reputation, particularly for the prevalence of its usage among those perceived as lower-class; its role as a stimulant was thought to encourage criminal activity and moral corruption. Whether or not this is true is, of course, difficult to prove a hundred years after the fact, but what is without question is cocaine's addictive properties, quite unlike other stimulants like caffeine. Drug enjoyment is one thing, but drug addiction has almost always been seen as a lamentable loss of self-control and an undesirable community element. Several members of the scientific and medical community, such as Sigmund Freud, experimented with cocaine (including on themselves) and quickly discovered its addictive nature, and began to rescind their earlier endorsements.
Thus cocaine rapidly fell out of favor at the state and local level until it was restricted and eventually made illegal at the federal level. Ironically, in contrast to its modern stereotype as a lenient haven for drug advocates, California was one of the first states to enact narcotics legislation, at least partially because it associated drug use with foreign immigrants, who were perceived as a social and economic menace.
Today, cocaine is still an enormously popular drug, and it is also possible for it to be used legally for medicinal purposes, although these cases are dwarfed by the amount of illegal use. This continued popularity, the development and distribution of crack cocaine, and the large amount of money associated with the drug trade has the effect of enhancing cocaine's reputation as a recreational drug rather than a medicinal one.
The predominant conflict over cocaine today regards its illegality and who profits from it. As the United States is its primary consumer, a significant industry has grown around smuggling it into the US, garnering billions of dollars a year. The primary benefactors of this trade are Latin American drug cartels. Cocaine is primarily grown in three countries; Peru, Bolivia and Colombia. These countries ostensibly oppose smuggling or illegal use, but in practice have not been able to consistently enforce their laws, and at least partially rely on American anti-drug programs for funding and action. Additionally, the money associated with the drug creates a strong, corrupting lure, and on various occasions government officials have been shown to be colluding in the smuggling operations.