'Coca Yes, Cocaine No': A History of the War on Drugs in Latin America

Institution: Carleton University ( Nideyinan 376 (formerly University Centre))
Category: Faculty of Public Affairs
Language: English

Course Description

Since the 1970s, the war on drugs has been a major site of political turmoil, violence, mass displacement, and bloodshed that has resulted in hundreds of thousands dead, democracy in shambles, and rippling effects across the region. Today, fifty years later and trillions of dollars spent, illicit substance production is at the highest levels it has ever been. This begs the question: why has the war on drugs failed?

In this course we will take a historical survey of the causes and consequences of the war on drugs in Latin America, focusing on five major themes of the war: the social (human rights violations, displacement, gendered dynamics); political (deterioration of democracy); economic (narconomics, informal markets, and employment in the drug trade); cultural (deviation of the coca plant and Indigenous rights); and environmental (aerial fumigation and crop eradication). By way of working within these themes, we will investigate the main actors of the war, the communities affected, and compare how different countries have responded to the crisis. This will lead to drawing connections between the migrant caravans arriving at the U.S. border, and even how Coca Cola became involved in the Colombian countryside. The course will also draw upon the historical contingencies of prohibition and transnational crime networks, and how transnationalism functions. Overall, the primary focal point is on the victims and survivors of this never ending war, and how we can look at drug prohibition policy in theory vs. practice.

Course Format:
The course will be a blend of lectures, short videos from the victims and survivors, reading primary documents, and in-class workshops. During each class, students will work within small groups with their peers to go over a printed reading and come up with a main theme they noted, something that surprised them, and a question that they have. We will then finish the class discussing each group’s findings. The course will wrap up with a group project where students are divided into smaller groups and asked to complete a short presentation on one theme from the course, describing the who/what/where/when/why.

Learning Outcomes:
By the end of the course, the students will be able to learn how to engage in critical reading of primary documents, news, and publications regarding drug and crime policy by asking the important questions of what is missing from these publications. Students will also be able to outline the social, economic, political, environmental, and cultural implications for drug prohibition policy in the Americas, and the myriad of ways it has implicated nearly every community across the region. Finally, students will also foster transferable collaborative learning skills through the daily group activities, as well as strengthen oral presentations skills.