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Impact of the US War on Drugs on the Medellin Cartel in the 1980s

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 4149 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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To what extent was the U.S.A.’s War on Drugs the main reason for the demise of the Medellin Cartel during the 1980’s?

Table of Contents

Section 1: Identification & Evaluation of Sources…………………………………………………3

Section 2: Investigation…………………………………………………………………….………5

Section 3: Reflection……………………………………………………………………………….9

Works Cited………………………………………………………………………………………11

SECTION 1: Identification & Evaluation of Sources

This investigation will explore the question: To what extent was the U.S.A.’s War on Drugs the main reason for the demise of the Medellin Cartel during the 1980’s? The Medellin Cartel is the focus of this investigation, allowing an analysis of the internal and external reasons for its demise, as well as an evaluation of international relations during the 1980’s.

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The first source which will be evaluated in depth is Robert Filippone’s article “The Medellin Cartel: Why We Can’t Win the Drug War.” written in 1994 as a study in Conflict and Terrorism. The origin is valuable as Filippone is a professor at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, making him versed in diplomatic affairs. His article is valuable as it covers the influence of international affairs on the course/structure of other nations. Because it was written in 1994, years after the demise of the Medellin Cartel, Filippone had a range of sources to develop the complexity of his study. The origin is limited since Filippone’s argument is mainly based off of an American’s perspective of the Drug War, hence he fails to emphasize how the Colombian citizens viewed American intervention.

The purpose of Robert Filippone’s article is to specify why the War on Drugs was ultimately ineffective. The study is valuable as he analyzes a time period from 1970-1980’s, and he effectively outlines internal and external causes for the failures of the Drug War. Filippone studies the issues within multiple Colombian Cartels, then shortens the scope by focusing on individual Cartels and their failures. He explains the faulty actions of the USA in handling the War, as their strategies seemed to be just as ineffective as the attempts of the Medellin Cartel to maintain a covert profile. On the other hand, Filippone failed to mention any other foreign involvement, other than American-Colombian affairs, limiting the complexity of the Drug War failure.

The second source evaluated in depth is William Marcy’s article “The End of Civil War, the Rise of Narcotrafficking and the Implementation of the Merida Initiative in Central America.” delivered in 2014. The origin is valuable since Marcy is an assistant professor of history at St. Martin’s University in Washington. His knowledge on the historical course of war and international affairs gives him credibility. Additionally, the year of publication shows how the author had time to accumulate all sorts of documents with statistics, records, and other references of analysis. However, Marcy’s article is limited as he fails to widen the scope on international influences in Colombian narco-trafficking. Marcy mentions Colombian affairs within Colombia and other Latin American countries, but fails to mention other influential international affairs. With the use of Filippone and Marcy’s research, they complete the missing details within their separate spheres.

The purpose of this source is to highlight the effects and methods of narco-trafficking in Central America. Marcy does research with valuable interpretations on the rise of the drug trafficking in Central America; he details the connections, rivalries, and relations among Drug Cartels and their initiatives against threats. Hence, the evaluation is valuable as it allows for an in depth study of the rising and falling of the cartels and the reason behind their failures. This source, however, is limited because it overlooks the internal failures of the individual cartels, and instead focuses on their external faults. This limitation is crucial, as it only allows for a one-sided evaluation on the demise, focused on external causes without emphasis on probable internal causes.


 Due to the ongoing circulation of drugs into the United States, the War on Drugs was a campaign to end the commotion of illegal drug trade. The Colombia Plan was created, and it was essentially used to prevent drug flow into the United States, while also aiding Colombian economic and social prosperity. However, some believed that the War on Drugs wasn’t solely driven by interests in human rights, but rather in international and domestic issues following the near end of the Cold War (Green, 2005).  The Colombia Plan contributed to the fall of the Medellin Cartel as it justified incarceration of the participants in the Colombian Cartels, and it focused on the termination of insurgents that used bribing to continue funding through drug trafficking (Patten, 2016). The United States set forth this plan to fumigate Colombian crops via aerial systems, which angered Colombians as legal and illegal crops were damaged. The leaders of the Colombian cartels used this to their benefit to unite the population against the unjust tactics used by the U.S.A.. Because of the hostility towards the unethical intervention of the U.S.A., a majority of the Colombian population (mainly peasants and lower classes) supported leftists or leaders of cartels to use violence as a method to eradicate U.S.A mediation. Conversely, the Colombia Plan was ineffective and increased drug production as angry cultivators aided traffickers with their ordeals. Eventually, popular support strengthened the control of the cartels over society (Patten, 2016). This Colombian Plan was not completely futile however, as it  funded trained assassins in the Colombian paramilitary groups, which essentially killed narco-terrorists to slow the movement of cartel money and drug influx (Patten, 2016). Not only was the fumigation ineffectively organized, but the attacks from the FARC, ELN, AUC, and other paramilitary groups hindered the U.S.A.’s involvement in Colombian affairs. (Mendieta, 2011).

 The Medellin drug cartel was always top of the rank, having developed the most complex ties with the Mexican cartels and drug industry, yet there was always an abundance of competition and threats from other distributors in the market. During the late 1980’s and into early 1990’s, the U.S.A. drug war made trafficking more burdensome for the Medellin cartel; hence, there was a race for routes into the States. The Colombian cartels competed for Mexican connections to smuggle cocaine and heroin past the border (Marcy, 2014). However, incarceration of the mediator in the Mexican-Colombian relationship, the Medellin cartel lost influence in the Mexican drug trafficking sphere, which terminated flow of Medellin production into the U.S.A.. The Cali cartel replaced the Medellin cartel, and the Mexican-Colombian relationship was maintained (Marcy, 2014). With the partnership that Cali freshly obtained, the cartel began to prosper and  develop connections with other Mexican, Honduran,  and Guatemalan cartels. This lowered Medellin’s influence in the trafficking sector and hindered economic advancement (Marcy, 2014). This abrupt halt in Medellin influence was troublesome, considering the cartel’s previous control over 50% of the cocaine influx in the United States (Gugliotta, 1989).

 Colombian rivalries had always been prevalent, but civil issues were handled with economic aid from the U.S.A. to maintain internal stability. La Violencia is a prime example of internal disputes, since Colombian tensions lead to outbreaks of violence between the cities of Medellin and Bogota.  Because of poverty, the poor turned to trafficking or production of illegal substances. The drug lords and leaders of the Medellin cartel were portrayed like saviors of the needy; hence their fame reached insurmountable levels, as they rescued the poor from their unprivileged lifestyles (Mendieta, 2011). The pro-Colombian nationalist, and anti-U.S. sentiments attracted all social classes to bind together in their cities for a better Colombian society (Filippone, 1994). The fame of the cartel leaders made it impossible for the DEA to convince the citizens to contribute to the war on drugs. The drug money was aimed towards massive projects for urban reconstruction, and city benefits. The refusal of the Colombian population to aid the U.S.A. was an impediment in the war, which assisted the Medellin cartel by allowing them to continue their drug production and trafficking without detainment (Mendieta, 2011). However, the loyalty of the citizens was not enough to combat the betrayal of the other Colombian cartels.

 Undoubtedly, the Medellin cartel was quite different from the Cali cartel as they were more overt about their ordeals, while the Cali cartel was more covert. The fame of the Medellin cartel was massive because of their infamous trafficking conducted by the “Big Three”. The Big Three was composed of Escobar, Ochoa, and Lehder; they were the most influential leaders of the Medellin cartel; they brought the most revenue, the most fame, while also gradually contributing to the dissolution of the cartel (Filippone,1994). Since their operations were accessible, the DEA was able to trace their connections and trafficking mules, which lead to the infamous pursuit of Escobar and the assassinations of the drug lords (Gugliotta,1989). Escobar and the other cartel bosses not only focused on the production and distribution, they contrived the cartel to become a multinational entity. The focus shifted from the international drug business and began to influence society, and politics. Lehder attempted to enter politics, which decreased his popularity among the Colombians since his arguments weren’t well developed; exemplifying how the Medellin cartel attempted to expand their control over too wide of a scope, contributing to their downfall (Filippone, 1994). The pressure exerted by the pursuit caused Escobar to become careless with his endeavors. The carelessness was detrimental to their prowess, since the Cali cartel managed to attain any losses of the Medellin cartel and use it to expand their own economic pursuits. Evidently, because of the Cali cartel’s concealed action, it was simple for them to maintain business (Filippone,1994). The Cali cartel is known for having worked with the DEA to bring down their main rival: the Medellin cartel. The Cali cartel used ranking engineers to create communication equipment that couldn’t be traced, just as they used lawyers to study DEA moves in order to prevent imprisonment. The Medellin cartel, on the other side, used violence as a way to combat DEA efforts. Their chaotic methods for dealing with the United States’ government lead to the captivity of multiple narco-terrorists and the assassination of Escobar. In essence bringing an end to the fluctuating Medellin cartel.

 Medellin’s grandeur began to falter because of the short term incarceration of the mediator for the Mexican-Colombian relationship, and the widened scope for power. The long term effects included the perpetual tension between the Colombian Cartels, the U.S.A.’s persistence in the War on Drugs, and the incompetence of the Medellin Cartel to maintain their affairs organized. All in all, the demise of the Medellin cartel was a complex series of events; that of which the U.S.A. War on drugs, while playing a role on the outcome, was not the main reason.


 This investigation has allowed me to acquire an insight on the methods used by historians to uncover the details closest to the truth. During this investigation, I have analyzed records on drug trafficking, statistics on the economy of multiple drug cartels, studied international diplomatic relations, and researched journals on war efforts within and across borders in the 1980’s. This extensive research has allowed me to empathize with the struggle of historians, as I had to visit multiple libraries and scholarly websites in order to combine all of the resources and deduce which records developed answers to my question.

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 Subsequently, as I furthered my research, I found that there were multiple perspectives on the same topic.. Many researchers analyzed and deducted disparate results, hence the analysis and composition of my investigation was up to my judgment; much like the job of a historian. Hinojosa and Filippone, while researching the same international affairs during the Drug War, transversed completely different perspectives on the effectiveness of the United States War on Drugs. While Filippone outlined how futile the war was, Hinojosa explained how the infiltration of Colombia by the United States was essential for the deterioration of the Medellin Cartel.

 Although it was challenging to reach a conclusion, I realized that the job of a historian is to assess all documents of historical significance and utilise the most acceptable for the situation. A historian has a more complex trajectory than that of a mathematician or scientist, the historian does not have the advantage of finding an absolute truth; they can not simply research and be completely certain that what they have found is true. It is essential for a historian to weigh each source based on their significance and limitation, and consider that reliability and value do not go conjointly. For example, Marcy and Filippone both effectively describe the events that occurred during the surge of drug-trafficking in the 1980’s. Although Filippone’s article efficiently analyzed the factors in the conflict, Marcy’s article might be more reliable because of her background knowledge on historical research. With both of these sources, I conjoined a detailed analysis on all of the events during this period. Most of the details in Filippone’s article corroborated with those in Marcy’s article; therefore, both sources developed my conclusion by adding how the demise of the Medellin Cartel was impacted by more than one event. Furthermore, Filippone includes the failure of the United States’ efforts. Meanwhile, Marcy adds to the complexity of the Drug War by including that the United States was unable to halt the actions of the Cartel without allied intervention.

 All in all, this investigation allowed me to investigate the mind of a historian and analyze all of my sources while also weighing the limitations and their respective value. I have developed a comprehension of the methods for conducting a proper research question and concluding any acceptable answers for these disparate perspectives.


Annotated Bibliography

  1. Colombian Cartels & Their relations with the USA
    1. Gugliotta, Guy. Kings of cocaine : inside the Medellín cartel, an astonishing true story of murder, money, and international corruption. New York, N.Y., Simon and Schuster, 1989.
      1.  16 years as a national reporter for the Washington post. Wrote for The New York Times, National Geographic, Wired, Discover, and Smithsonian. Covered crises, and policy issues in Latin America.
      2. To expand on commence and demise of ALL the cartels in colombia, and the introduction of narcotics in the USA.
      3. Introduces the beginning of a chapter: the colombian drug cartels and drug trafficking starting in Miami, FL.
      4. The Breed: ch 2. The Cartel’s Golden Age: ch 8.
    2. Hinojosa, Victor J. Domestic politics and international narcotics control : U.S. relations with Mexico and Colombia. New York, NY, Routledge, 2007.
      1. Born 1973, an author.
      2. Capture the essence of American relations with Colombian and Mexican trafficking.
      3. USA drug policies, and colombian diplomacy failure to comply.
      4. Introduction and ch 1 and ch 3
    3. Radu, Michael. Tismaneau, Vladimir. Latin American Revolutionaries Groups, Goals, Methods. Herndon, Virginia, Pergamon-Brassey’s International Defense Publishers, 1990.

a)      Radu: Born 1947, Romanian-American. Part of Foreign policy Research Institute.

b)     Vladimir: Born 1951, Romanian- American. Political Scientist. Expert in political systems and comparative politics. University professor of Post-Communist societies.

  1. To expand on political instability in latin american affairs
  2. Explaining the systems of political dictators or established corruptive government forces.
  1. Mendieta, Eduardo. “Medellin and Bogota: The Global Cities of the Other Globalization.” City, vol. 15, no. 2, Apr. 2011, pp. 167–180. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/13604813.2011.568706.
    1. Colombian born professor of Philosophy. Born in 1963, research focuses on ethics.
    2. To show how Colombian diplomacy and economy led to the rise of cartels.
    3. Highlights La Violencia and how it led to the FARC and then smuggling and soon cartels.
    4. Pg 173 La Violencia and alliance with CLO. Pg 177-178 poverty and rise of smuggling & cartels, escobar announced as a savior              USE THIS AS SUPPORT FOR FAILURE OF DRUG WAR IN 1ST PARAGRAPH
  2. Marcy, William L. “The End of Civil War, the Rise of Narcotrafficking and the Implementation of the Merida Initiative in Central America.” International Social Science Review, vol. 89, no. 1, Sept. 2014, pp. 1–36. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.fiu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ahl&AN=112779660&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
    1. Assistant professor of history at St. Martin’s University in Washington
    2. To highlight the effects and methods of narco trafficking in central America
    3. Explains the rise of narco trafficking in colombia and mexico, and their rivalries/connections/relations
    4. Pg 2: CLO and MEX
  1. United States War on Drugs
    1. Patten, Daniel. “The Mass Incarceration of Nations and the Global War on Drugs: Comparing the United States’ Domestic and Foreign Drug Policies.” Social Justice, vol. 43, no. 1, Jan. 2016, pp. 85–105. EBSCOhost, http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=118071071&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
      1. Professor in sociology, born 1964.
      2. To illustrate the massive increase in crime and incarceration in the US in the 1980’s, giving incentive to continue the war on drugs.
      3. The article highlights the importance of fixing foreign policies with Colombia in order to stop narco trafficking and eliminate leftist guerrilla groups in Colombia.
      4. Page 87-88 focus on guerrilla groups. Page 89 preemptive approach and Bush. Pg 90-94 fumigation of CLO. pg 94-97 drug war. Pg 98 CLO justification.
    2. Filippone, Robert. “The Medellin Cartel: Why We Can’t Win the Drug War.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, vol. 17, no. 4, Oct. 1994, pp. 323–344. EBSCOhost, http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=9412276715&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
      1. Studies in conflicts and terrorism
      2. To explain why the war on drugs is ultimately ineffective
      3. Analyzes the cartels and how the DEA and the war on drugs changed their structure
    3. Green, W.John. “GUERRILLAS, SOLDIERS, PARAMILITARIES, ASSASSINS, NARCOS, AND GRINGOS: The Unhappy Prospects for Peace and Democracy in Colombia.” Latin American Research Review, vol. 40, no. 2, Apr. 2005, pp. 137–149. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.fiu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=17299089&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
      1. Part of council of hemispheric affairs
      2. To explain the connection between war on drugs and colombian cartels
      3. Describes Colombian politics, society, and economy before, during, and after the rise of cartels and the influence of the war on drugs.
      4. Pg 138 (bottom)-onward:  concerns the economy and how it was thriving, yet it was because of the drug trafficking, and that’s when the U.S.A.’s war on drugs comes in.


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