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Governing Cocaine Supply and Organized Crime from Latin America and the Caribbean: The Changing Security Logics in European Union External Policy

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The logics of the European Union’s policy and practices against narcotic drugs in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) have undergone a substantial shift the past decade: from development to security. Based on an empirical mapping of the EU’s drug-related projects in LAC, this article argues that an ‘integrated and balanced’ approach to drugs policy is being replaced by a bifurcation between the broader domains of development policy and security policy. Questions are raised as to how the EU’s projects on development and security might counteract one another, and how the Union’s programme aimed at dismantling transnational organized crime along the cocaine trafficking routes to Europe might have unintended consequences. While keeping in mind the shifting tectonics of the international drug prohibition consensus, the article goes on to analyze the increasingly salient security rationale in EU external drugs policy against the backdrop of the EU’s emerging role as a global security actor. In doing so, it touches upon the intrinsic tensions between human rights and (supra) national security.

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  1. Between 2006 and 2011 cocaine use among the general population in the United States fell by 40 per cent, which is partly linked to a decline in production in Colombia, law enforcement intervention, and inter-cartel violence (UNODC 2013: X). All estimates need, however, to be interpreted with caution.

  2. However, other regional markets have also increased, and today North America and Central/Western Europe account for approximately half of cocaine users globally (UNODC 2013: X).

  3. What for example happened when the AUC paramilitaries of Colombia were dismantled which led them to diversify into smaller groups—‘BACRIM’; bandas criminales emergentes—which are now also operating from neighboring countries (Garzón et al. 2013).

  4. The Caribbean route as a transshipment point to Europe, but in particular to the US, was weakened the past decade due to interdiction efforts which in turn increased the importance of Central America (Garzón et al. 2013: 3). However, the Caribbean route may be increasing in importance again when it comes to trafficking to Europe, where Mexican and Colombian groups are taking hold of the islands to respond to the European demand (Ibid.).

  5. However, the EU and the US are the main donors to UNODC, and pursue their drug policy aims through the agency. In spite of large differences, there is thus a lot of overlap between EU and US policies.

  6. For instance in 2007 the EU launched the ‘EU Drug Prevention & Treatment City Partnership’ project, under auspices of CICAD, where cities in Latin America and the Caribbean and Europe share and exchange experiences on demand reduction strategies. Through the regional project CARICOM (800,000 euros, 2008–10), the EU supports HIV prevention and treatment, harm reduction and related research and monitoring in the Caribbean in cooperation with civil society.

  7. The project’Prevention of the diversion of drugs precursors in the Latin America and Caribbean region’ (PRELAC) was launched in 2009 (2 million euro 2009–11). COPOLAD also has a precursor control component which duplicates PRELAC and such control was also carried out in the sub-regional PRADICAN project between EU and the Andean Community (HTSPE 2013).

  8. According to the COPOLAD website, national Latin American partners are currently Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Perú, and Uruguay. See:

  9. Annex 13 in HTSPE 2013, EMCDDA & Europol 2013. See also: [Last access: 10.11.14]

  10. For instance in Bolivia, EU AD projects are subject to ‘social control mechanisms’, where the reduction and rationalization of coca production is left to the control of coca growers’ organizations (European Commission 2007a: 31).

  11. Generalised System of Preferences

  12. The GSP Drugs has not been as successful as anticipated in diversifying these countries’ export products and the whole scheme is being questioned.

  13. 400 000 euro for 2008-10

  14. 800,000 euro for 2008-10

  15. IfS entered into force 1 January 2007, and was developed as a strategic financing tool to address global and trans-regional security and development challenges, complementing geographic and development instruments. The IfS has now been renamed to the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP).

  16. SEACOP targets Cape Verde, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Guinea Bissau, and Gambia.

  17. GAFISUD includes Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay.

  18. AMERIPOL currently includes the police forces of six Latin American countries, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Panamá and Peru

  19. Currently, the PRELAC’s main action is located in Peru and Mexico.


  21. Bolivia withdrew from the Single Convention in 2011 deeming the coca leaf ban unconstitutional to its new Constitution. It has now re-acceded in the Single Convention with a reservation on traditional and ancestral coca uses. Uruguay passed a bill in 2013 that legally regulates its domestic marijuana market—from production to consumption. This makes Uruguay the first country ever to ‘legalize’ marijuana.

  22. In Latin America UNODC, Interpol, and FIIAPP are the main implementing agencies of the CRP’s projects

  23. The concept of bifurcation has its roots in Stanley Cohen’s (1985) argument that the (US) criminal justice system was increasingly being divided into a hard and a soft end, where the ‘hard’ end (incarceration) was getting harder due to penal populist discourse, while the ‘soft’ end (initially intended as alternatives to imprisonment, but which turned out to rather come in addition to it) was swelling—including an increasing number of measures under the auspices of the criminal justice system (halfway houses, parole etc.) and including new groups of deviants which would before have been left out of criminal control. This would lead to an increase in the net criminal surveillance and control in society.

  24. In the period 1999-2004 six countries (Ireland, UK, Greece, Denmark, Estonia, and Lithuania) passed laws increasing penalties for certain drug trafficking offences. The Council Framework Decision 2004/757/JHA of 25 October 2004 called for stronger penalties for trafficking illicit drugs, following conclusions of the 1999 Tampere European Council which encouraged Member States to enact additional legal provisions to combat drug trafficking. After the Framework Decision, four more countries (Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, and Austria) have passed laws in order to bring trafficking penalties in accordance with the provision (EMCDDA 2009: 23).

  25. Ameripol has established its headquarter in Bogotá and country offices in Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama, and Peru—as well as Mexico and the Dominican Republic (outside the project) (HTSPE 2013: 35).

  26. However, the mid-term review criticizes GAFISUD for not having done anything to promote cooperation with the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) nor with the Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (HTSPE 2013: 11).

  27. The mid-term review does, however, recognize that strengthening of regional organizations might be a necessary precondition for trans-regional cooperation, particularly as the Programme is in its early stages.

  28. AIRCOP and SEACOP are only about to be implemented in Latin America and the Caribbean.

  29. Strazzari and Russo (2014) suggest that a new EU security model is emerging, where key aspects from the US security model have been transmitted through the Transatlantic Security Community and become pivotal in shaping a new and distinct European security rationality.

  30. While EU foreign policy here is understood as limited to CSDP, the more broad term of external policy is used to encompass all EU external policy and action such as for instance JHA agencies’ cooperation with counterparts in third countries or the policies which the EU promotes in international forums such as the UN. For an account of how JHA objectives get integrated in EU policy and action beyond EU borders, see Trauner 2011.

  31. There are, however, several factors which can contribute to explain the EU’s focus on the African Route. For instance, comprehensive action is taken by EU Member States to disrupt cocaine trafficking routes in the Atlantic and Mediterranean through the partly militarized agencies Maritime Analysis and Operatios Centre–Narcotics (MAOC-N)—funded by the European Commission—and Centre de Coordination de la Lutte Anti-drogue en Méditerranée (CECLAD-M).

  32. In the Hague Programme (2004-09) Europol was requested to change its analysis of the organized crime situation to ‘threat assessments’ of serious crime. Europol’s Serious and Organized Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA) is the first step in the so-called ‘Policy cycle on organized and serious international crime’, and forms the basis of the decisions and actions further taken by the Standing Committee on Operational Cooperation on Internal Security (COSI), the Presidency of the Council and the European Commission. They develop a policy advisory document (PAD), which the European Council uses to agree conclusions (EMCDDA 2013b: 18).


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Stambøl, E.M. Governing Cocaine Supply and Organized Crime from Latin America and the Caribbean: The Changing Security Logics in European Union External Policy. Eur J Crim Policy Res 22, 1–18 (2016).

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