Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School.
Unlike the posts we’ve published over the last few weeks, this one is not political. We could all use a distraction while we wait for the results tonight. Nonetheless, today is election day, and if you haven’t already, VOTE!
During his career as a professor of International Studies at the University of Miami, Dr. Bruce Bagley dove deep into the primary sources, researching the dynamics of drug trafficking and organized crime in the Americas–so deep that in June of 2020 he pleaded guilty to money laundering. According to Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Dr. Bagley used bank accounts in his name as well as a Florida bank account for a shell company he created in order to launder over $2 million from “proceeds of a Venezuelan bribery and corruption scheme into the United States.” Dr. Bagley, said Berman, went from researching and writing about organized crime and narcotics trafficking to actually “committing the crimes.” Incredible, but true.
As an avid reader of the topic I was surprised when I came across this recent incident, considering that I had read so much of his work, including his books Drug Trafficking, Organized Crime, and Violence in the Americas Today and Drug Trafficking in the Americas, and scholarly articles including “Colombia and the War on Drugs,” “US Foreign Policy and the War on Drugs: Analysis of Policy Failure,” and “The New Hundred Years War? US National Security and the War on Drugs in Latin America.” More so, since Bagley was and continues to be a renowned intellectual voice on the subject, cited by hundreds of scholars around the world.
To others it might not have been a surprise. Bagley knew the ins and outs of the business, understood how money laundering operated, had a clear sense of the dynamics of organized crime, and had an inside view of the operations thanks to his network of primary sources. Ultimately he took theory to practice, serving as a money laundering operative for international organized crime while charging a steady ten percent fee for his services. What a better cover up than the ivory tower of American academia? At the end who would question the 74 year-old intellectual with strong credentials and pedigree?
Dr. Bagley had taught in Colombia and at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies before teaching at the University of Miami, from where he recently had retired after thirty years. I remember catching one of his lecturers at Universidad de los Andes (in Bogotá, Colombia) in the early 1990s when I was enrolled as a graduate student there and found it fascinating. His in-depth knowledge of the ins and outs of narcotics trafficking and organized crime in Colombia was impressive and perhaps inspirational now that I reflect on the past.
According to the press, Dr. Bagley had experienced financial difficulties in recent years after his wife suffered a stroke and the family home was foreclosed. It seems that it is always the financially burdened that eventually see in crime the last way out, becoming victims of the white collar and organized criminals that navigate the world with relative impunity. While Dr. Bagley pays time in jail, “his Colombian go-between remains free, a walking example of how the US justice system sometimes rewards the most slippery of figures.”
In organized crime, once you are in you cannot get out. The case of Dr. Bagley is a testament to this reality. At the end he entered an alternative reality, a world of possibilities that is not imaginable to those that are not inside the belly of the beast. A world where everything is possible and where every human has a price. The professor went too deep into the primary source analysis, so deep that he was never able to leave. The exit was either death or time in prison, and he chose time in an American penitentiary.
The case of Dr. Bagley confirms, once again, that the War on Drugs is a failed American policy. The system continues to punish the small fish, using them as propaganda to justify the overinflated budgets of the intelligence and counter narcotics agencies. Meanwhile, the big domestic and international fish continue to swim freely. Dr. Bagley had pointed out this systemic failure in his 1988 article, “US Foreign Policy and the War on Drugs: Analysis of a Policy Failure.” Apparently nothing has changed in the last forty years.