If only the Propaganda Machine had Paid Attention to the Humanitarian Crisis Emanating from the War on Drugs

The violent impact of the American War on Drugs has resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of Colombians and the displacement of millions more that have either inundated the urban centers of the country or simply left the Colombia.  Nevertheless, the Western propaganda machine decided, close to fifty years ago, to ignore the humanitarian atrocity and the systemic violation of human rights of Colombians carried out by American foreign policy, opting instead to focus on the magical realism-like stories of Colombian capos and the Hollywood-like stories of “good guys vs. bad guys.”  Now, watching the coverage of the conflict in Ukraine, it is irritating to see how Western media is capable and powerful enough to socially construct one particular narrative for Ukraine and another one for Colombia, denying the agency to the victims of the atrocities generated by Western, and more particularly, US drug policy.

It is a violation of human rights and the international laws of war to target civilians during armed conflict, but it is apparently acceptable, according to media coverage of the past five decades, when it is carried out by the United States and other western nations.  This double standard is precisely why rogue leaders like Vladimir Putin or Alvaro Uribe, as in the case of Colombia, feel that they can take matters into their own hands in order to advance their own nation-building project. 

George W. Bush presenting Uribe with the Presidential Medal of Freedom

In the case of Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010), he even received the green light from the West in order to carry out human rights violations in the name of democracy.  As indicated by Human Rights Watch, he was “a favorite of George W. Bush – who awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom – and received high praise from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.”[1]  Not only did Uribe use deadly force on his own people in order to force a “democratization” process that would rid the country of “drug trafficking, corruption, and terror” but also of any nationalist, labor or political opposition movement that would threaten Colombia’s transition into the global market system.  The implementation of drastic violent measures, in the hands of military and paramilitary forces led from the Presidency, were approved and supported with financial and military aid from the United States in order to pave the way for the free trade agreements signed with the European Union (2012), Canada (2011), and ultimately the United States (2012). 

According to 2007 estimates from Colombia’s Attorney General’s office, paramilitaries pushing the Uribe-Western agenda had killed more than 140,000 Colombian citizens in a period of five years.  That represented an average of 2,333 civilians killed per month, compared to the monthly average of 1,325 Ukrainians killed by Russian forces thus far.[2]  The 3,974 Ukrainians killed and the displacement of 6.6 million refugees have led to a global outcry that has mobilized the western propaganda machine against Russia.[3]  Western governments have directly targeted Russia with economic sanctions and other diplomatic pressures in order to stop the humanitarian crisis and the systemic violation of human rights, something that has never happened in the case of Colombia.  There has been peripheral outcry from humanitarian NGOs and Christian religious institutions, but other than that mass media has remained silent.  Colombian’s lives perhaps are just weighed differently than Ukrainian’s lives, at the end it is all about marketing and viewer traffic.

This western double standard is unacceptable, it is inhumane and an act of violence in itself.  The lack of concern for what happens inside Colombia to the more than 3.5 million internally displaced persons should be reason for a global outcry or at least call the attention of the western propaganda machine, but “the Colombian refugee situation remains largely invisible” to the global audience.[4]  Over the course of the last fifty years more than 4.7 million Colombians have fled the country, making it the country in the Western Hemisphere with the greater number of internal and external displaced people.[5]

As I walk down the streets in my neighborhood and watch the houses and cars with Ukrainian solidarity flags, I wonder why this never happened with the currently ongoing conflict in Colombia or for that matter any other conflict currently unfolding in the geopolitical game of the West.  Is it because Colombia’s geopolitical role is simply to maintain the façade of an active policy engagement via the War on Drugs while syphoning billions of US Dollars into the global market system via the same drug trade? 

Clearly Ukraine is important because it is strategic for the long-term sustainability of the European Union’s economy and internal social stability.  It is also evident that Europe is of strategic importance to the United States.  Moreover, it is crucial that the West remains an the epicenter of global economic, political, and cultural power.  Perhaps that explains the eagerness of the Western propaganda machine to cover so intimately the conflict in Ukraine. 

Geopolitically, Colombia is not as important to the West.  The only aspects of strategic importance are its natural resource and, of course, its cocaine.  As long as the doors remain open to international businesses and cocaine continues to flow across the international market system, there is no need to worry about what happens inside the country.  The lack of public awareness about what happens in Colombia is part of the foreign policy strategy,  it is the best way to cover up the billions of dollars in aid that have entered Colombia without any real results or accountability.  Military and other economic aid has been pouring in to the country since the 1980s and each year cocaine productions increases more.  In 2020 “cocaine production numbers reached a record 245,000 hectares and 1,010 metric tons, respectively” costing the lives of thousands of Colombians as the failed policies of eradication remained in place.[6]  Between 2000 and 2016, the United States government provided Colombia with nearly $10 billion in aid, mostly aimed at the Colombian security forces, yet nothing has been achieved.[7]  All that can be accounted for the investment is the hundreds of thousands of Colombian lives lost and the millions of people displaced in this failed effort.  It is sad to recognize that it is better for the world to ignore this long-term humanitarian crisis and instead learn about Colombia from the eyes of the Netflix series “Narcos”.


[1] Daniel Wilkinson. “Death and Drugs in Colombia.” Human Rights Watch, June 2, 2011.  Accessed May 31, 2022.

[2]Key Facts.” Center for Disaster Philanthropy. Accessed June 1, 2022.

[3] Ibid.

[4]Colombian Refugees: No Solution in Sight.” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  Accessed June 1, 2022.

[5]Informe paralelo sobre la situación de los migrantes, refugiados y víctimas en el exterior colombianos para el Comité de Derechos Humanos, Social y Culturales.” Red Internacional de Derechos Humanos. Ginebra, Suiza, Septiembre, 2017.

[6]Updated: ONDCP Release Data on Coca Cultivation and Potential Cocaine Production in the Andean Region.” The White House, July 16, 2021.  Accessed June 2, 2022.

[7] Kyle Longley. “The U.S. War on Drugs Helped Unleash the Violence in Colombia Today.” The Washington Post, June 8, 2021.  Accessed June 2, 2022.

Stefano Tijerina
+ posts

Stefano Tijerina teaches in the areas of international business, comparative business, and ethics at the University of Maine’s Maine Business School.  Prior to his academic career he worked in the areas of international banking and non-profit management. He received his B.A. in Comparative Politics from Clark University, a Graduate Certificate in International Relations from Universidad de los Andes, and his M.P.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of Maine.  His current research centers on the business dynamics of the Western Hemisphere from a historical perspective, including the dynamics of informal markets.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: