“Blah Blah Blah”: The Fallacy of United Nations Drug Summits

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School.

Blah Blah Blah” was the conclusion of environmental activist Greta Thunberg after the recent 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. As Thunberg’s response indicates, thirty years of constructive climate dialogue has resulted in few changes—just the kicking of the status-quo can down the road—even though twenty eight climate summits since 1995 have spent billions of dollars on travel, salaries, marketing, public relations, lobbying and other resources. All of this with little to show. Dreams drowned in “empty words and promises” and no concrete results, as Thunberg said.

The same lack of progress could be said about the United Nations and its conferences about drug control. Instead of using children and young adults for their propaganda machine, though, they exploit the victims of the illicit drug trade in developing countries to advance their anti-drug rhetoric and empty promises.

UN 1965 opium tracking
At the laboratory of the Division of Narcotic Drugs of the UN Secretariat, located in Geneva, Dr. Olav Braenden (Norway), Chief of the Laboratory (left), and Mrs. Jane Beck (United Kingdom), indicate the regions where opium is produced in 1965. Image courtesy of the United Nations. UN Photo/PP, (Unique identifier: UN7632427).

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Pablo Cáceres Corrales: “Narcotics Trafficking is Just Another Superstructure of Globalization”—Part II

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School. 

As I explained in my first post about Pablo Cáceres Corrales’s research and writing: “narcotrafficking is an essential part of the deregulated dynamics that allows the global market system to navigate the thin line between formality and informality” [1]. In his book, Las Formas Cambiantes de la Criminalidad (The Changing Forms of Criminality), Dr. Cáceres explains how multinational corporations, local and federal governments, and numerous public and private stakeholders have capitalized on the informal market to strengthen or increase their own capabilities. Globalization under neoliberal principles facilitates interdependent relationships between the formal and informal sectors. Contraband, money laundering, state corruption, and the use of shell companies are integral parts of current international business strategies.

Dr. Cáceres argues that criminality changes with time and space; it adapts to the changing social, political, cultural, economic, and technological dynamics of local and international markets [2]. Today, criminal organizations work side-by-side with legitimate business organizations; they feed off of each other, and—incrementally—depend more and more on each other. This type of symbiotic relationship that allows formal and informal sectors to work together is often today’s current spatial and temporal landscape. Governments, through their push for neoliberal adjustments, facilitate and enhance these symbiotic relationships.

Capitalism, says Dr. Cáceres, has historically and continues today to operate in both the formal and informal markets [3]. He cites examples like the vibrant and underground markets in human trafficking, body organ trafficking, hair trafficking, child trafficking, animal trafficking, arms trafficking, drug trafficking, and the sale of innumerable types of contraband. The lucrative world of illicit activities has catapulted into the international market fictitious shell companies that facilitate the dynamics of this overwhelming counterfeit world.

Pablo Cáceres Corrales

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Drug Packaging: Newspapers’ Long History of Sensational Narcotics Reporting

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Sarah Brady Siff, a visiting assistant professor at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University, in affiliation with the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC).

It seems true (though not perfectly true) that laws and policies conform to public opinion eventually. I recently attended a virtual meeting on sentencing reform wherein one of the panelists, a district judge, twice underscored the deep importance of public opinion to criminal justice reform. His comments stood out because, in my academic experience, people so rarely talk about public opinion as an element of policy change. Yet everyone seems to agree it exists. 

We might reasonably feel optimistic these days about the drift of public opinion toward decarceration and liberalizing drug laws, but such winds have more often blown in the opposite direction. A century ago, the Supreme Court followed public opinion and affirmed the constitutionality of the Volstead Act, leading the country into the disaster of federal alcohol prohibition. Such laws did not lead to orderly sobriety but to similar measures against other substances like the widespread “preventive” prohibition of cannabis. Such was the historical argument of legal scholars Richard Bonnie and Charles Whitebread in 1970. They worried that contemporary public opinion about cannabis had been inflamed by the larger social conflicts of the 1960s, consigning the marijuana debate to “the public viscera instead of the public mind.” 

Sadly, they were right. Although many scholars and activists in the early 1970s considered legalization imminent, this possibility disappeared in a cloud of bad press and President Carter’s spiraling public approval rating. Then, during the 1980s and 1990s, Joe Biden was one leading politician who often proposed or supported escalations of the drug wars because of public opinion. Biden, and other drug warriors, explicitly argued that the people wanted tougher drug policies and more federal aid to drug law enforcement. (The people, he said, were even willing to spend money on it.) 

Public opinion is uncontrollable yet essential; public opinion can be either fickle, deep-rooted, or mysterious. But since public opinion can—and often does—influence laws and policies, we might think about it more often. In that spirit, I offer a brief collection of media artifacts from several different eras that have helped shaped public opinion about drug control. Americans have been consuming a sustained diet of drug-related information for more than a century.

Packaged Drugs Featured Image

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Drawing the Peddler: “Reefer Madness” in Four Editorial Cartoons

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY. 

Everyone loves a good editorial cartoon. They dramatize contemporary issues in newspapers, in magazines, and, increasingly, in online publications. They routinely engage in a visual form of incisive social critique. And they can be funny—although over the years some of the “humor” has come from degrading caricatures of racial and gendered stereotypes.

For all of these reasons, editorial cartoons are useful teaching tools for historians, and they routinely appear in history textbooks, historical websites, and even on history exams. Currently, some of my students in a semester-long guided research project are using political cartoons to explain aspects of US drug history. (Others in the class are analyzing advertisements or newspaper reporting, and I will share more about the course in a future post).

Given the press bonanza around cannabis during the “reefer madness” era of the 1930s, I have been surprised during my research and teaching to have found only four cartoons from the period that specifically mentioned marijuana. To be sure, there were plenty of cartoons that focused on related issues like “narcotics” control—which often included cannabis—and the Uniform State Narcotic Act. Such cartoons, however, tended to focus on heroin (usually represented by snake imagery) and have not been useful for my marijuana research. There was also another interesting 1940 cartoon that mentioned marijuana in a very different context. This image depicted South American countries being stupefied—like a “Mexican” marijuana user—by “Nazi Propaganda” [1]

Despite spilling less editorial cartoon ink than might be expected given the sheer volume of press generated on the subject during the 1930s, these four identified cartoons present a specific and surprisingly nuanced take on Reefer Madness. They illustrate that the marijuana peddler was often the central focus of the evolving American war on cannabis. Drawn by four different cartoonists in four different cities, the four peddler characters were remarkably similar. In each image, the peddler was not only the source of the drug, but also seemed to be the source (perhaps more than the drug, itself) of all the problems associated with the drug trade.

Left: “Idol of Both,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 5, 1930; Right: “One Place to Get Tough,” Cleveland Press, November 13, 1936. Click on image above for to see larger version.

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Pablo Cáceres Corrales: “Narcotics Trafficking is Just Another Superstructure of Globalization”—Part I

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School. 

The intellectual, political, social, economic, environmental, and cultural ideas behind narcotics trafficking are front-loaded with Western constructs. This vision has often been imposed by force across the world and more particularly in developing countries directly tied to the geopolitics and international political economy of narcotrafficking. Dr. Pablo Cáceres Corrales, a Colombian scholar and expert in comparative law, is a refreshing voice—a revisionist who points the finger not at supply-and-demand debates but at the nature of the business of narcotics and its interdependence and interconnectivity with market globalization.

From his perspective, narcotrafficking is an essential part of the deregulated dynamic that allows the global capitalist system to navigate the thin line between formality and informality. Narcotics trafficking, he argues, is just one of the many superstructures allowing the global market system to operate on all cylinders. Narcotrafficking provides the ability to move money globally while at the same time laundering resources from the informal to the formal market.

As president of Colombia’s Superior Council of Judicature during the deadliest phase of the 1990s War on Drugs, Dr. Cáceres witnessed first-hand the intricacies of the international business world of narcotics trafficking. Understanding criminality and criminal organizations became an intellectual passion that led him to study its global history. During the pursuit of his doctoral degree, soon after retiring from the judicial branch, it became clear to him that the explanation for Colombia’s violent reality rested on the broader superstructures of globalization.

In his latest and thoroughly researched book, Las Formas Cambiantes de la Criminalidad [The Changing Forms of Criminality] (Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 2016) Cáceres introduces us to the broad magnitude and expansive tentacles of contemporary criminal organizations and their interconnectedness to the world-wide market system.

Pablo Cáceres Corrales

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Bruce Bagley: Diving Too Deep into Primary Sources

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.

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Gender and Critical Drug Studies: A Woman Formed the First Cartel?

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Elaine Carey, professor of history and Dean of the College of Humanities, Education, and Social Sciences at Purdue University Northwest. In it, she explores more about her article on Delia Patricia Buendía Gutierrez, a contemporary female leader of a Mexican drug trafficking organization, which appeared in a special co-produced edition of SHAD and CDP, Special Issue: Gender and Critical Drug Studies. Enjoy!

Screenshot 2018-09-10 at 12.57.31 PM
Elaine Carey

To analyze contemporary female leaders of Mexican drug trafficking organizations, I focused on Delia Patricia Buendía Gutierrez, also known as “Ma Baker,” because she represents a historical continuity of the women in the drug trade.  More significantly, however, her organization represents how the history of drugs responds to various contingent and changing factors and events.

Buendía formed a powerful familial-based drug trafficking organization (DTO) that grew the internal cocaine trade in Mexico. She and her daughters Marcela Gabriela, Nadia Isabel, and Norma Patricia, along with extended family and sons-in-laws, built a “narcomenudeo” network in the working class suburb of Ciudad Neza.  There, the Buendía became instrumental to other DTOs by responding to changing demand patterns in the US that shifted from cocaine to heroin. This shift was, in part, due to the over prescription of opioids by medical doctors which triggered a wide spread heroin epidemic.

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The Points Interview: Scott Jacques

Editor’s Note: In this installment of the Points author interview series, Georgia State University criminologist Scott Jacques discusses his new book, Code of the Suburb: Inside the World of Young Middle-Class Drug Dealers (co-authored with Richard Wright). Contact Dr. Jacques at sjacques1@gsu.edu.  1. Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand. A young, white …

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