Free Minds & Free Markets

After Pablo Escobar: Murder, Chaos, and the Failure of U.S. Drug Policy in Colombia

The Drug Policy Alliance's Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno talks about her new book.

"The whole premise of the war on drugs is that if you focus on the supply side, you'll solve all of the U.S.'s problems with problematic drug use," says Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. But "no matter how much money you put into fighting organized crime, there are always going to be new leaders ready to step into the shoes of those who've been arrested."

The failure of that supply-side approach is an overarching theme in McFarland's new book, There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia. It recounts the bloody aftermath of cocaine trafficker Pablo Escobar's death, when the Colombian military, surviving drug lords, left-wing terrorists, and paramilitary groups vied for power. Focusing on three individuals who helped expose the atrocities and win justice, the book examines the impact of U.S. intervention in Colombia's drug trade.

Before joining the Drug Policy Alliance last September, McFarland spent over a decade as a drug policy analyst at Human Rights Watch.

Reason's Nick Gillespie sat down with McFarland recently in New York City

Edited by Mark McDaniel, graphics and introduction by Todd Krainin.

Music: Modem by Kai Engel. All music licensed under Creative Commons. (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US.)

Photo credits: JAIVER NIETO/El Tiempo de Colombia/Newscom, Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Newscom, Tracy Barbutes/ZUMA Press/Newscom.

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  • loveconstitution1789||

    You can call me "El Hefe".

  • Jerryskids||

    The failure of the supply-side approach to fighting the drug war is an overarching theme in McFarland's new book, There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia.

    See, Jeff Sessions is right to go after the demand side. Arrest all drug users and give them long prison sentences, that's the way you take care of the drug problem. And just think of the economic stimulus from all the new infrastructure we'll have to build to house these millions of prisoners!

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    After watching Sicario I am convinced putting the Medellín back in power is our only hope.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    This could be part one of "How the US imposed its own drug war on...."

  • Number 2||

    But what the hell, let's ban guns...because banning alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and heroin has worked out so well.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    And unlicensed drivers, plumbers, and barbers!

  • Inigo Montoya||

    The worst thing the government could ever do to all the drug cartels is to legalize drugs and pull the rug right out form under them.

    How much bootlegging continued to go on after the repeal of Prohibition? No doubt many bootleggers didn't just quit crime and go straight. They probably expanded into things like drug running, prostitution, and unlicensed gambling (all of which should also be made legal).

    Of course you'll always have some criminal element. Even if you legalize every conceivable "vice," you'd still have people trying to profit via theft, or kidnapping, or murder-for-hire, extortion rackets, etc. -- but why not take away MOST of these idiots' toys? Don't make it easy for them, for crying out loud!

    This is one area where statists and nannies really don't get it. Even the ones that are onboard with pot (usually rubbing their hands in anticipation of all the tax dollars it can generate), still want to control the decision-making of other adults when it comes to other forms of "entertainment" they personally don't agree with. And that leaves criminals laughing all the way to the bank.

  • Flinch||

    If it wasn't a goal at its inception, the war on drugs was probably quickly turned into a cash cow for black ops cold war projects, followed by various forms of mission creep or complete drift. As usual, the declassification will only occur after all the principals are dead and buried, so nobody goes to jail and their families can continue to do business in the halls of government. If we can live another 4 decades, we might be able to find out, barring some type of Venona event shaking things up at an earlier date. By demonizing select agrarians and chemists politically, government could steal alot of cash and... what were the victims to do, show up in court to confirm their [prohibited] activities by filing a lawsuit? So... the 'cartels' set about infiltrating the US government, screwing up policy and operations to the point where congress hovers close to single digit approvals and we just had a sitting AG gifting mexican drug lords guns while calling it a 'sting' operation on the 44th presidents watch. Not saying the beneficiaries were the ones that necessarily organized it, but it could have been a purposely botched operation to move some players operating outside the US to a new level.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Christianofascist murder and looting is a war on individual rights and economic freedom. True, their pseudoscience lobbies today currently focus on hallucinations mysticism causes the gullible to experience at the thought of anything that could bring even a momentary smile to anyone's face. But these things change. In 1933, German christianofascists decided those selfish Jews might be smiling or happy--and by comparison, they were!
    Democrat and Republican prohibitionists send Americans with guns and money to thwart democracy in Colombia and elsewhere. This causes economic collapse which results in waves of refugees those mystical politicians exploit for more xenophobic support. Comprende?

  • Flinch||

    Fighting crime is all about methodology. It occurred to me that if the government applied the same problem solving logic to all crime as we see used in the alleged "war on drugs", the stupidity would emerge crystal clear: our law enforcement would be blaming women for rape, and spend their waking moments chasing them down if they appeared in public without proper authorization or in prescribed venues. That's a pretty obnoxious thought, and it should be. Humanitarian arguments from voters would spring forth to shout down the fools in charge with tremendous velocity. Politicians would be removed from office.
    That little though might be all we need to know about the idiocy of Nixon's brand of legalism.

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