Political And Economic Significance

Although drug cultivators, transportation workers, processors, laboratory workers, middlemen, and smugglers receive their wages, the majority of the money made in the drug business remains in the consuming country or is invested in off-shore banking havens. Drug-producing countries do not normally offer attractive long-term investment opportunities. Countries such as Peru, Bolivia, Myanmar, and Afghanistan have troubled economies, which do not attract traffickers' investment portfolios; rather, traffickers spend money on luxury items, such as foreign real estate and automobiles, race horses, gambling houses, yachts, clothes, and jewels.

In the Golden Triangle and the Golden Crescent, drug production and trafficking offer a primary cash crop for food and the support of political (antigovernment) operations. Resistance groups in

"Drug czar" Barry McCaffrey (left) meets Mexican Foreign Minister Rosario Green (second left), Attorney General Janet Reno (center), and Mexican Attorney General Jorge Madrazo Cuellar before the opening of the U.S.-Mexico Drug Strategy Conference, December 15, 1998, in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)

Afghanistan and Pakistan and insurgent tribes in the Golden Triangle use the profits from the sale of opium to buy rice and the arms to fight the central governments. Politically speaking, illicit-drug production and trafficking offer a viable means of acquiring wealth, which can be instrumental in buying power and influence. In some countries, the traffickers and insurgent groups may be identical (such as the Wa or the Shan United Army of Burma); in others, insurgency and trafficker goals may be diametrically opposed (such as the Cali cartel and the FARC in Colombia). Most trafficker organizations work to coopt the government and maintain the status quo, buy power and protection, and keep a low profile; insurgent groups, however, seek to be highly visible and wish to change the existing power structure. Despite the opposing objectives of both, traffickers and insurgents often function symbiotically; that is, both need hard currency, security, protection, and armed support to evade detection and apprehension.

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