PBS Premiere: July 19, 2011Check the broadcast schedule »

In Context

A boom in the illegal drug industry in the 1980s benefited both guerrilla and paramilitary groups, which either worked directly in the business or provided security for drug traffickers. Experts estimate that the FARC takes in between $500 million and $600 million annually from drug-related income. It's also been estimated that Colombia provides as much as 80 percent of the world's cocaine, as well as a significant amount of heroin.

The so-called "war on drugs" launched by Nixon 40 years ago and orchestrated by the United States ever since has been instrumental to Colombia's drug-related violence. While policymakers at the time believed that harsh law enforcement would lead to a diminishing market, the scale of the global drug market has dramatically increased instead. According to the June 2011 Report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, drug prohibition has failed to have impact on global consumption of drugs. The report criticizes the war on drugs for inadvertently creating black markets and criminal networks that resort to violence and corruption to carry out their business. The report cites U.N. estimates that opiate use increased 34.5 percent worldwide and cocaine use 27 percent from 1998 to 2008, while the use of cannabis, or marijuana, was up 8.5 percent.

Photo Caption: Cocaine drug packs confiscated by the U.S. federal agency DEA
Credit: Public Domain

» Cato Institute. "Report: 'The Global War on Drugs Has Failed.'"
» Council on Foreign Relations. "FARC, ELN: Colombia's Left-Wing Guerrillas."
» Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. "COLOMBIA: Government response improves but still fails to meet needs of growing IDP population."
» NPR. "Timeline: America's War on Drugs."
» Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict. "Colombia's War on Children."
» WideAngle. "An Honest Citizen."