Flash Points

Themed journeys through our archive.

Inside the Drug Trade in the Americas

From Colombia’s coca fields to the United States’ courts.

A farmer fumigates fields of coca in Colombia.
A farmer fumigates fields of coca in Colombia.
A farmer fumigates fields of coca in a remote community in Tumaco, Colombia, on July 20. Christina Noriega for Foreign Policy

For decades, the U.S.-led war on drugs has sought to snuff out the illegal drug trade. But the cultivation, production, and trafficking of illicit drugs has continued to flourish in the Americas despite Washington’s well-funded security initiatives, from Plan Colombia to the Mérida Initiative.

In this edition of Flash Points, we take you through the drug trafficking routes in the Americas, from Colombia to Guatemala to the United States. Our essays and reportage explore the roots of the drug trade, the efforts to combat it, and the growing—and controversial—debate around decriminalization.—Chloe Hadavas

Colombia’s Radical New Approach to Cocaine

The Petro administration plans to pour money into rural communities to stop the drug trade at its source, Christina Noriega writes.

For decades, the U.S.-led war on drugs has sought to snuff out the illegal drug trade. But the cultivation, production, and trafficking of illicit drugs has continued to flourish in the Americas despite Washington’s well-funded security initiatives, from Plan Colombia to the Mérida Initiative.

In this edition of Flash Points, we take you through the drug trafficking routes in the Americas, from Colombia to Guatemala to the United States. Our essays and reportage explore the roots of the drug trade, the efforts to combat it, and the growing—and controversial—debate around decriminalization.—Chloe Hadavas


A worker carries a bag of coca leaves.
A worker carries a bag of coca leaves.

A worker carries a bag of coca leaves in Vallenato, Colombia, on Nov. 10, 2018.LUIS ROBAYO/AFP via Getty Images

Colombia’s Radical New Approach to Cocaine

The Petro administration plans to pour money into rural communities to stop the drug trade at its source, Christina Noriega writes.


Members of the anti-drug squad of Guatemala's Civil National Police transport around a ton of cocaine seized in Peten, a department on the border with Mexico, at an Air Force base in Guatemala City, Guatemala, on Jan. 25, 2004.
Members of the anti-drug squad of Guatemala's Civil National Police transport around a ton of cocaine seized in Peten, a department on the border with Mexico, at an Air Force base in Guatemala City, Guatemala, on Jan. 25, 2004.

Members of the anti-drug squad of Guatemala’s Civil National Police transport around a ton of cocaine seized in Peten, a department on the border with Mexico, at an Air Force base in Guatemala City, Guatemala, on Jan. 25, 2004. ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images

From Cocaine Cowboys to Narco-Ranchers

As the drug trade takes over Central America, Saul Elbein writes, drug barons have found an increasingly reliable option for laundering their cash: cows.


Military police gather at an early morning murder, one of numerous murders over a 24 hour period, on March 26, 2010 in Juarez, Mexico.
Military police gather at an early morning murder, one of numerous murders over a 24 hour period, on March 26, 2010 in Juarez, Mexico.

Military police gather at an early morning murder, one of numerous murders over a 24 hour period, on March 26, 2010 in Juarez, Mexico. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Why Mexico’s Drug Trade Is So Violent

A new book clears away the many cliches that have come to shroud the transnational business in illegal drugs, Ann Deslandes writes.


Members of the Guerrero Community Police
Members of the Guerrero Community Police

Members of the Guerrero Community Police patrol for drug cartels in Mexico’s Guerrero state on March 24, 2018. PEDRO PARDO/AFP via Getty Images

Legalization Advocates Hope to End Mexico’s Drug War

Threats, violence, and clampdowns have failed, Justin Ling writes. Can decriminalization work?


Members of the Honduran police special forces stand outside the home of former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández in Tegucigalpa on Feb. 15.
Members of the Honduran police special forces stand outside the home of former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández in Tegucigalpa on Feb. 15.

Members of the Honduran police special forces stand outside the home of former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández in Tegucigalpa on Feb. 15. ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP via Getty Images

Hernández’s Arrest Won’t Stop the Drug War

Washington continues to empower repressive and corrupt Latin American governments through flawed security initiatives, Jared Olson writes.

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