Colloquium with James F. Siekmeier, Thursday, March 4

  • Thursday, March 04, 2021
  • 1:00 PM
  • Virtual
  • 86



Before the Opioid Epidemic: Historical Origins of the War on Drugs in the Andes

James F. Siekmeier, Associate Professor of History, West Virginia University

The international war on drugs has cost billions of dollars and lives, and has resulted in many human rights violations, and threatened democracy in Latin America. The United States’ attempt to suppress/interdict illegal narcotics may be the biggest public policy failure in recent world history. To understand the current drug problem, policymakers and the general public need historical context, that (hopefully) my paper will provide.

This paper makes two main contributions to scholarship on the history of the international war on drugs in the Andes. First, with the end of the Cold War, the motivation of the United States to intervene in Latin America shifted from anti-communism to anti-illegal drug production/export. Second, Latin America nations leveraged the U.S. government’s obsession with fighting the drug war as a way to increase U.S. aid to their countries, which they used for their own self-interest—in the case of the Latin American militaries, to increase their size and power. 

By deciding on a supply-side solution to the war on drugs—attempting to suppress the production of illegal narcotics in the Andean nations, and attempting to interdict illegal drugs coming into the United States, the  U.S. war on drugs became militarized in the 1970s and 1980s. In the process, United States-Latin American relations became more strained, a legacy that lives on today.  


James F. Siekmeier received his doctorate in History from Cornell in 1993. He has taught in Washington, DC, Texas, Bolivia, and West Virginia. He has also compiled the American Republics volumes for the Foreign Relations of the United States series, the official documentary history of U.S. foreign relations put out by the State Department. He has published three books on US-Latin American relations, and a book on Latin American nationalism and globalization.


Society for History in the Federal Government
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