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Architecture of Drug Trafficking: Network Forms of Organisation in the Colombian Cocaine Trade

NCJ Number
Global Crime Volume: 8 Issue: 3 Dated: August 2007 Pages: 233-259
Michael Kenney
Date Published
August 2007
27 pages
This article draws on primary and secondary data in Colombia and the United States in order to analyze the organizational form and functioning of Colombian drug trafficking networks.
Based on his analysis of the data, the author argues that over the past 25 years the United States' drug-war strategy has been based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the Colombian drug trade. The strategy has stemmed from the belief that the Colombian cocaine trade has been controlled by a few massive, price-fixing cartels. The dismantling of these cartels has been the focus of U.S. drug law enforcement strategy for countering the Colombian cocaine trade. This article maintains that the Colombian cocaine trade has been characterized by a fluid social system with flexible exchange networks that expand and contract in response to market opportunities and regulatory constraints. This durable elastic structure developed over many years as entrepreneurs built their enterprises through personal contacts, repeated exchanges, and resources they accumulated gradually. They drew on socioeconomic traditions, such as contraband smuggling, that extended far back into Colombia's colonial past. Nodes in Colombian drug trafficking networks consist of individuals and groups. Some nodes, such as brokers who facilitate transactions between various parties, are individuals; others, including smuggling rings and distribution cells that transport and sell drugs, are composed of several individuals who function as a unit. These social networks of individuals and groups are embedded within and across larger organizational networks. In contrast to centralized hierarchies that feature tight interactions between units and formal decisionmaking hierarchies (cartels), social networks decentralize decisionmaking authority and rely on brokers and intermediaries to buffer entrepreneurs themselves from direct complicity in criminal activity. The Colombian National Police has currently targeted more than 300 "kingpins" for capture, an indication that the cartel concept was flawed from the beginning. 52 notes


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