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Pablo Cáceres Corrales: “Narcotics Trafficking is Just Another Superstructure of Globalization”

Updated: Aug 13, 2023

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School.

The intellectual, political, social, economic, environmental, and cultural ideas behind narcotics trafficking are front-loaded with Western constructs. This vision has often been imposed by force across the world and more particularly in developing countries directly tied to the geopolitics and international political economy of narcotrafficking. Dr. Pablo Cáceres Corrales, a Colombian scholar and expert in comparative law, is a refreshing voice—a revisionist who points the finger not at supply-and-demand debates but at the nature of the business of narcotics and its interdependence and interconnectivity with market globalization.

From his perspective, narcotrafficking is an essential part of the deregulated dynamic that allows the global capitalist system to navigate the thin line between formality and informality. Narcotics trafficking, he argues, is just one of the many superstructures allowing the global market system to operate on all cylinders. Narcotrafficking provides the ability to move money globally while at the same time laundering resources from the informal to the formal market.

As president of Colombia’s Superior Council of Judicature during the deadliest phase of the 1990s War on Drugs, Dr. Cáceres witnessed first-hand the intricacies of the international business world of narcotics trafficking. Understanding criminality and criminal organizations became an intellectual passion that led him to study its global history. During the pursuit of his doctoral degree, soon after retiring from the judicial branch, it became clear to him that the explanation for Colombia’s violent reality rested on the broader superstructures of globalization.

In his latest and thoroughly researched book, Las Formas Cambiantes de la Criminalidad [The Changing Forms of Criminality] (Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 2016) Cáceres introduces us to the broad magnitude and expansive tentacles of contemporary criminal organizations and their interconnectedness to the world-wide market system.

Pablo Cáceres Corrales

Global criminal organizations like cocaine trafficking groups, in his view, operate just like any of the multinational corporations spawned when global structural adjustments paved the way for neoliberalism in the late twentieth century. Capitalizing on neoliberal policies around the world—especially banking and financial deregulation—criminal organizations intertwined their activities with global formal/legal markets and slowly built new social, economic, political, and (I would add) environmental dynamics.

In an interview for Salamanca’s El Adelanto in January 2006, Justino Sanchón asked Cáceres: what is the problem of narcotics trafficking? Cáceres replied that, although many psychotropic drugs are sold over the counter, a sector of these drugs are reserved for criminal organizations [1]. After the Second World War, he explained, illegal drugs became not only a very lucrative business but also a political problem [2]. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, narcotics trafficking transformed into a sophisticated instrument for the accumulation of capital. Fumigation and eradication campaigns in places like Colombia, he argued, are just part of the propaganda machine to distract the public’s attention—locally and globally—from the reality of the problem.

Latin America Maritime Trafficking Map

CIA map from 1985 showing “Latin American Narcotics Connection, Maritime Trafficking.” Image courtesy of the Library of Congress. Click the image above to see a larger version of the map.

From his perspective, narcotics trafficking is here to stay because it is an integral part of market globalization. All the more so, now that large multinational corporations use the dirty money to position themselves in strategic markets across the world [3]. Narcotics trafficking, he suggests, will not end until multinational corporations stop using the dirty money that is crucial for the advancement of their international business strategy [4]. But trafficking may be impossible to curtail due to its symbiotic relationship with global capitalism [5]. Crime, like any other successful international business, has the capability to adapt quickly and change every day if necessary [6]. Narcotics trafficking has proven able to adjust to the local-global dynamics of the market system. Narco-capitalists influence the political, social, economic, and environmental realities of every targeted market, diversify their portfolios of products in response to market demands, and capitalize on the deregulated systems structured by neoliberal polities.

It is through the eyes of scholars like Dr. Cáceres that we can see the other side of the coin. The narrow vision resulting from Western constructs and understandings of narcotics trafficking and criminal organizations impedes us from seeing the global picture, and, more particularly, the symbiosis that exits between formal and informal markets. The solution to the problem of narcotics trafficking will not be found by controlling either supply or demand; it may only be found by reconsidering the dynamics of contemporary global capitalism.

Stay tuned in June for part two of this post, when we will dig deeper into Dr. Cáceres’s research and sink our teeth into the actual symbiosis between neoliberal global capitalism and narcotrafficking.



[1] Justino Sanchón, “El narcotráfico no se va a acabar porque es indispensable en la economía globalizada,” El Adelanto, Jan. 15, 2006, p. 10–11.

[2] Sanchón, “El narcotráfico no se va a acabar.”

[3] Sanchón, “El narcotráfico no se va a acabar.”

[4] Sanchón, “El narcotráfico no se va a acabar.”

[5] Sanchón, “El narcotráfico no se va a acabar.”

[6] Sanchón, “El narcotráfico no se va a acabar.”

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