Conference on Latin American History 37
Like any transnational business venture, issues of mobility and transport are critical factors in the operation of drug trade organizations. This panel examines drug trafficking as a broad-based logistics network of overlapping interests that move product across national boundaries. Modern drug trafficking is deeply rooted in history, extending to the colonial period as European power acquired territory and built lucrative mercantile empires that traded in opium, coffee, tobacco, sugar and other addictive crops. It linked the Americas to distant markets, forging paths across land and sea that persist today.
Drug traffickers in the Americas forged diverse mobilities that took advantage of new technologies to coordinate activities to ensure market demand is met. In the early twentieth century, smugglers adapted cars and airplanes to transport illegal goods; a process that continued as modern-day cartels deployed drones, submarines, and sophisticated tunnels. Traffickers also utilized low-tech, low cost solutions, such as individual drug mules and two-way radio receivers, to facilitate operations and resist government invention. In doing so, they created alternative “mobility regimes” that ran parallel to (and adapted) state infrastructures. This roundtable features panelists who approach the history of the drug trade in the Americas from the perspective of mobilities studies to articulate the activities of trafficking organizations across (and within) nation-states. They emphasize the complex and historical nature of these logistics networks as fragmented, but interlocking nodes of distribution and coordination in a global marketplace.