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Narco-state (also narco-capitalism or narco-economy[a]) is a political and economic term applied to states where all legitimate institutions become penetrated by the power and wealth of the illegal drug trade.[2] The term was first used to describe following the 1980 coup of Luis García Meza in Bolivia which was seen to be primarily financed with the help of narcotics traffickers.[3]


It has been argued that narco-states can be divided into five categories depending on their level of dependence on the narcotics trade and the threat the narcotics trade in said country poses to domestic and international stability. These five categories are: incipient (e.g. Papua New Guinea, Iran ), developing (e.g. Senegal, Thailand), serious (e.g. Mexico, El Salvador, Jamaica), critical (e.g. Tajikistan, Peru, Colombia), and advanced (Afghanistan, Guinea-Bissau, North Korea, Venezuela and Myanmar).[4]

However, recent use of the term narco-state has been questioned by some for being too widely and uncritically applied, particularly following the widespread media attention given to Guinea-Bissau as "the world's first narco-state" in 2008,[5] and should instead refer only to those countries in which the narcotics trade is state-sponsored and constitutes the majority of a country's overall GDP.[6]



Guinea-Bissau, in West Africa, has been called a narco-state due to government officials often being bribed by traffickers to ignore the illegal trade.[7] Colombian drug cartels used the West African coast as Jamaica and Panama increased policing. The Guardian noted Guinea-Bissau's lack of prisons, few police, and poverty attracted the traffickers.[8] An article in Foreign Policy questioned the effectiveness of money from the United States, the European Union and the United Nations designated to combat the illegal trade.[9]


More recently, Venezuela has been labeled a narco-state, due to the relations between some Venezuelan government officials to drug cartels and criminal factions all across Latin America. For example, former vice president of Venezuela Tareck el Aissami has been accused of supporting drug trafficking and helping Mexican drug cartels. El Aissami has been sanctioned by the United States since 2017.[10] The nephews and sons of Venezuela's president Nicolas Maduro are also being accused of financing drug trades and we involved in the Narcosobrinos affair. In November 2017, the United States's UN ambassador Nikki Haley accused Venezuela of being a 'dangerous narco-state'.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The terms are standard words with the prefix "narco-", defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "associated with the trade in illegal drugs".[1]


  1. ^ "narco-". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ Islamic State of Afghanistan: Rebuilding a Macroeconomic Framework for Reconstruction and Growth (Report). International Monetary Fund. 2003.
  3. ^ Weiner, Matt (August 2004). An Afghan 'Narco-State'?: Dynamics, Assessment and Security Implications of the Afghan Opium Industry. Canberra Papers on Strategy and Defence (Report). Retrieved 2018-01-28.
  4. ^ Kan, Paul Rexton (2016). Drug Trafficking and International Security. Rowman and Littlefield. ISBN 9781442247581.
  5. ^ Vulliamy, Ed (2008-03-09). "How a tiny West African country became the world's first narco state". Retrieved 2018-01-28.
  6. ^ Chouvy, Pierre-Arnaud (2016). "The myth of the narco-state". Space & Polity. 20 (1): 26–38. Retrieved 2018-01-28.
  7. ^ Washington Post newspaper: Guinea-Bissau coup: Prime minister arrested for helping drug trade, military says 13 April 2012 "Analysts told the AP that in Guinea-Bissau, traffickers have bought off members of the government and military, turning the country into a 'narcostate.'"
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Further reading[edit]


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