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Panaman leader Manuel Noriega, following his arrest by U.S. authorities.

Narco-state (also narco-capitalism or narco-economy[a]) is a political and economic term applied to countries where all legitimate institutions become penetrated by the power and wealth of the illegal drug trade.[2] The term was first used to describe Bolivia following the 1980 coup of Luis García Meza 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 (in ascending order): incipient, developing, serious, critical, and advanced.[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]


United Kingdom[edit]

United Kingdom has been called the first narco-state: thanks to the Opium Wars, the UK became a powerful force in the traffic of illegal drugs.[7]


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.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10]


Corruption within the Mexican government has been a problem within Mexico for decades. The Mexican cartels have been known to be quite influential within Mexican politics, going so far as to pump large sums of money into Mexican electoral campaigns.[11] As far back as the early 20th century, drug trafficking had been tolerated by the Mexican government. Since 1929, the dominant party of Mexico, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) forged ties with various groups in order to gain political influence. Among them were the drug traffickers. The ties between the PRI and the drug lords became so close that the PRI even went so far as to have an alliance with the drug traffickers and sanctioned their activities.

The beginning of the Mexican Drug War in 2006 was the first time any significant government effort took place to fight the drug cartels in Mexico and was initiated by Mexico's newly elected president, Felipe Calderón. Calderón's predecessor, Vicente Fox, who was elected in 2000, marked the first time Mexico had a president who was not from the PRI.

However, despite Calderón's efforts, the PRI was returned to power in 2012 with the election of Enrique Peña Nieto.

During the court hearing for the most wanted cartel leader, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, it was alleged that former president Enrique Peña Nieto had accepted a $100 million bribe from the drug kingpin.[12]

On December 1, 2018, Mexico elected a new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). Despite presenting himself as being non-establishment, AMLO was a member of the PRI from 1976 to 1989.


Suriname has been labelled as narco-state due to President Dési Bouterse and his family involvement in drug trafficking. Bouterse was sentenced in absentia in the Netherlands to 11 years' imprisonment after being convicted of trafficking 474 kg (1,045 lb) of cocaine.[13] His son Dino Bouterse has been arrested twice in three different countries and currently serving 16 years imprisonment in the United States on charge of drug trafficking.


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.[14] The nephews and sons of Venezuela's president Nicolas Maduro are also being accused of financing drug trades and being involved in the Narcosobrinos affair. In November 2017, the United States's UN ambassador Nikki Haley accused Venezuela of being a "dangerous narco-state".[15]

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. Latham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield. pp. 48–61. ISBN 9781442247581. OCLC 1026718619.
  5. ^ Vulliamy, Ed (2008-03-09). "How a tiny West African country became the world's first narco state". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2018-01-28.
  6. ^ Chouvy, Pierre-Arnaud (2016). "The myth of the narco-state". Space & Polity. 20 (Issue 1: Drugs, law, people, place and the state: ongoing regulation, resistance and change): 26–38. doi:10.1080/13562576.2015.1052348.
  7. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ 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.'"
  9. ^ Vulliamy, Ed (2008-03-09). "How a tiny West African country became the world's first narco state". The Guardian.
  10. ^ "How Not to Fix an African Narco-State".
  11. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ "NOVA – detail – Nieuws – Hoge raad bevestigt veroordeling bouterse". Archived from the original on 2013-10-05. Retrieved 2012-06-09.
  14. ^ "US accuses Venezuelan vice-president of role in global drug trafficking". The Guardian. London. Associated Press. 2017-02-14. Retrieved 14 July 2019.
  15. ^ Evansky, Ben (2017-11-14). "Trump Administration praised by democracy activists for calling Venezuela a 'narco-state'". Fox News. Retrieved 14 July 2019.

Further reading[edit]

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