HSTLAC 280 A: Drug Wars in Latin America

Winter 2022
TTh 8:30am - 10:20am / RAI 121
Section Type:
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

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Any mention of the Drug War or the Drug Trade immediately conjure images of unrestrained violence, corruption, and criminality in Latin America. That is, once again countries south of the US border are depicted in global news outlets and popular media as inherently chaotic and self-destructive. This course will take on a historical reading of the local, regional, and global politics and economic dynamics that render certain mood-altering substances legal while others are subjected to serious state surveillance or are outright criminalized at different moments in time. We will investigate the long-standing colonial logics that organize the geographies of drug production and trade, rendering some areas more vulnerable to spectacular forms of violence

The class explores the business side of the Trade and the War against it, especially in the twentieth century, to unearth the forces of production, market, transportation, investment, and consumption that make these endeavors so profitable. We will elucidate how this so-called informal economy is, in fact, well entrenched within longstanding, powerful institutions such as political parties, militaries, police forces, and corporations (real state, hydroelectric power, agribusinesses, mining, forestry) as well as banking and finance organizations, all with extensive transnational links. We ask: who are ultimately benefiting from the apparent mayhem? Simultaneously, we will pay attention to the racialized, classed, and gender logics that shapes these processes.

The drug war indeed has unleashed terror and death. To many, it has led to dispossession, migration, and family disintegration, shaping everyday life in fundamental ways. For some others, it has afforded upward mobility, authority, and consumption power. We will explore the forms of cultural expression that register these transformations and its affects (i.e. fear, disorientation, frustration) as well as has contributed to the production of new ethics and aspirations. Finally, this course aims to look at the work of individuals and communities that continue to confront and challenge the injustices and violence (s) they experience through their forms of everyday survival, direct political mobilization, and/or the arts.


This course will be a mix of weekly online lecture videos and online/in-person discussion sections of reading assignments. 


Students are evaluated through various means: discussion boards, online quizzes, short writing assignments, research assignments, and a final project. 

Catalog Description:
Analyses "War on Drugs" in Latin America as political, economic, and socio-cultural construct. Investigates local, regional and global dynamics rendering some mood-altering substances as legal while subjecting others to prohibitionist policies at different historical times. Explores racial, class and gender logics shaping these processes. Examines how informal economies are well entrenched within longstanding, transnational institutions.
GE Requirements Met:
Diversity (DIV)
Social Sciences (SSc)
Last updated:
April 11, 2024 - 9:21 pm