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Cocaine Smuggling Through The Decades

Updated on January 2, 2015

International Drug Routes



The cocaine smuggling pioneers of the 1950’s were known as couriers for small scale production and the trafficking of cocaine, which originated from Peru, Bolivia, Cuba, Chile, Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina (Gootenburg, 2010). The early cocaine smuggling pioneers were made up of coca farmers, “organized trafficking rings,” couriers, chemists, and business consumers (Gootenburg, 2010, p. 245). Networking efforts from all of these entities contributed to cocaine’s transformation into a global illicit market. The narco-traffickers of the 1970’s benefited from the repression of cocaine in numerous countries and the military coup of Chile brought on the violent and extremely organized drug industry in Colombia.

Grace Line Ship
Grace Line Ship | Source

Cocaine Smuggling, 1940s

In the 1940’s, cocaine smuggling was individually conducted and was known as “anthill smuggling” for travelers, merchants, and sailors, travelling across borders with a few ounces in their pockets (Gootenburg, 2010, p. 252). Moving into the late 1940’s, law enforcement began to notice a pattern for cocaine smuggling and conducted multiple under cover operations and arrests. For example, the Santa Cecilia, a Grace Line Ship, assisted in the transportation of a pound of cocaine, resulting in the arrest of Ralph Roland in New Jersey. From 1945-1947, law enforcement carried out eight ship seizures for illegal cocaine and all of them had ties to Peru, highlighting an emerging trend for cocaine smuggling.

By 1948, credible sources suggested cocaine was transforming from individual use to a more organized network of cocaine smugglers from Latin America. According to sources, a popular smuggling route started from El Callao, Peru, Chile and Bolivia, all conducting direct runs to the United States (Gootenburg, 2010). A prominent trafficking pioneer, Eduardo Balarezo, worked on a Grace Line Ship and began smuggling cocaine from Peru to the United States. His business expanded into an organized trafficking ring, using two couriers to assist in the drug trafficking business and eventually transported “50 kilos of pure cocaine a month” (Gootenburg, 2010, p. 255). Balarezo’s pioneering efforts led to the development of an “International Cocaine Smuggling Ring” with numerous ties throughout New York, Puerto Rico, and Peru (Gootenburg, 2010, p. 255).

During the 1940’s, legal cocaine production became an illegal industry causing many cocaine factories to shut down and arrests of chemists and businessmen who continued to sell cocaine on the black market or manufacturers who sold cocaine to illicit drug traffickers (Gootenburg, 2010). Due to the transitional period in Peru, many Peruvians moved their legal cocaine business to Bolivia such as Andres Avelino Soberon. Intelligence reports suggested Soberon owned cocaine laboratories and manufactured large amounts of cocaine in Bolivia. In the early 1950’s, Bolivia continued to see illicit cocaine laboratories emerge with assistance from Bolivians, Peruvians, Cuban, and Chilean traffickers.

Geography of the region.
Geography of the region. | Source

Chilean Coup 1973



Continuing into the 1950’s, Peru no longer played a pivotal role in the cocaine industry due to ongoing anti-cocaine initiatives. Although, emerging cocaine labs in Bolivia stimulated the cocaine industry and the development of an infamous cocaine syndicate known as the Huasaff-Harb clan. The Huasaff-Harb clan created a family business out of the production of cocaine with countless connections from Bolivia, law enforcement from Chile, and political links to the chief of the National Identification Service. This well-connected family became an organized drug trafficking ring and made an enterprise in the cocaine business, contributing to the growth of the cocaine market in Chile. Some of the clan members were eventually arrested and led to the uncovering of their sizeable cocaine laboratory and their affiliated networks throughout Bolivia and the United States (Gootenburg, 2010). Unfortunately, the downfall of the Huasaff clan stimulated the spread of the cocaine industry into a thriving enterprise and employed hundreds of Chilean workers. By the mid 1960’s, Chile emerged as one of three largest transit locations for cocaine trafficking. Chile’s coup in 1973, played a major role in transferring the cocaine industry out of Chile and into Colombia.

During the 1950’s and 1960’s, the illicit cocaine industry began to bloom from individual traffickers conducting small-scale production to the development of organized trafficking rings on a global scale. During this time-frame, numerous countries across the globe participated in the trafficking of illicit cocaine such as Peru, Bolivia, Cuba, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and the United States. Internal turmoil in most of these countries such as coups, revolutions, and repression helped facilitate the distribution of cocaine to more favorable regions, creating a new wave of trafficking competition, capabilities, and smuggling techniques, ultimately leading to the narco-traffickers of the 1970’s. (Gootenburg, 2010).

Pablo Escobar: Founder of Medellin Cartel, Infamous Colombian Druglord

Deceased. | Source


The fundamental differences between the cocaine traffickers of the 1950s and 1960s, and the narco-traffickers of the 1970’s was the development and establishment of the cocaine industry, and the degree of organization between the two entities. The 1950’s and 1960’s witnessed small-scale cocaine production into semi-organized drug rings throughout the global community. The narco-traffickers of the 1970’s emerged due to the wave of military regimes, restrictions and coups arcos South America, allowing the cocaine industry to thrive in Colombia. For example, before the Chilean coup in 1973, the Chilean traffickers were beginning to embed Colombian smugglers and couriers into the cocaine business. The Chilean coup severely disrupted the cocaine trafficking routes and diverted smuggling operations into Leticia, Colombia. By 1973, twelve hundred kilos were being transported annually to Colombia. The thousands of peasant workers from Bolivia and Peru allowed the cocaine industry in Colombia to thrive. The narco-traffickers were able to branch out to major cities throughout the US, while violently eliminating the Cuban middlemen in the process. In the 1970’s, the Colombian’s rapidly improved the cocaine enterprise by flourishing off of coca production in the Andean region and innovative ways of refining cocaine. By 1975, the Colombians were exporting four tons of cocaine a year to New York and Miami through sea vessels. The Colombian narco-traffickers built an enterprise of “60 to 80 major criminal organizations,” each with 50-100 members participating in the drug industry.

End Remarks

Through the 1950’s and into the 1970’s, the trafficking of cocaine transformed from individual smuggling operations to semi-organized drug rings to extremely organized and violent trafficking of cocaine implemented by the Colombians. Throughout the years, internal turmoil, repression, and especially the Chilean coup played a large role in the transfer of the cocaine industry to more favorable regions throughout the global community and eventually in the hands of the Colombians. The Colombians transformed the cocaine business into a violent and well-organized drug trade, producing a hundred tons of cocaine a year by 1980.


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    • AdoptionNetwork profile image

      Your Adoption Gateway 3 years ago

      Thanks! It is scary, the high supply and demand of cocaine led to the creation of dangerous drug cartels, drug rings and even has connections with terrorist organizations!

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 3 years ago from Planet Earth

      Yikes! It's scary to see how long this smuggling has been going on in the world. And also scary to see how long humans have turned to the substance & become addicted. Voted up & interesting!