Cover of Drugs, Thugs, and Diplomats by Winifred Tate
Drugs, Thugs, and Diplomats
U.S. Policymaking in Colombia
Winifred Tate


June 2015
304 pages.
from $25.95

Cloth ISBN: 9780804792011
Paper ISBN: 9780804795661

Request Review/Desk/Examination Copy


Excerpts and More

In 2000, the U.S. passed a major aid package that was going to help Colombia do it all: cut drug trafficking, defeat leftist guerrillas, support peace, and build democracy. More than 80% of the assistance, however, was military aid, at a time when the Colombian security forces were linked to abusive, drug-trafficking paramilitary forces. Drugs, Thugs, and Diplomats examines the U.S. policymaking process in the design, implementation, and consequences of Plan Colombia, as the aid package came to be known.

Winifred Tate explores the rhetoric and practice of foreign policy by the U.S. State Department, the Pentagon, Congress, and the U.S. military Southern Command. Tate's ethnography uncovers how policymakers' utopian visions and emotional entanglements play a profound role in their efforts to orchestrate and impose social transformation abroad. She argues that U.S. officials' zero tolerance for illegal drugs provided the ideological architecture for the subsequent militarization of domestic drug policy abroad. The U.S. also ignored Colombian state complicity with paramilitary brutality, presenting them as evidence of an absent state and the authentic expression of a frustrated middle class. For rural residents of Colombia living under paramilitary dominion, these denials circulated as a form of state terror. Tate's analysis examines how oppositional activists and the policy's targets—civilians and local state officials in southern Colombia—attempted to shape aid design and delivery, revealing the process and effects of human rights policymaking.

About the authors

Winifred Tate is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Colby College and author of Counting the Dead: The Culture and Politics of Human Rights Activism in Colombia (2007).

"Here's the book we've been waiting for to help us make sense of the much debated Plan Colombia, from the national security bureaucracy in Washington to the coca fields in Colombia. Tate's fascinating account is a model for how to do an ethnography of foreign policymaking."

—Peter Andreas, Brown University

"Tate's book sets a new standard for the anthropological study of policymaking. A master ethnographer with deep experience, she tells the chilling story of how the militarization of U.S. drug policy, the mobilization of fear, the limitations of human rights lobbying, and the outsourcing of Colombian security to paramilitary forces all came together to produce a 'model aid plan' that, for most Colombians, was anything but. A tour de force of political acuity."

—Susan Greenhalgh, Harvard University

"Drugs, Thugs, and Diplomats is a rich and insightful analysis of the cultural dimensions of policy making, focusing on Plan Colombia, the massive US program of military and economic aid to Colombia. This book makes a major contribution to the exciting new field of the anthropology of policy."

—Sally Engle Merry, New York University

"Winifred Tate's Drugs, Thugs, and Diplomats: U.S. Policymaking in Colombia makes an interesting contribution not only to the field of the anthropology of policy but also to the understanding of Plan Colombia, one of the backbones of U.S. strategy in its War on Drugs in Latin America."

—Alejandro Castillejo-Cuéllar, American Anthropologist