Maritime Interdiction in the War on Drugs in Colombia: Practices, Technologies and Technological Innovation

Maritime Interdiction in the War on Drugs in Colombia: Practices, Technologies and Technological Innovation

Javier Enrique Guerrero Castro

Thesis for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy Science and Technology Studies, University of Edinburgh, 2016 - 2017-07-05

Since the early 1990s, maritime routes have been considered to be the main method used by Colombian smugglers to transport illicit drugs to consumer or transhipment countries. Smugglers purchase off the shelf solutions to transport illicit drugs, such as go-fast boats and communication equipment, but also invest in developing their own artefacts, such as makeshift submersible and semisubmersible artefacts, narcosubmarines. The Colombian Navy has adopted several strategies and adapted several technologies in their attempt to control the flows of illicit drugs. In this research I present an overview of the ‘co-evolution’ of drug trafficking technologies and the techniques and technologies used by the Colombian Navy to counter the activities of drug smugglers, emphasizing the process of self-building artefacts by smugglers and local responses by the Navy personnel. The diversity of smugglers artefacts are analysed as a result of local knowledge and dispersed peer-innovation. Novel uses of old technologies and practices of interdiction arise as the result of different forms of learning, among them a local form of knowledge ‘malicia indigena’ (local cunning). The procurement and use of interdiction boats and operational strategies by the Navy are shaped by interaction of two arenas: the arena of practice - the knowledge and experience of local commanders and their perceptions of interdiction events; and, the arena of command, which focuses on producing tangible results in order to reassert the Navy as a capable counterdrug agency. This thesis offers insights from Science and Technology Studies to the understanding of the ‘War on Drugs, and in particular the Biography of Artefacts and Practices, perspective that combines historical and to ethnographic methods to engage different moments and locales. Special attention was given to the uneven access to information between different settings and the consequences of this asymmetry both for the research and also for the actors involved in the process. The empirical findings and theoretical insights contribute to understanding drug smuggling and military organisations and enforcement agencies in ways that can inform public policies regarding illicit drug control.

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