Why do narcos invest in rural land?


For decades, cocaine trafficking has been a key factor in accelerating the social and ecological transformation of rural landscapes across Latin America. In this review article, we explain why and how. Drawing from scholarly, journalistic, and policy sources we identify and theorize the political-economic logics and grounded processes underlying the pervasive nexus of agrarian change, clandestine activities, and illicit capital. We first outline three key elements of the political economic context that create and enable land acquisition by drug traffickers. We then elucidate narcos' multiple motives for acquiring, transforming, and holding rural landed property. Ultimately, we make a case for understanding drug traffickers as a “narco-bourgeoisie” due to their use of cocaine profits to establish and extend private property relations into erstwhile communal and protected lands that were previously unavailable for capital accumulation. We argue that theorizing drug traffickers in this way better captures the relationship between drug control policy and capitalism, and the role of illicit capital in land use change.

Publication Type
Journal Article
Kendra McSweeney
Nazih Richani
Zoe Pearson
Jennifer Devine
David J. Wrathall
Journal of Latin American Geography

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