The Extradition Treaty Failed: The Current State of Institutional Drift

By Josh Treacher

The United States government historically has been known to create significant ties (whether forced or otherwise) with Latin American countries, particularly when the Cold War peaked interest in the actions of communist groups. A particularly significant institutional link that was formed happened between the CIA/US government and the government/intelligence agencies of Colombia.

The concept of analysing small institutional changes over time has been focused on by Mahoney and Thelen, where they note that slow and small changes "can be equally consequential for patterning human behaviour and for shaping substantive political outcomes." One form of institutional change they describe, drift, is applicable to the small, long-term institutional changes that occurred in Colombia. Drift is where an institution remains unchanged officially but experiences a different level of enforcement and impact as conditions surrounding it change.

Since 1971, when Nixon publicly announced the "War on Drugs", and particularly from the 1980's when an extradition treaty between the US and Colombia was signed in 1979, the amount of support and communication between these two governments has grown steadily in the aim to reduce cocaine production in Colombia. Support towards financing the national military against paramilitary drug cartels grew over time and more recently has culminated in the form of Plan Colombia.

The main objective of the Plan, to halve the production of cocaine in the country within five year, failed but it has been successful in reducing the regional control drug cartels had where the state should have, and has done so through the extradition of several of their leaders. But what initially caused the cartels to wage war against the government has now led to a new passive indifference. As the capacity to bribe officials has tipped from being successful in Colombia to the US, traffickers are willing to be extradited, as they can bribe their way to a short-term sentence, retainment of drug money and the ability to set up shop in the US later.