by Project Censored
Published: Last Updated on

War has always been good for business, and the war on drugs is no exception. During the years of blustering “just say no” rhetoric and swelling drug enforcement budgets, American industry openly and legally collaborated with South America’s cocaine cartels, supplying the chemicals needed to turn coca leaves into cocaine.

The process requires a number of so-called precursor chemicals that are also used for hundreds of legitimate products (which is the implausible defense used by the chemical indus­try).

During the 1980s, American firms were the leading suppliers of these chemicals to South America. From 1982 to 1988, U.S. exports of the precursor chemicals to the Andean region doubled, and no one in government or business seemed even remotely curious why.

There ought to be a law, and there is, sort of: the Chemical Diversion and Trafficking Act, which was signed by Ronald Reagan in November 1988. The act went into effect in Febru­ary 1990 after two years of hearings and significant input from the chemical industry.

In fact, some critics of the legislation, like Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, would even say the industry’s lobbyists wrote it. “We looked at the law and saw the loopholes and contacted drug czar William Bennett’s office,” Reid says. “And he simply wasn’t concerned. He sent a form letter in response to my inquiry.”

In its final form, the antidiversion law allows the DEA to screen only the new customers of chemical companies and permits the agency just fifteen days to do so. “And we only get one shot,” says Gene Haislip, the DEA’s director of diversion control. Once cleared, a customer can’t be investigated again.

Since the controls have been implemented, the DEA has denied permission to seventy percent of new customers for these chemicals. In the first six months of 1990, U.S. chemical exports to South America dropped fifty percent.

Picking up the slack, however, is Germany, which has increased its exports to the region by over 400 percent in recent months.

In response to the German connection, legislation has been introduced which would empower the president to ban foreign companies that sell chemicals to the drug cartels from doing business in the U.S. While President Bush has yet to call for such a measure, an equally large question looms: While the media devotes so much coverage to the “war on drugs,” where were they during this battle?


SOURCE: ROLLING STONE, 745 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10151, DATE: 11/1/90

TITLE: “By Keeping the Chemicals Flowing, American Industry Kept the Cocaine Cartels In Business”


COMMENTS: Author Linda Feldman feels that the “chemical industry/cocaine connection” has been and continues to be a “censored” story. “The subject of American chemical companies legally selling the cocaine processing solvents to Colombia, to my knowledge,” said Feldman, “was covered only in the Los Angeles Times in December 1989, by writer Doug Jehl. I spoke to Mr. Jehl as part of my research to confirm his sources because he maintained that close to 90% of the solvents were diverted to the production of cocaine. As far as I know, no other article was published or story aired which discussed the American companies’ participation. The general public would benefit (from greater media exposure of the story) by learning that the same men­tality which drives businesses to sell poison gas and live bacteria to Iraq, nuclear weapons to unstable governments and irregular baby formula to Third World countries, is also behind the cocaine business. There is no doubt in my mind that cocaine processing would be a small time operation without American chemical companies. The irony that no law was broken only sup­ports the cynical attitude that someone else might step in and do the dirty act anyway. My original article also described the procedure by which coca is made into cocaine. It is pretty grisly. I’m not sure if we could save heavy users from themselves but I sure would bet that anyone considering trying this poison would think twice if they knew exactly how this stuff is manufactured. On the Federal level, Senators Harry Reid and John Kerry would welcome further media exposure of this story. Both of them voiced their frustration to me in not being able to get support for tougher legislation unhampered by chemical company influence.” Feldman con­cludes with a warning of what might happen to investigative journalists who rock the boat. “Whatever you decide, I am grateful to you (Project Censored) for at least recognizing the importance of the story. The fact it was censored twice makes it more compelling for other writers to pick up their pens. (I might add that I was notified by GTE that the FBI subpoenaed my phone records for the first six months of 1990 and although I can’t prove it and the agent I spoke with denied the relationship, I feel there is a connection between my investigation into cocaine chemicals and the investigation by the FBI.)”