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The term “narcoterrorism” is often attributed to Peru's president Belaunde Terry in 1983, to describe attacks by cocaine traffickers against the police, who suspected that the Maoist rebel group, Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) , had found common ground with cocaine traffickers.

It has been used to mean violence waged by drug producers to extract political concessions from the government. The most famous example of this was the battle waged in the 1980s by Pablo Escobar, head of the Medellin drug cartel, against the Colombian government by way of assassinations, hijackings and bombings. Escobar wanted Colombia to revise its extradition treaty, which it eventually did.

Narcoterrorism has also been used to refer to groups understood to have political intentions that engage in or support drug trafficking to fund their activities. Groups such as the Colombian FARC and the Taliban in Afghanistan, among others, fall into this category. On paper, references to narcoterrorism of this sort suggest that trafficking merely funds a distinct political agenda. In fact, the drug trafficking and armed violence by group members can become an autonomous activity to which politics is secondary.

In this case, the only distinction between narcoterrorists and criminal gangs is the label.

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