This month, season three of “Narcos” was released on Netflix. Such a good show right? Well I’ve got a big spoiler alert. Even though “Narcos” gives off an authentically historical feel, it actually does a poor job of accurately portraying Colombia and the drug war. Therefore, claiming that we have a deeper understanding of these two things just by watching Narcos is ignorant and complicit in the United States’ tendency to try to influence citizens through the entertainment industry. (Peep this article to see how the Pentagon has influenced major movies.)
Even to this day, the way that we in the West report on international issues is significantly biased and reflective of the views that the U.S. government has perpetuated. The Washington Post recently reported on how the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is trying to make the move from being a guerilla movement to a political party. The FARC was simply explained as a guerilla movement that “sowed a half-century of fear through kidnappings, bombings, extortion, and killings.” This is a gross oversimplification of one of the most important actors in Colombia since the 1960s.
Never mind the fact that “Narcos” largely ignores the FARC and chooses to focus on M-19 which, again, oversimplifies the political environment of Colombia at the time. The FARC was initially founded as communist peasant self-defense groups during a time of vast political violence known as La Violencia. At the height of the Cold War, however, the U.S. government perceived the FARC as a severe threat due to its communist ideology. Add that to the focus on the drug war and FARC was effectively labeled as a “narcoguerilla” which combined the fears of both communism and drugs. Therefore, we ignore the ideals for which FARC was founded such as political decentralization, nationalization of foreign businesses, and land redistribution. The FARC is not making the move towards being a political party because they already are and have been exactly that.
This is not to condone the horrific and violent acts carried out by the FARC in the past. Nor is it to say that we should formally recognize all groups that carry out violence in the name of certain values and ideals. We should just be more cognizant of the way our western biases can carry out in how we perceive and normalize certain views of international issues. Don’t take “Narcos” at face value and think it substitutes as a history lesson for Colombia and the drug war. Be aware of the (mostly racist and imperialist) role our own government played in Latin American countries during the Cold War and the War on Drugs and the negative implications it had for Latin Americans. Let us not fall into the trap of ethnocentrism if we want to be informed citizens and better advocates.
So go ahead and binge watch the third season on Netflix. I will be doing the same. Just know that in the end, it is all for entertainment.