No country poses a more immediate narcotics threat to the United States than Mexico, according to the U.S. State Department. The 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexican border and the daunting volume of legitimate cross-border traffic provide near-limitless opportunities for smuggling illicit drugs, weapons, and proceeds of crime, and for escape by fugitives.
The United States has assisted the Mexican government in its counternarcotics efforts since 1973, providing about $350 million in aid. Since the later 1980s, U.S. assistance has centered on developing and supporting Mexican law enforcement efforts to stop the flow of cocaine from Colombia, the world’s largest supplier, into Mexico and onward to the United States.
Between fiscal years 1996 and 1997, the State Department provided about $11 million to support Mexican law enforcement efforts and plans to provide another $5 million in fiscal year 1998.
In January 1993, the government of Mexico initiated a new drug policy under which it declined U.S. counternarcotics assistance and assumed responsibility for funding its own counternarcotics efforts. This policy remained in effect until 1995 when, according to the State Department, economic conditions and the growing drug-trafficking threat prompted the Mexican government to again begin accepting U.S. counternarcotics assistance for law enforcement organizations.
Among other things, the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended, requires the President to certify annually that major drug-producing and -transit countries are fully cooperating with the United States in their counternarcotics efforts. As part of this process, the United States has established specific objectives for evaluating the performance of these countries. In 1997, the United States set the following objectives for evaluating Mexico’s counternarcotics cooperation as part of the 1998 certification process:
(1) reducing the flow of drugs into the United States from Mexico,
(2) disrupting and dismantling narco-trafficking organizations,
(3) bringing fugitives to justice,
(4) making progress in criminal justice and anticorruption reform,
(5) improving money laundering and chemical diversion control, and
(6) continuing improvement in cooperating with the United States.
In February 1998, the President certified Mexico as fully cooperating with the United States.
Without measures of effectiveness, it is difficult for U.S. decisionmakers to evaluate the progress that the United States and Mexico are making to reduce the flow of illegal drugs into the United States. We have previously noted the need for ONDCP to develop drug control plans that include performance measures to allow it to assess the effectiveness of antidrug programs.
The United States and Mexico issued a joint U.S.-Mexico binational drug strategy in February 1998. Although the binational strategy is indicative of increased U.S.-Mexico cooperation, it does not contain critical performance measures and milestones for assessing performance.
The History of US-Mexico Marijuana Trafficking
The most important illegal plants cultivated in Mexico were poppy and marijuana. Coca plantations did not exist. For many decades opium trafficking was the main source of Mexican traffickers’ revenues, the source of their primary accumulation. In the state of Sinaloa, people invented a special word, gomero, for opium traffickers. As David Musto says, even though there were some marijuana users in the thirties in the U.S.A., it was not until the sixties that marijuana consumption was generalised. The American authorities, especially Harry J. Anslinger, Chief of the Bureau of Narcotic Drugs (BND), were concerned about marijuana use in the U.S. There was a sort of marijuana hysteria in the media to which Anslinger contributed. The Marijuana Tax Act, to control the transportation and selling of the plant, was approved in 1937.
In the thirties, marijuana production could be counted already in tons in states like Puebla, Guerrero and Tlaxcala, and some of the alleged owners of the crops living in Mexico City, such as “Lola la Chata”, were suspected of being protected by high ranking members of the anti-narcotics police. At the same time, drug traffickers from the north-western region were making fortunes out of opium smuggling, developing their routes through Nogales, Mexicali, Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez. In Coahuila, according to the investigation report sent by special agent Juan Requena to the Mexican Department of Public Health, the most important opium trafficker, the Chinese Antonio Wong Yin, was a compadre of governor Nazario Ortiz Garza. Others were in close touch with general Jesús García Gutiérrez, who was in charge of military operations in the state. Similar situations were reported in a less precise way about governors from Baja California and Chihuahua. Doctor and General José Siurob, the Department of Public Health Chief, recognised in 1937 that anti-narcotic agents used to be paid with the drug they seized. Once, he said, a governor sent some cans of opium to his office, but when they were opened they contained only tar. There were obviously different levels of perception about the need to control drug trafficking and the seriousness of the drug control politics.
A political scandal of unknown proportions exploded in 1947 when General Pablo Macías Valenzuela, ex-Secretary of War and Navy and governor of the state of Sinaloa (1945-1950), was suspected of leading a drug trafficking ring or protecting the opium traffickers. The information was published by national newspapers such as Excélsior and El Universal. According to Jesús Lazcano Ochoa, Attorney General of Sinaloa in Valenzuela’s government, the governor had never even seen opium in his life until he showed him some samples seized from the traffickers. The Attorney General added that the accusations were inventions of his political enemies who also suspected him of having masterminded the assassination of his predecessor, Col. Rodolfo T. Loaiza (1941-1944), from the Lázaro Cárdenas group. The scandal cooled off after a private meeting with president Miguel Alemán, when he was on an official visit in Mazatlán, Sinaloa, six days after the first note appeared in the press against Valenzuela. The governor finished his term and became Commander of the 1st Military Zone (1951-1956). It was the first time the drug trafficking issue was used publicly and politically by one power elite group against another.
In 1947, the year the CIA was founded, President Alemán created the Security Federal Agency (Dirección Federal de Seguridad-DFS), a kind of President’s political police, also with the power of intervention in drug issues. That same year, drug policy, traditionally an attribution of the Department of Health, was transferred to the Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República-PGR). Reports from the American Embassy in Mexico to the Department of State in Washington remarked on the unreliable backgrounds of the people put at the head of the DFS, suspected of being involved or controlling drug trafficking. Among them, Senator (Distrito Federal) and Colonel Carlos I. Serrano, the real chief and brain behind the scenes, close friend of President Alemán.
Marijuana Traffickers and Politicians
It is important to note that, since the beginning of the drug business, the best known drug traffickers in Mexico were related in special official reports in Mexico and the U.S.A. to high ranking politicians. More precisely, these politicians were suspected of being directly involved in the illegal trade and even of controlling it. In that scenario, free-lancers or outsiders would not have any chances to build up their own networks and succeed in their efforts. The political system emerged after the Mexican revolution was a state party system, a social pyramid with the President at the top, concentrating powers over the legislative and the judicial branches. Governors’ fidelity – most of them military officers formed on the battlefields – was in many cases assured in exchange of a certain liberty to do any kind of business. The limits were the President’s will, their own entrepreneurial capacity, and their ethical dispositions. In that context, drug trafficking was just another profitable business that could be achieved by powerful members of the “revolutionary family”, because of the political positions occupied by some of them at a given moment. Controlled, tolerated or regulated by mighty politicians in northern states, drug trafficking seems to have been a business that was developed from within the power structure, and drug traffickers do not give the impression of having emerged as an early autonomous specialised social group, but rather as a new class of outlaws that depended closely on political and police protection and was banned from political activity, according to recent U.S.A. and Mexican archives and newspaper archives investigations.
Since the prohibition years in the twenties until 1947, governors from northern states where illicit plants were cultivated seem to have had an important and sometimes direct role in controlling drug trafficking and traffickers. After 1947, the DFS and the Federal Judicial Police (Policía Judicial Federal-PJF, depending on the PGR) as well as the army, became, more than before, the institutions responsible for fighting against the forbidden trade. Imputations on governors were transmuted into indictments against members of those institutions, protecting governors from an eventual political pressure because of drug affairs and leaving police agents and the military assuming the consequences of the dangerous and structural liaisons with drug traffickers. In a way, this new structure created an institutional mediation between drug traffickers and the political powers, groups who previously had a direct line of communication. On one hand, the drug business grew very quickly during the war years and did not stop in the aftermath. More social agents belonging to the power structure placed in strategic positions where business was booming had the possibility of making quick and easy profits, and so they did. But, on the other hand, police agents and the military also had the role of preventing drug traffickers from becoming completely autonomous or getting so wild as to go beyond certain limits of socially and historically tolerated violence. As long as the outlaws were politically controlled, federal agents could get a piece of the cake, not so big as to become autonomous themselves, and certainly not without sharing profits with their superiors in the political structure. That was the rule in order to secure impunity.
Drug Trafficking Organizations
When opium was prohibited in the U.S.A. it was legal in Mexico. Social agents who commercialised it were criminals on one side of the border and legitimate traders on the other. The circle was completed when Mexico adopted similar laws. A new social category was born: the drug trafficker. Alcohol prohibition in the U.S.A. (1920-1933) and the greater demand for alcohol compared to opiates, marijuana and cocaine, made alcohol smuggling much more profitable. Bootleggers were, by far, a larger, wealthier and more powerful group.
In Chicago, Al Capone, a cocaine user himself, and his group of outlaws became the prototype of the gangster, the entrepreneur of the underworld. He made investments in legal business and financial contributions to political campaigns. He bought policemen and politicians. He became a legend.
In Mexico, known and famous drug traffickers in the thirties such as Enrique Fernández, from Ciudad Juárez, were soon compared to Capone by the press. Interim governor (1929-1930) from Chihuahua, Luis León (Secretary of Agriculture under Calles government, and of Industry and Commerce under Ortíz Rubio) helped him get out of the Islas Marías prison. Some said Fernández had made pacts with politicians. Shootings among traffickers were Chicago style. The discourse on drug trafficking resembled that used during the alcohol prohibition.
María Dolores Estévez, known as “Lola la Chata”, was the most important drug trafficker operating in Mexico City from the thirties to the fifties. Captain Luis Huesca de la Fuente, ex-chief of the Narcotics Police, was sent to jail, accused of having stolen the drug he seized and of having protected la “Chata”. In Baja California, Dr. Bernardo Bátiz B., Delegate from the Health Department, suspected high ranking officials from the local government of protecting traffickers and sending them to prison only when they became greedy. In the forties, Max Cossman, associated to Harold “Happy” Meltzer – connected himself to Mickey Cohen, from the old Capone’s band, who was living in California -, was accused for the murder of Enrique Diarte, an important opium trafficker operating in Tijuana and Mexicali. According to Harry Anslinger, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, from the Luciano – Lansky group, and Virginia Hill negotiated with Mexican politicians to finance poppy culture in the Northwest part of the country. Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, indicted in Camarena’s murder, began his trafficker career in the fifties. In the sixties, Eduardo Fernández, Pedro Avilés and Jorge Favela, were included in a large list of traffickers from Sinaloa mentioned in the press. In the post-war years, traffickers from Sinaloa became definitely the most important in the country. They began with opium smuggling, and continued with marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamines, depending on the demand.
In the seventies, Pedro Avilés, Manuel Salcido Uzeta (the “Crazy Pig”), and especially Miguel Angel Félix Gallardo, were the most common names. Félix G. was born in the suburbs of Culiacán, Sinaloa’s capital. He studied for a commercial career, but decided to work as a policeman. He was assigned to the governor’s house where he became his family bodyguard. The governor of Sinaloa Leopoldo Sánchez Celis (1963-1968) was his godfather when he got married. According to the DEA, Félix G., associated to Ramón Matta Ballesteros, the Honduran contact with Colombians, became the number one cocaine trafficker in Mexico starting in the mid-seventies. He lived as a respectable and respected entrepreneur for many years. His relationship with ex-governor Sánchez Celis (some said he was his protector) facilitated his political and business contacts. He was a prominent counsellor of Somex bank (Chihuahua) in 1979, and a shareholder and distinguished client at the national level at least until 1982. In 1976 there was an arrest order against him in Tijuana, but nothing was done. The charges were heroin and cocaine trafficking. He was protected by an important narcotics official, said the DEA. Starting in 1971 he accumulated at least fourteen arrest orders. He did business for four more years after Camarena’s murder. He was himself godfather of the governor’s son (Rodolfo) at his marriage, a dangerous liaison that caused Rodolfo’s assassination when he was about to visit his godfather in prison. He had been previously abducted at the Mexico City airport and tortured.
Like the Hydra, other heads appeared after one was cut, all of them emerging from the same root. Caro’s brothers and relatives, Güero Palma and “Chapo” Guzmán, the Arellano Félix brothers, and Amado Carrillo, were important lieutenants on the waiting list or already leading their own groups in different parts of the territory. They were all Sinaloans of rural origin, except the Arellano brothers, who were urban, middle class, and with a higher education. The empire was divided but the new groups were not less powerful than the original despite their rivalries. The northeast was controlled by Juan García Abrego, a trafficker from Tamaulipas whose rise and fall followed the six-year political cycle and became, according to Mexican and U.S.A. authorities, the most important.
In 1993, Cardinal Jesús Posadas Ocampo and his driver were killed in a shooting as they arrived at the parking lot of the Guadalajara airport. Posadas was going to pick up Girolamo Prigione, the Vatican’s representative in Mexico. The Attorney General, Jorge Carpizo, said that Arellano’s gunmen had mistaken him for “Chapo” Guzmán because their cars were alike: same model, same colour. Guzmán, who was not very far from there with his people, repelled the attack and ran away under a rain of bullets. Minutes later, some gunmen and one of the Arellano brothers took a regular flight to Tijuana. The PGR could not explain why nobody tried to stop them. Guzmán was caught the next month and sent to Almoloya high security prison. The elder of the Arellanos, Francisco Rafael, was accused of illegal arms use, detained in Tijuana in December 1993 and imprisoned in Almoloya. Two of his brothers, Ramón and Benjamín, held secret meetings with Prigione in December 1993 and January 1994, gave him a letter for the Pope and told Prigione their version of the story. Benjamín said Posadas was perhaps mistaken for Ramón by Guzmán’s gunmen. He added that while Ramón was in Prigione’s house, the Vatican’s representative telephoned president Salinas, went to his house (Los Pinos) and had a meeting with the president himself, the Secretary of Government and the Attorney General. The Arellano brothers were ready to surrender in exchange for an arrangement. Prigione said there would always be certain unrevealed aspects about Posadas’ murder. The brothers did not accept that and decided to take a risk. The authorities did not clarify the situation. Marcos, the leader of the EZLN, has the “intuition” that Posadas was killed because he knew that some high ranking officials were implicated in the drug business, information he was about to tell to Prigione. In 1998, there are still important and influent clergy members, as well as numerous social groups nation-wide, who do not believe the “mistake” theory and are still waiting for a credible explanation.
Juan García Abrego was born in a ranch called “La Puerta”, Matamoros, Tamaulipas. He did not finish primary school. He worked as a milkman and car thief before entering the drug business with the help of his uncle, the legendary smuggler Juan N. Guerra. One of his lieutenants, Prof. Oscar López Olivares, who became an FBI informer, said he taught him even basic distinction rules such as table manners, how to dress and the appropriate way to show his Rolex. During the Salinas government (1988-1994) he became the most important drug trafficker in Mexico. He smuggled tons of cocaine, from the Cali group, to the U.S.A. A key person in his career was PJF commander Guillermo González Calderoni. He led the team that killed Pablo Acosta, a big trafficker from Ojinaga, Chihuahua, in 1987. He arrested Jaime Herrera Nevares y Jaime Herrera Herrera in 1987, heroin traffickers from Durango, and his alleged “compadre” Miguel A. Félix Gallardo in 1989. According to an FBI infiltrated agent (SA 2620-OC) in García Abrego’s group, González Calderoni was associated to García and protected him at least since 1986. Calderoni was accused of “unexplainable enrichment” in 1993. He escaped to the U.S.A. where he is at present in the protected witness program. When the Mexican government tried to extradite him, he revealed having done political espionage work for Raúl Salinas – the president´s brother -, who was suspected himself of having protected García Abrego. Raúl is now in Almoloya facing charges for “illicit enrichment” and for the murder of his ex-brother in law, José Francisco Ruiz Massieu, former president of the PRI. Swiss authorities have “frozen” more than $100 million in Swiss bank accounts belonging to Raúl under fake names. They suspect Raúl of money laundering for traffickers. Calderoni sent a warning: if the Mexican government insisted in extraditing him, he would “remember” more things.
García Abrego was captured in 1996 and immediately extradited to the U.S.A.. According to Janet Reno, the U.S.A. Attorney General, Mexican and U.S.A. officials agreed to say he was an American citizen, born in La Paloma, Texas. President Zedillo justified his decision in a private meeting with some congressmen, who leaked the information to the press. He said García Abrego was a very dangerous character who could set up a destabilising situation. The President’s spokesman later denied he had ever said such a thing. In fact, the drug leader did not act as a desperado while he was being searched for. There were no bomb explosions or shootings against politicians or innocent people. There was no speculation attack against the peso, nor a flight of capital. A strange behaviour, indeed, for somebody whose fortune was officially estimated (in fact, invented) to 10 billion dollars (about 3.48% of Mexico’s GNP in 1995, $5.7 billion less than the international reserves, and $1.6 billion more than the oil revenues the same year). His alleged destabilising power did not show up at all. The National Narcotics Intelligence Consumers Committee (NNICC) 1996 Report stated: “In Houston, García-Abrego was tried and convicted on 22 counts of drug trafficking, money laundering, and operating a continuing criminal enterprise. He received a sentence of eleven consecutive life terms in prison and was fined $128 million. García-Abregos’s arrest and conviction, unfortunately, had little effect on cocaine trafficking into the United States, as elements of his organization remained intact. Moreover, any reduction in territory and influence suffered by the Garcia-Abrego organization was balanced by an increase in the power of the rival Carrillo-Fuentes organization”.
In the eighties, Amado Carrillo (“The Lord of the Skyes”), another Sinaloan, Ernesto Fonseca’s nephew according to Mexican authorities, was sent to Ojinaga, by the Félix Gallardo group, to work with Pablo Acosta. He was suspected of having paid González Calderoni to get Acosta out of his way. When García Abrego was extradited Carrillo took his place as number one on the official list. He smuggled tons of cocaine in big planes, his speciality. His group was based in Ciudad Juárez. The Arellano brothers tried to kill him once in a Mexico City restaurant (1993). His main problems began when General Jesús Gutiérrez Rebollo, the new chief of the National Institute of Drug Combat (INCD), was accused of protecting Carrillo for years. He was forced to move from one place to another. The police said he travelled to Russia, the Middle East, South America and the Caribbean. He went frequently to Las Vegas, undetected by the DEA. The Mossad paid no attention to him when he was in Jerusalem, neither did Cuban authorities when he was in their territory.
Mexican Military Intelligence service documents, dated January 14, 1997, stated that Carrillo did not want to give up since he wanted to make a pact with the government. He proposed to collaborate in counter-acting disorganized traffickers, stop drug sales in Mexico and direct them to the U.S.A. and Europe, help the country’s economy with his dollars, avoid the use of violence, and act as an entrepreneur, and no longer as a criminal. He wanted freedom to run his business, tranquillity for his family, and 50% of his possessions. If his conditions were not satisfied, he would make his offer to other countries. For somebody who, according to the DEA, was the number one drug trafficker in the planet and chased world-wide, he was very successful in keeping himself invisible. His worst decision was to have plastic surgery in a Mexico City clinic to change his face and take off excessive fat in order to change his appearance. He died of post-surgery complications on July 4, 1997. After his death, the police said he had been trying to settle in Chile where he was buying property. He wanted to control drug trafficking without the mediation of Colombians and to expand his business to Australia. Carrillo’s career makes him one of the most entrepreneurial and cosmopolite of all Mexican drug traffickers ever.
The Arellano brothers and their Tijuana based group, as well as some other of Carrillo’s lieutenants started a new war for drug trafficking control along the U.S.A.-Mexico border and also in Jalisco. The FBI put Ramón Arellano on its top ten fugitive list on the Internet, and offered a fifty thousand dollars reward for information leading to his apprehension. Janet Reno offered a two million dollar reward for information about the brothers. The FBI informed that : “Ramon Eduardo Arellano-Felix ( born in 1964) has been charged in a sealed indictment in U.S.A. District Court, Southern District of California, with Conspiracy to Import Cocaine and Marijuana. Ramon Eduardo Arellano-Felix is believed to be one of the leaders of the Arellano-Felix Organization (AFO), which is also known as the Tijuana Cartel. The AFO is a drug gang known for their large distributions of controlled substances and propensity for violence in enforcement of the operation”. The Mexican government sent the military to chase them in Tijuana, without success. Their fire power is assured by young gunmen from wealthy Tijuana families and from popular neighbourhoods in San Diego. The brothers have murdered important police officials and tried to kill in November 1997 an influential journalist in Tijuana, Jesús Blancornelas (he was seriously wounded), whose magazine Zeta has given information about their activities and protectors. Despite the incarceration of an important group of their lieutenants in Mexico and the U.S.A., the Arellano brothers are still free and running their business.
In Mexico, as in many other countries, drugs such as opiates, cocaine and marijuana were commonly used, generally for medical reasons, until the beginning of the twentieth century, when prohibition laws came into being. An eugenic discourse to protect the “race” was developed to convince the general public that the government was acting to preserve them from a danger of which they were not conscious. Health officials exaggerated the figures concerning drug addicts, repeating arguments heard in other countries that were based on speculation and not on scientific research. There was also a xenophobic argument in the anti-drug discourse. Government officials accused Chinese immigrants of having imported poppy plants and opium-use into Mexico. Most of the drug traffickers arrested in Mexico in the aftermath of the Harrison Narcotics Act were of Chinese origin. Chinese pogroms during the first three decades of the century reduced their possibilities of consolidating organizations.
Drug trafficking in Mexico began as a response to U.S.A. opium demand. Production areas and border cities were key places where a new social group emerged. The business was profitable enough to attract the interest of mighty politicians. People who tried autonomous strategies for smuggling did not last very long or just survived modestly. Big business needed official protection. Already at the start, drug traffickers depended upon other political economy players. Every time there was a drug scandal, governors from producer or border states were the first in line to be suspected of being involved. Information from Mexican and U.S.A. archives gives support to the idea that newspaper notes identifying northern governors were well-founded. In the logic of the post-revolutionary political system, governors’ freedom to do any kind of business, legal or illegal, was limited by the president’s will and their own ethical inclinations.
The power of the presidency, the monopoly of politics by the state party, the subordination of the legislative and judicial spheres to the executive, and the lack of organized political opposition, created the conditions for developing drug trafficking from within the power structure. Before the Second World War, not a single suspected governor was ever formally accused or investigated. However, in the aftermath of the war when disputes arose between elite political groups, the drug issue was used to damage a governor’s image. Nothing was proved because there were no formal accusations, nor any investigation, just political negotiations. Suspicions remained in the public opinion.
Controlled, protected or tolerated by the political power, drug trafficking continued to function under a new scheme. New social agents were included in an official attempt to reduce drug production and trafficking. There were more players in every camp, and more money. Without any changes in the political system and a growing demand for drugs in the U.S.A., it seems that PJF and DFS agents, as well as the military who had more responsibilities in drug destruction campaigns, were simultaneously fighting to contain drug trafficking, helping smugglers supply the demand, controlling them to restrain their autonomy, and getting a share of the profits – all this in exchange for their mediation role between drug traffickers and the political power, their silence and their disposition to serve as scapegoats to protect their political masters. That mediation scheme was weakened when DEA agent Enrique Camarena was murdered by drug traffickers and police agents who were on their payroll. As a response to U.S.A. pressure, president De la Madrid dismantled the DFS, a very important political elite’s protection shield. Mexican Governors and secretaries of state were accused by U.S.A. officials of being involved in Camarena’s murder and drug trafficking. During the Cold War, the DFS espionage services were very useful for the U.S.A. government. For many years DFS illegal activities were never publicly criticised by the American government. U.S.A. drug policy and Camarena’s murder changed the honeymoon. However, the PJF structure remained, and so did another important element of the mediation scheme.
The formation of the most important drug trafficking organizations in Mexico can be traced back to the 20s, when prohibition laws provoked an immediate response from poppy cultivators in north-western states, especially in Sinaloa. The region became the centre of drug business and a source of trafficking expertise, a know-how transmitted through generations. Born and raised among poppy and marijuana plants, some north-western peasants and people of urban origin with leadership capabilities were transformed into drug smuggling entrepreneurs (the Sinaloans, for example). The demand for their products, and the police and political protection, multiplied the number of producers in other regions. However, time in the business and expertise, and perhaps more solid and long-lasting political protection, were comparative advantages which made these dealers more powerful than others (a kind of oligopoly), even today and despite the alleged official support to a north-eastern organization (Juan García Abrego’s) during president Salinas’ administration.
An important poppy and marijuana producer, and a transit country for cocaine, Mexico’s illegal drugs users figures are not very impressive when compared to those of the U.S.A., whose demand has usually been the main incentive for Mexican cultivators and traffickers. The two national surveys on addictions and CIJ data show changing and relative growing tendencies in drug use, specially in the most populated cities, producer regions and border cities. Supporting prevention and addiction treatment policies would help to curb the actual trends and keep them at a manageable level. National drug policy considers repression of drug trafficking a more important and urgent issue.
On both sides of the Mexico-U.S.A. border, a popular tradition mixing oral history and a certain style of music developed, starting in the nineteenth century: the corrido. These versified stories about a wide variety of events, usually written from a popular point of view, became a sort of people’s newspaper. Drug traffickers’ corridos had an immediate effect on the public of northern states when they appeared on the popular music market in the mid-70s. Prohibited for a long time, drug trafficking and traffickers were not perceived for many years as an interesting or legitimate subject for corrido composers, although there were exceptions to the rule. There used to be a certain composers’ moral self-control, a conscious or unconscious refusal to talk of an illegal business, its history and social agents. In regions of cultivation, trafficking places and border cities, perceptions were transformed over the years. People learned to live with outlaws, who became a part of the “normal” life. Stories about traffickers told in corridos were also stories of conventional society which simultaneously criticised their criminal behaviour and tolerated their economic and social integration. Traffickers’ corridos succeeded when the “normalisation” process was in the stage of consolidation. Economic fortunes, legal entrepreneurial activities, and political relations were elements of social respectability that could be achieved by illegal means. These social transmutations were visible to many people. Traffickers’ corridos reproduced parts of this process in a direct and simple language.
According to common sense perception, drug traffickers in Mexico have become so powerful that they have “penetrated” the protective shield of official institutions whose purpose is to fight them. Historical research in the Mexican case does not support the assumption of two separate fields: drug trafficking and its agents, on one side, and the State on the other. Moreover, since the beginning of prohibition, the illegal trade appeared related to powerful political agents in the production and trafficking regions. Cultivators and wholesale smugglers were not autonomous players; their success depended on political protection. They did not buy politicians; rather, politicians obliged them to pay a sort of “tax”. If they didn’t pay, their business was over. The power was on the political side. Politicians decided who, when, where and how. Drug trafficking was supported from within the power structure. How could drug traffickers have penetrated a political structure that created and protected them, a political structure they were subordinated to? They were its creatures.
The strategies of political control on drug trafficking have changed throughout the years. Before the 1940s, governors of producing and trafficking states had the power to control illegal business in their territories. After 1947, anti-drug agents and the military had direct responsibility in fighting traffickers and the possibility of being institutional mediators between traffickers and political power. Neither traffickers nor mediators were autonomous: they were both subordinated to political power. The cracking down of the ancient regime has provoked cascade effects on the different levels of the power structure pyramid. Lethal disputes among the state party political families have disrupted the mechanisms of political control over institutional mediations between traffickers and political power. Institutional mediators (police and military) and traffickers can now be more autonomous than ever and capable of playing for their own interests. A political pact for a democratic transition would help to prevent the negative effects of a collapsing system and increase the probabilities for keeping the social control, under different conditions, of drug trafficking, considering the realistic impossibility of eradicating drugs from the planet and stopping once and forever the curiosity and appetite of human beings for mind-altering substances.