How the U.S. Fuels the Drug War in Mexico

Carmen Boullosa and Mike Wallace, co-authors of “A Narco History: How the United States and Mexico Jointly Created the ‘Mexican Drug War,'” trace the history of the war on drugs from prohibition in the early 20th century to the militarization of police forces today

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Story Transcript

NADIA KANJI, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Nadia Kanji in Baltimore.

On Tuesday, protesters in Mexico City demanded justice for the case of 43 missing students from the Ayotzinapa school. They disappeared a year and a half ago while on their way to a protest against government education policy. There have been more than 25,000 forced disappearances in Mexico since 2006, most of which are drug related.

Here to connect the dots between narco trafficking, government complicity, and foreign aid are our two guests, Mike Wallace and Carmen Boullosa. Last year, Wallace and Boullosa co-wrote a book called A Narco History: How The United States and Mexico Jointly Created the Mexican Drug War. Thanks for joining us.

MIKE WALLACE: [Inaud.] glad to be here.

KANJI: I’d like to start off with a question about Mexican drug lord El Chapo Guzman, who made headline news a few weeks ago for being recaptured by Mexican state authorities. Carmen, who exactly is Guzman, and with a net worth of $1 billion, how did he become the figure that he is today?

CARMEN BOULLOSA: Well, first I would say that I do not like him to be the key player in this story, because he’s not. He’s [inaud.] screen for a very big operation, money laundering, producing, transporting this previous [inaud.] is not that he’s a magician, and he does [inaud.] alone. He is part of a big system that is [police] violence, and that has really hurt Mexico in a terrible way.

[Inaud.] the USA, they’re in money laundering, it’s straddled over [inaud.] is not him, the one who makes the, who should be hitting the nails. Besides, one falls down, and several others come back. He became a figure when other figures were caught in the [inaud.] time. And they grow–yes, they grow, but he doesn’t grow alone. He needs the complicity of the authorities, he needs the money laundering, he needs all that operation. And those do not fall.

KANJI: And when you say he’s had the complicity of the authorities, what do you mean by that?

BOULLOSA: I mean officials, government officials. Mexican, and I have no doubt, USA officials, too, because you cannot do this operation alone. It’s absolutely impossible. It’s an immense operation.

WALLACE: It’s built into the system of criminalization, sort of like it was in the U.S. under prohibition in the 1920s.

KANJI: I was actually just going to ask you about that. You talk about the connection between incarceration and prohibition policies from the United States in the book, and how they helped fuel the drug war in Mexico. Can you talk a bit about exactly when did it become a war, when did it become so militarized?

WALLACE: Well, there’s two aspects to your questions. One is when the criminalization regime started, and that goes back to the anti-smoking opium act of 1909. 1904 was the major outlawing of [inaud.] drug abuse. Or the 1919 prohibition of alcohol. Then they repealed the prohibition on alcohol, because it had been a colossal disaster. Corruption, violence between contending gangs and so forth. But they did not take the reverse of the drug prohibition.

So over the years, that criminalization made the production of opium, marijuana, cocaine and crack cocaine and methamphetamine spectacularly profitable. Billions of dollars flowed south into the pockets of drug lords. And very tightly organized in the beginning and mid-’80s there was the Guadalajara cartel. [Inaud.] in the late ’80s and early ’90s, one of the cartels, the Sinaloa cartel, was the one that Chapo would rise to be the head of.

The United States continually pressured Mexico to do what it seemed unable to do, which is to block the flow of drugs going north. They did this in a variety of ways, and over the decades they got more and more interested in militarization as the answer. Probably the Reagan-Bush era was the turning point when, you know, thousands of Mexican military were brought to the United States and trained in counter-narcotics operations.

So the war that we think about as being the real explosion of violence which came in the early 2000s, it really ramped up in 2006 when Calderon became president. That was really something that fit into the long, long tradition of pressuring Mexico into whatever measures it took to stop the flow of goods to U.S. citizens who desperately wanted to have them.

KANJI: And interesting that you talk about the, the U.S. link and how Mexican authorities were trained in the U.S., because another part of the story that you bring up in the book is in the 1980s. The U.S. was attempting to circumvent the congressional ban on assisting the Contras in Nicaragua, who were trying to topple the Sandinistas. You write, and I quote: One idea they hit upon was to covertly ferry arms to the Contras via Mexican drug dealers. This reveals how the U.S. tried to control the geopolitical situation in Latin America. Would you say the U.S. is still trying to curb left-wing movements in the region through the war on drugs?

BOULLOS: Well, you read it, it’s there. And it happened before in the ’70s, and it happened in the ’60s. These illegal wars, because it’s become a state illegal war, against [visitors], [inaud.] and Contras. And it had happened in Mexico before in Guerrero, where the students of Ayotzinapa disappeared a year and a half ago. It happened in the ’70s, an operation, Operacion Condor, to go against those who were critical of the state. And they used the war against drugs to attack civil rights.

The crazy, psychotic situation we are at is, should be to find out, an easy way out. Because people all over the world use drugs, and they are considered illegal. And they favor spaces where human rights are not taken into account, a social order taken in account. It’s the sheer force of people. And the sheer force of people is not in drug consuming but the drug prohibition.

WALLACE: And any time countries have opted for non-incarceration, criminalization, but through a public health approach to addiction, the U.S. has done its best to sort of block that. At the highest level, I think the issue that we raise in our title should be worth underscoring. By calling this the Mexican drug war, that’s profoundly misleading, because it assumes that it’s Mexico’s creation, it’s Mexico’s problem. We can just just build a wall and forget about it. It’s their territory, they’re in trouble. And it’s not the case. We’ve tried to demonstrate a multiplicity of ways in which the U.S. has been involved in pushing Mexico to do what it has been unable to do, which is, in fact, prevent the flow of drugs.

Also, let’s remember that the U.S. has been fueling the increase in violence. Not only by official U.S. military aid to the Mexican army, but the vast number of sales, illegal sales, that have in fact crossed over the border and fueled the inter-gang competition, which is another source of the violence. It’s not only the state versus the crooks. It’s the crooks versus the crooks. And Chapo Guzman was, in fact, we have to face it, very good at what he did, which was both organizing a colossal business, but also having no worries whatsoever about resorting to vicious murders, attacks on competitors. It’s a matter of competition for the tremendous profits that are available [in] the flow of drugs. If, in fact, one decriminalized drugs the way we backed away from prohibition, and also through public health and regulation, it won’t magically end the violence in Mexico, but it’ll sure as hell cut off some of the tremendous flow of billions of dollars that, in fact, keep these thugs in business.

KANJI: Okay, great. Thank you so much for your analysis.

BOULLOSA: Thank you.

WALLACE: Our pleasure.

KANJI: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

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