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date: 19 December 2018

The Drug Trade in Mexico

Summary and Keywords

The drug trade in Mexico and efforts by the Mexican government—often with United States assistance—to control the cultivation, sale, and use of narcotics are largely 20th-century phenomena. Over time, U.S. drug control policies have played a large role in the scope and longevity of Mexico’s drug trade. Many argue that these policies—guided by the U.S.-led global war on drugs—have been fruitless in Mexico, and are at least partially responsible for the violence and instability seen there in the early twentieth century.

A producer of Cannabis sativa and the opium poppy, Mexico emerged as a critical place of drug supply following World War II, even though domestic drug use in Mexico has remained low. Since the 1960s and 1970s, the drug trade in Mexico has reached epic proportions due to drug demand emanating from the United States. Mexico’s cultivation of psychoactive raw materials and its prime location—connecting North America with Central America and the Caribbean and sharing a 2,000-mile-long border with the United States—have made it an ideal transit point for narcotics originating from other parts of the Western Hemisphere and the world. Although Mexico implemented a smaller, less organized antidrug campaign in the late 1940s, the inauguration of the global war on drugs in 1971 represents a distinctive shift in its drug control and enforcement policies. The government began utilizing U.S. supply-control models, advice, and aid to decrease the cultivation of drugs inside the country. America’s fight against drug trafficking in Central America and the Caribbean in the 1980s and 1990s shifted the geographic locus of the drug trade to Mexico by the early 2000s. Mexico’s powerful drug cartels proved more than capable of eluding (sometimes colluding with) the Mexican government’s efforts against them in the first decade of the 21st century during the administration of President Felipe Calderón (2006–2012). Calderón’s fight against the cartels brought about a drug war in Mexico, characterized by widespread violence, instability, and an estimated death toll of more than 70,000 people.

Keywords: Ayotzinapa, Cannabis sativa, cartel, Dirty War, Dr. Leopoldo Salazar Viniegra, drug control, Drug Enforcement Administration, drug policy, Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Felipe Calderón, George W. Bush, Iguala, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, La Gran Campaña, Luis Echeverría, marijuana, Mérida Initiative, narcotics, Partido Revolucionario Institucional, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, supply control, war on drugs

Mexico and Drug Control in the Early 20th Century

Psychoactive substances such as marijuana and opium had for centuries been stigmatized in Mexican society, sometimes prohibited by local and state governments, but their official national regulation did not occur until the early 20th-century. Cannabis sativa was not indigenous to Mexico. Rather, Spanish colonists acquired the plant from Asia and eventually brought it to Mexico in the 16th and 17th centuries. After Mexico gained independence from Spain, the weed was to be found near prisons, in the possession of low-ranking military actors, and in use by peasants. Mexicans even believed that marijuana triggered madness and violence in its users.1 Similarly, Chinese immigrants began growing the opium poppy in Mexico’s highlands in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Marijuana use was a mark of the lower class, of filth, and of poverty, and opium use an association with Chinese outsiders.2 Preexisting cultural attitudes toward these substances probably influenced Mexicans’ relatively low addiction rates to most narcotics in the years that followed. The notion of alcoholism as a widespread social problem in Mexico also shaped popular attitudes toward intoxication from drug use.

In the early 20th-century, the United States and other Western countries controlled the use of addictive drugs through taxation. National drug prohibitions were considered outside the scope of government power. Taxation also helped governments earn revenue from the licit uses of illicit drug plants. The U.S. Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914 and the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 exemplify contemporary U.S. drug control policies. The Marijuana Tax Act was not punitive and prohibitive. Rather, it was a taxable penalty at least partially intended to generate revenue from the production of hemp fiber also derived from the cannabis plant. Mexico’s first legislation against drugs took place in 1916 under President Venustiano Carranza. The legislation banned opium imports, and was also intended to reduce the number of drug dealers coming into Mexico as a result of newly established antiopium regulations in the United States. In a similar way, alcohol prohibition in the United States would also impact the development of illicit trafficking routes and methods originating from Mexico. Following Mexico’s revolution (1910–1920), reform-minded politicians placed the first national, punitive restriction on the weed in their bid to clean up a population they saw as degenerate and backward. The antidrug law of 1920 thrived in a Catholic, authoritarian, and class-oriented society that had already created social stigmas around Cannabis sativa and the opium poppy. Thus, Mexico’s criminalization of marijuana and at least some of the pharmacy regulations enacted governing opiate distribution preceded those of the United States and other Western countries.

Outside of Mexico’s first drug law, punitive, prohibitive controls over narcotics use developed slowly. The modern era of drug control had emerged only in the latter half of the 19th century alongside developments in industrial production, professionalized medicine, and global connectivity. Some in the United States recognized the dangers of marijuana use early on and saw Mexico as a critical place of drug supply. In the United States, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, predecessor to the Drug Enforcement Administration, established itself under the Treasury Department in 1930. The bureau assumed the primary role of drug enforcement at home, and the agency’s footprint eventually extended abroad under the staunch leadership of Harry J. Anslinger, its first commissioner. Anslinger, a supporter of prohibition and drug criminalization, began a crusade against marijuana, communicating with supply countries such as Mexico in the name of drug control. Indeed Anslinger’s involvement with Mexico, as well as his exchanges and negotiations with his counterparts there, affected the course U.S.–Mexico narcotics diplomacy in the decades that followed. He also tried to convince America of the likelihood that marijuana would produce madness and promote criminal activity. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, American attitudes and fears of large-scale marijuana use, especially among youths, were not as strong as they would be during the 1960s and 1970s. Important political actors, such as New York’s Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, even disputed Anslinger’s claims against marijuana.3 By the early 1960s, U.S. drug-control schemas were shifting to a criminalized model.

Inside Mexico, others also disputed claims against the correlation between marijuana use and madness. Mexico’s secretary of public health, Dr. Leopoldo Salazar Viniegra, led a campaign to explain marijuana use and its effects from a medical perspective. In 1938, Dr. Salazar Viniegra published “The Myth of Marijuana,” a study that argued that marijuana posed no risk to society, and did not promote criminal activity, as some had believed.4 Pervasive marijuana use, however, had never been a serious threat in Mexican society. Throughout the 1940s, only the occasional American tourist and some U.S. mafia organizations obtained their drug supply from Mexico.5 French smugglers supplied the vast majority of heroin originating from Turkey to the United States up through the early 1970s.

With an increasing U.S. footprint abroad and a spike in the use of addictive drugs following World War II, drug control became an important function of the U.S. government. During the 1950s, overseas drug control efforts were limited to specific operations and initiatives. Federal Bureau of Narcotics agents began working missions in Mexico to control the drug supply, but these efforts were uncoordinated, incomprehensive, and underfunded compared to the missions undertaken later by the DEA. It was during this period that Mexico conducted its first organized antidrug campaign called La Gran Campaña in states historically known for growing psychoactive substances, such as Sinaloa, Durango, and Chihuahua. These states make up Mexico’s prime drug cultivation region, known as the Golden Triangle. Although the campaign did not involve a large-scale U.S. presence or its resources, La Gran Campaña ultimately revealed to U.S. counterparts—Anslinger at the top of the list—how disorganized and underresourced Mexican drug enforcement was. This would become a problem once drug control emerged as an important function of domestic and foreign policy, especially with the United States.

Mexico, the United States, and the Criminalization of Drug Control

Drug addiction in Mexico was not a problem conceptualized as an issue affecting national security, as would be the case in the United States by the late 1960s. Mexican society had long been exposed to the harm in using psychoactive substances, but the country did not, for example, stringently police the use of substances like peyote or hallucinogenic mushrooms that were associated with indigenous cultural practices. In other words, drug control in Mexico never assumed the proportions it did in the United States following World War II.

A number of factors converged on the drug trade in the late 1960s that shifted its focus to Latin America and motivated more aggressive supply-control measures in Mexico during the 1970s. The first was a sharp increase in domestic U.S. drug use, especially in conjunction with the large-scale global protest against authority figures, often by young people who used drugs. The second factor was the triumph of the prohibitive, punitive model of enforcement in the U.S. governmental bureaucracy over taxation models that ultimately facilitated increased supply-control measures abroad. The shift was led by the administration of U.S. President Richard Nixon (1969–1974). The third factor was the dismantling of the French-Turkish heroin supply route and the resulting increase in demand for Mexican brown heroin.6 According to one study of thirteen U.S. cities, by 1972 40 percent of confiscated heroin was Mexican brown. Three years later this figure increased to 90 percent.7

Operation Intercept

In September 1969, soon after coming into office, President Nixon shut down the border with Mexico for weeks in a move known as Operation Intercept for the purpose of stemming the flow of Mexican marijuana coming across the Rio Grande. Shutting down the border crippled its economy and had profound implications for Mexico and for bilateral relations. As important players in commerce on both sides of the border coalesced to try to elicit a response to Operation Intercept from the government in Mexico City, and pleaded to politicians in Washington for an end to the operation, it soon became clear that Intercept was intended to coerce the Mexican government into cooperating with newly established U.S. drug-control policies, particularly those related to drug crop destruction. What is more, a number of reports indicated that U.S. authorities at the border were not finding the drugs that they supposedly shut it down to find. As Mexico’s secretary of foreign relations so eloquently put it: “Intercept’s results have been negligible in stopping the traffic of marijuana and drugs, but great in harming the economy of both sides [of] the border and in creating frictions and bad publicity for the U.S.”8

Mexican President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz (1964–1970) and his successor Luis Echeverría (1970–1976) resisted for as long as possible in accommodating Washington’s demands. Operation Canador—an ineffective, lackluster, Mexican antidrug campaign of the early 1970s, which yielded marginal results—was intended to show the outside world that Mexico had become tough on drugs in the years following Intercept. However, in practice, Mexico did little to accommodate U.S. supply-control demands until 1975, Echeverría’s final year in office. To be fair, Echeverría had much on his political plate, between balancing leftist threats and achieving certain social reform goals, to the extent that drug control was not necessarily a political priority. But U.S. expectations were evolving such that all drug-producing counterparts unquestioningly had to abide by U.S. drug-control policies.9

The War on Drugs and Associated Policies

The war on drugs, the U.S.-led antidrug campaign inaugurated under Nixon in 1971, represents the official triumph of the punitive, prohibitive drug-enforcement mentality within the United States thatwould drastically impact U.S. relations with drug-producing counterparts. At its essence, the antidrug campaign is characterized by a significant escalation of U.S. authority, power, and resources to reduce drug demand in the United States and control supply abroad. On the American domestic front, although Nixon himself supported treatment programs, policymakers in general privileged criminalized drug laws over prevention and treatment methods. On the international front, the United States established myriad arrangements and relationships to target drug supply. However, a relentless U.S. focus on controlling the use, transit, and sale of addictive narcotics in the years that followed had unforeseen consequences, and would ultimately complicate the U.S. antidrug campaign, especially with regard to its execution in Mexico, which had become the prime source for heroin by the 1970s. Over time, the U.S. antidrug campaign produced violence and instability in Mexico and other drug-producing nations, often at the same time that U.S. drug-control efforts became entangled with larger geopolitical objectives.

Nixon’s immediate objective under the war on drugs was to use more aggressive measures to reduce domestic drug use. A rise in the use of heroin, psychedelic drugs, marijuana, and other prescription drugs (e.g. amphetamines, barbiturates), as well as an escalation in violent crime, demanded a government response. “Public enemy number one in the U.S. is drug abuse,” Nixon told the American people in 1971. “In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.”10 Nixon administration officials decided to replace the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, which had replaced the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1968, with the Drug Enforcement Administration in 1973, under the Department of Justice. In the years that followed, the DEA and other U.S. agencies played a prominent role in responding to the shifting geographic loci of the drug trade. The DEA would play a major role in Mexico in the years that followed, especially in source control.11

Operation Condor and Source Control

In late-1976, with U.S. assistance, the Mexican government began a large-scale drug crop destruction program using defoliant chemicals to degrade marijuana and opium cultivation. Since the planning of Operation Intercept, the United States had wanted to implement a large-scale antidrug program that eliminated illicit drugs at their source. The core of this source-control program became Operation Condor. With President Nixon proclaiming that the American people had turned a corner on drug addiction following a decline in drug use, a sharp increase in 1974 led to a call for more drastic actions to be taken overseas. In failing to achieve his social reform goals south of the border, Luis Echeverría, and ultimately his successor José López Portillo (1976–1982), finally gave in, and Condor began to take shape. The Mexican army executed the first iteration in January 1977. In terms of the actual campaign, Condor was fairly straightforward. It employed U.S. aid—chemicals, airplanes, and other forms of technology and techniques, especially in the drug producing states of Sinaloa, Durango, Chihuahua, Sonora, Oaxaca, and Guerrero—to destroy illicit crops.12

While the United States was more concerned with the aerial spraying aspects of Condor on the ground, it is often overlooked that Operation Condor was entangled in local counterinsurgency efforts as the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, Mexico’s ruling party) continued to hunt down perceived political dissidents using the Mexican army and sometimes violent counterinsurgency and social-control tactics. Since the late 1960s, the PRI had faced internal threats from leftists and guerillas. This period, lasting from roughly 1968 to 1982, is known as Mexico’s Dirty War. Many of the Dirty War’s front lines were also the places where drugs were cultivated. By 1974, for example, the Mexican secretary of defense had warned the American embassy in Mexico City that insurgents in Guerrero were exchanging narcotics for arms.13 Thus, policing Mexico’s insurgents sometimes became the policing of narcotics, as both became oddly paired national-security objectives of the state.

The 1980s, Reagan’s War on Drugs, and Kiki Camarena

By the 1980s, a relentless American focus on controlling the use, transit, and sale of addictive narcotics was having a number of unforeseen consequences inside the United States and abroad. One important contribution of the Ronald Reagan administration’s war on drugs (1981–1989) was more aggressive supply control in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, including more overt DEA and American military participation. As soon became clear, Mexican counterparts in drug control often had links to local criminal organizations and the drug trade. A number of Mexican government agents and military commanders had been implicated in drug trafficking, with some even being directly on the payroll of the most notorious drug-trafficking organizations.

With the erosion of Operation Condor in the early 1980s, Mexican drug cartels regrouped, and the result has been intermittent violence ever since. The violence was not limited to Mexican government agents, soldiers, and police. In February 1985, DEA Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena and his pilot were killed after having been kidnapped and brutally tortured.14 Camarena had been critical to a large Mexico–DEA drug bust in Chihuahua the previous year that was threatening the interests of one of Mexico’s cartels. The U.S. government pursued a lengthy investigation of Camarena’s murder, pressuring the government of Mexico’s President Miguel de la Madrid (1982–1988) to make indictments. But the cartel members allegedly responsible for the murder were exempted from punishment. Ultimately, Camarena’s murder was a pronouncement to Mexicans and Americans alike of the consequences associated with challenging Mexican drug-trafficking organizations.

NAFTA, Mexico’s Drug War into the 21st Century, and the Mérida Initiative

Two critical changes in the 1990s set the stage for the extensive drug-related violence seen in 21st-century Mexico that reached its height when the government began taking on the cartels in 2006. First, by the early 1990s, the U.S. government’s strict targeting of drug supply over air and water in the Caribbean created a balloon effect, which did not destroy the Latin American drug trade but shifted its geographic locus to Mexico. Specifically, the demise of Colombian cartels empowered Mexican cartels and facilitated their control of land routes in the early 2000s. Second was the promulgation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Established in 1994, NAFTA, which opened the U.S.–Mexico border for free trade, highlighted the correlation between the drug trade and local instability. As cheap U.S. agricultural goods flooded Mexican markets, the Mexican farming industry was severely hit, prompting the cultivation of drug crops. In due time, the increased flow of north–south commerce also included illegal substances from Mexico and other parts of the Americas.

Mexico’s drug war in the 21st century has been an ongoing conflict between drug-trafficking organizations and the government, assisted by the United States. The arrests or killings of key cartel leaders, especially near the border region, has resulted in increased violence, often to civilians, as cartels fight for control of trafficking routes into the United States. Between 2006 and 2012, with U.S. assistance, Pesident Felipe Calderón presided over an unparalleled mobilization of Mexican resources to fight off drug cartels that led to an estimated death toll of more than 70,000. The violent impacts of Mexico’s drug war are at least partially a result of the export of U.S. supply-control models and the war on drugs abroad. These results have spurred debate as to the overall efficacy of the global war on drugs. Latin American countries, such as Uruguay and Chile, top the list of countries taking more liberal stances against criminalized drug policies, given the continued failure of the U.S.-led war on drugs.

Widespread poverty, lack of public benefits like viable education systems, ineffective public security forces, and the smuggling of U.S.-manufactured arms into Mexico have all compounded the violence seen in Mexico since 2006. An ineffective social welfare system attracts poor Mexicans to the rolls of the largest cartels, which can and do provide for them and their families. Moreover, professionally trained paramilitary forces, some with histories in the Mexican military and police forces, often protect the most notorious cartels. Indeed, the rolls of these cartels have links to the Mexican government. Finally, American-manufactured weapons in Mexico end up in the hands of cartels via Central American smuggling routes, or when cartel members seize them from Mexican public-security actors.

Calderón’s counterpart in the United States, George W. Bush (2001–2009), responded to Mexican calls for aid by establishing the Mérida Initiative, launched in 2007. For this security cooperation agreement by the United States, Mexico, and Central American countries, the U.S. Congress appropriated nearly $2.5 billion between 2008 to 2015 for the purposes of (1) disrupting organized criminal groups, (2) institutionalizing the rule of law, (3) creating a 21st-century border, and (4) building strong and resilient communities.15 More aid has gone to provide additional security and surveillance along Mexico’s southern border, reform Mexico’s justice sector, and support violence-prevention programs. While the success of the Mérida Initiative is difficult to measure, many officials believe that it is still too soon to assess its overall benefits in Mexico.

In 2012, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional and its candidate Enrique Peña Nieto retook the presidency after twelve years of Partido Acción Nacional rule. A perceived decrease in drug-related violence in the first two years of Peña Nieto’s presidency, however, did not necessarily correspond to an increase in safety or effectiveness in internal security measures. This was evident in late September 2014 when forty-three student teachers of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teacher’s College went missing in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico, after participating in a peaceful protest. Allegedly, the students had been detained by local officials and then handed over to a local cartel that presumably killed them. Official investigations have done little to determine what happened to the student teachers, but the incident does serve as a reminder of the corruption and government linkages to drug cartels that continue in Mexico. Nevertheless, while Mexico-U.S. bilateral cooperation has increased since 2007, occasional setbacks such as the tragedy in Iguala do occur. Another example was the July 2015 escape of the world’s most-wanted drug trafficker, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, his second escape from a Mexican prison. Although the Mexican military eventually captured Guzmán in early 2016, the Mexican has, in the past, been less amenable to U.S. calls for Guzmán’s extradition to the United States. Some believe that parties within the Mexican government have facilitated Guzmán’s endeavors at escaping law enforcement and extradition.16


Mexico’s drug war is as much a product of its drug supply and the commercial aspects of the drug trade as it is of the disastrous impacts of state-sponsored efforts at control, packaged as the global war on drugs. Since 1971, the war on drugs has taken on a number of dimensions in Mexico, from simple, state-sponsored supply-control efforts to all-out societal instability. In the 21st century, the question of whether or not the United States’ war on drugs-approach to drug control has been effectively cast aside has been a contentious item debated by politicians and the public worldwide, especially when the legalization of marijuana in some U.S. states and foreign countries is considered. While rhetorically, politicians have distanced themselves from the language of militarized drug control that permeated U.S. thinking and dealings with its counterparts, such as Mexico, throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, the Mexican government continues to benefit from billions of dollars of U.S. global antidrug aid each year.

Discussion of the Literature

The most influential historian of drugs in Latin America throughout the 1990s was William Walker III. His three pioneering works, Drug Control in the Americas, Drug Control Policy, and Drugs in the Western Hemisphere, established the drug historiography and chronicled the creation and development of drug-control regimes in the Western Hemisphere during the twentieth century. Walker examines the use and prohibition of drugs within the larger economic, social, and political settings of the historical period, incorporating international conflicts, technological advances, trade conflicts, and domestic and international cultural battles led by outspoken moral entrepreneurs.17

Recent works on the history of the drug trade in Mexico utilize approaches falling under what historian Paul Gootenberg has championed as the “New Drug History” in his 2008 book, Andean Cocaine.18 Although Gootenberg’s work does not focus on Mexico, it is methodologically valuable to the study of the Mexican drug trade. Tracing the emergence of cocaine through “three long arcs and global processes,” spanning the period from 1850 to 1975, he illustrates in Andean Cocaine that the meaning of cocaine was constructed worldwide well before its fate “passed into the hands of the infamous Colombian narcotráficos” in the 1970’s.19 To support his thesis, Gootenberg posits five methodological currents that should be of interest to students and scholars of the drug trade in Mexico—a focus on new narratives, commodity studies, “constructionism,” agency in the rise of cocaine, and a “glocal” perspective—enabling him to establish cocaine’s trajectory from its origins as an Incan product to its role in the present global drug war in the global drug war.20 Works of the New Drug History deconstruct what it means to be a “drug” or “narcotic,” producing instead social, cultural, and economic histories of the commodities that governments would choose to call drugs, beginning in the early 20th-century. These works shed light on the prohibition of psychoactive substances and interrogate the process by which states tried to eradicate substances that posed the most threat to their authority. Privileging Latin American archival documentation and taking seriously the insights of “constructionism,” these more recent drug studies have insisted on the relevance of a much broader periodization of drug issues and the importance of supplementing political and economic history with social and cultural history in places such as Mexico.

One of the more emblematic works in this camp focusing on Mexico is Isaac Campos’s Home Grown.21 In this history of marijuana in Mexican society from the first introduction of the cannabis plant into the country’s soil to the prohibition of the plant in 1920, Campos demonstrates that the prohibition was largely a domestic affair.22 A long history in Mexico of associating marijuana with crime, violence, and madness informed U.S. conceptions of the controversial stimulant by the 20th century; thus, the meanings of marijuana in Mexico simply flowed northward, playing a critical role in the stigmatization (and subsequent criminalization) of marijuana in the United States.23

Other more recent studies are using creative and innovative methodologies to capture the social history of the development of U.S. and Mexican drug-control regimes. Elaine Carey’s recent work analyzes the role of females involved in 20th-century drug trafficking in order to highlight a period of time when both Mexico and the United States became increasingly worried about marijuana and other substances as threats to national goals and authority, as well as the circumstances surrounding the construction of U.S. and Mexican drug-control regimes.24 By focusing on both sides of the border and moving into the period when U.S. and Mexican authorities constructed increasingly aggressive antidrug regimes and the interactions between their populations, Carey’s work also promotes the New Drug History literature and suggests a number of ripe avenues for approach in future studies.

A number of Latin American scholars have also taken social and cultural approaches to the contemporary history of drugs in their countries.25 Mexican sociologist Luis Astorga has emerged as one of the leading scholars on drugs and culture. His succinct studies, El siglo de las drogas and Drogas sin fronteras, explore the social history of drugs in 20th-century Mexico.26 Looking at the effect of illegal substances at various levels of Mexican society—from the experiences of peasant producers to the federal agents attempting to curtail the production and distribution of opium, heroin, and marijuana—these books seek to dispel the myths that Astorga sees as obscuring contemporary drug-related issues.

The future of the field lies, I believe, in continuing to come up with innovative subjects and methodologies for understanding the history of drug production, prohibition, trafficking, enforcement, and offshoot issues, such as the formation of phenomena like cartels. Corruption, and specifically the links between the drug trade and the Mexican government, is one area ripe with possibilities. Astorga has argued that control by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional over drug traffickers prior to the PRI’s fall from power in 2000 played an important role in maintaining stability. Benjamin Smith has argued that the drug trade played a critical role in helping the PRI maintain control, especially at the local and state level.27 Continuing to understand how the drug trade breeds into Mexican state formation is one area where much work remains to be done.

Nevertheless, scholars will continue to realize the possibilities of the New Drug History while continuing to scour Latin American archival documentation—as it becomes declassified, in many cases—to do so. In February 2015, Gootenberg and Campos teamed with scholars working on drug histories throughout Latin America to publish a special issue focusing on the New Drug History of the Americas, what it means, and on possibilities for future scholarship.28 In short, Gootenberg and Campos highlight than the history of the field will involve not separating but integrating drug-history analysis into the larger problems and histories of Latin America.

Outside of the New Drug History, most accounts of the drug trade in the early 2000s came from journalistic and policy-oriented accounts.29 As increasing numbers of archival materials are declassified each year, with the promise of oral histories that will reconstruct Mexico’s more recent drug history, historians could and should find ways to collaborate with and incorporate sources, accounts, and methodologies that come from outside the traditional historical field into their studies.

Primary Sources

Many of the principal declassified primary sources for the history of the drug trade are found in Mexico City’s Archivo General de la Nación (National Archives); Archivo Histórico del Distrito Federal (Archives of the Federal District); Archivo Histórico de la Secretaria de Salud (Secretary of Health Archives); and Acervo Histórico Diplomático, Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (Foreign Relations Archive). Likewise, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland, and its affiliates contain many materials relevant to the drug trade in Mexico via diplomatic correspondence and country files. Finally, online initiatives such as the Mexico Project at the National Security Archive at the George Washington University have made it possible to look at archival documents regarding U.S.–Mexico narcotics diplomacy following World War II.

Further Reading

Antonio Carillo Flores to Nixon, Secretariat of Foreign Relations, personal letter,” September 30, 1969. Document 12, National Security Archive GWU.

Astorga Almanza, Luis Alejandro. Drogas sin fronteras. México, D.F.: Grijalbo, 2003.Find this resource:

Astorga Almanza, Luis Alejandro. El siglo de las drogas: El narcotráfico, del Porfiriato al nuevo milenio. Mexico, D.F.: Plaza y Janés, 2005.Find this resource:

Bagley, Bruce M., and William O. Walker, III, eds. Drug Trafficking in the Americas. Miami, FL: University of Miami North-South Press, 1996.Find this resource:

Bertram, Eva, et al., Drug War Politics: The Price of Denial. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.Find this resource:

Bowden, Charles. Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields. New York: Nation Books, 2010.Find this resource:

Brown, Lyle C. “The Politics of U.S.–Mexican Relations: Problems of the 1970s in Historical Perspective.” In Contemporary Mexico: Papers of the IV International Congress of Mexican History. Edited by James W. Wilkie et al. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.Find this resource:

Campbell, Howard. Drug War Zone: Frontline Dispatches from the Streets of El Paso and Juárez. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Campos, Isaac. Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origins of Mexico’s War on Drugs. Chapel Hill: University of North Caroline Press, 2012.Find this resource:

Carey, Elaine. Women Drug Traffickers: Mules, Bosses, and Organized Crime. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Córdova, Nery. La narcocultura: Simbología de la transgresión, el poder y la muerte (Sinaloa y la “leyenda negra”). Culiacán, Sinaloa: Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa, 2011.Find this resource:

Courtwright, David T. Dark Paradise: Opiate Addiction in America before 1940. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982.Find this resource:

Craig, Richard B. “Human Rights and Mexico’s Antidrug Campaign.” Social Sciences Quarterly 60 (1980): 691–701.Find this resource:

Craig, Richard B. “La Campaña Permanente: Mexico’s Antidrug Campaign.” Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs 20 (1978): 107–131.Find this resource:

Craig, Richard B. “Mexican Narcotics Traffic: Binational Security Implications.” In The Latin American Narcotics Trade and U.S. National Security. Edited by Donald J. Mabry. New York: Greenwood, 1989.Find this resource:

Craig, Richard B. “Operation Condor: Mexico’s Antidrug Campaign Enters a New Era.” Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs 22 (1980): 345–363.Find this resource:

Craig, Richard B. “U.S. Narcotics Policy towards Mexico: Consequences for the Bilateral Relationship.” In The Drug Connection in U.S.–Mexican Relations. Edited by Guadalupe González and Marta Tienda. San Diego: University of California Center for U.S.–Mexican Studies, 1989.Find this resource:

Freeman, Laurie, and Jorge Luis Sierra. “Mexico: The Militarization Trap.” In Drugs and Democracy in Latin America; The Impact of U.S. Policy. Edited by Coletta A. Youngers and Eileen Rosin, 263–302. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2005.Find this resource:

Frydl, Kathleen J. The Drug Wars in America, 1940–1973. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

González, Guadalupe and Marta Tienda, eds. The Drug Connection in U.S.–Mexican Relations. San Diego: University of California Center for U.S.–Mexican Studies, 1989.Find this resource:

Gootenberg, Paul. Andean Cocaine: The Making of a Global Drug. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.Find this resource:

Grayson, George W. Mexico: Narco-Violence and a Failed State? New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2010.Find this resource:

Grayson, George W. The Cartels: The Story of Mexico’s Most Dangerous Criminal Organizations and Their Impact on U.S. Security. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2014.Find this resource:

Massing, Michael. The Fix. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.Find this resource:

McAllister, William B. Drug Diplomacy in the Twentieth Century: An International History. New York: Routledge, 2000.Find this resource:

Musto, David F. The American Disease: Origins of Narcotic Control. 3d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.Find this resource:

Nixon, Richard. “Remarks about an Intensified Program for Drug Abuse Prevention and Control, June 17, 1971.” American Presidency Project, University of California, Santa Barbara, edited online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley.

Pérez Montfort, Ricardo. Yerba, Goma y Polvo: Drogas, Ambientes y Policías en México, 1900–1940. México, D.F.: Ediciones Era, 1999.Find this resource:

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(1.) See Luis Alejandro Astorga Almanza, Drogas sin fronteras (México, D.F.: Grijalbo, 2003).

(2.) See Isaac Campos, Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origins of Mexico’s War on Drugs (Chapel Hill: University of North Caroline Press, 2012).

(3.) See Kathleen J. Frydl, The Drug Wars in America, 1940–1973 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

(4.) Dr. Leopoldo Salazar Viniegra, “El Mito de la Marijuana,” Criminalia (Mexico City), December 1938, 206–237; For context, see also Isaac Campos, Home Grown; Elaine Carey, Women Drug Traffickers: Mules, Bosses, and Organized Crime (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2015); and Ricardo Pérez Montfort, Yerba, Goma y Polvo: Drogas, Ambientes y Policías en México, 1900–1940 (México, D.F.: Ediciones Era, 1999).

(5.) See Astorga Almanza, Drogas sin fronteras; and Luis Alejandro Astorga Almanza, El siglo de las drogas: El narcotráfico, del Porfiriato al nuevo Milenio. Mexico, D.F.: Plaza y Janés, 2005.

(6.) See Eva Bertramet al., Drug War Politics: The Price of Denial (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1996).

(7.) See, for example, “A U.S. Study Finds Mexico the Source for Most of Heroin,” New York Times, October 27, 1975.

(8.) “Antonio Carillo Flores to Nixon, Secretariat of Foreign Relations, personal letter,” September 30, 1969, Document 12, National Security Archive GWU.

(9.) See Richard B. Craig, “Operation Condor: Mexico’s Antidrug Campaign Enters a New Era,” Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs 22 (1980): 345–363.

(10.) Richard Nixon, “Remarks about an Intensified Program for Drug Abuse Prevention and Control, June 17, 1971,” American Presidency Project, edited online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley.

(11.) See: María Celia Toro, “The Internationalization of Police: The DEA in Mexico,” Journal of American History 86 (September 1999): 623–640.

(12.) See Astorga Almanza, Drogas sin fronteras; Richard B. Craig, “Human Rights and Mexico’s Antidrug Campaign,” Social Sciences Quarterly 60 (1980): 691–701; Craig, “La Campaña Permanente: Mexico’s Antidrug Campaign,” Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs 20 (1978): 107–131; Craig, “Mexican Narcotics Traffic: Binational Security Implications,” in The Latin American Narcotics Trade and U.S. National Security, ed. Donald J. Mabry (New York: Greenwood, 1989); Craig, “Operation Condor: Mexico’s Antidrug Campaign Enters a New Era”; and Daniel Weimer, Seeing Drugs: Modernization, Counterinsurgency, and U.S. Narcotics Control in the Third World, 1969–1976 (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2011).

(13.) See Weimer, Seeing Drugs.

(14.) See Craig, “Mexican Narcotics Traffic.”

(15.) See U.S. Congressional Research Service, U.S.–Mexican Security Cooperation: The Mérida Initiative and Beyond (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2016), Introduction.

(16.) See also David A. Shirk, The Drug War in Mexico: Confronting a Shared Threat (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, Center for Preventative Action, 2011).

(17.) See: William O. Walker, III, Drug Control in the Americas, rev. ed. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989); Walker, ed., Drug Control Policy: Essays in Historical and Comparative Perspective (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992); and Walker, ed., Drugs in the Western Hemisphere: An Odyssey of Cultures in Conflict (Wilmington, DE.: Scholarly Resources Press, 1996).

(18.) See Paul Gootenberg, Andean Cocaine: The Making of a Global Drug (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008).

(19.) Ibid., p. 2.

(20.) Ibid., pp. 5–9.

(21.) Isaac Campos, Home Grown.

(22.) Ibid., p. 3.

(23.) Ibid., pp. 2–3.

(24.) Elaine Carey, Women Drug Traffickers: Mules, Bosses, and Organized Crime.

(25.) Notable accounts include Nery Córdova, La narcocultura: Simbología de la transgresión, el poder y la muerte (Sinaloa y la “leyenda negra”) (Culiacán, Sinaloa: Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa, 2011); and Ricardo Perez Monfort, Yerba, Goma y Polvo: Drogas, Ambientes y Policías en México, 1900–1940.

(26.) Luis Astorga, El siglo de las drogas: El narcotráfico, del Porfiriato al nuevo milenio; Astorga, Drogas sin fronteras.

(27.) Benjamin T. Smith, “The Rise and Fall of Narcopopulism in Sinaloa, 1940–1980,” Journal for the Study of Radicalism 7 (2013): 125–167.

(28.) “Special Issue: The New Drug History of the Americas,” Hispanic American Historical Review 95.1 (2015): 1–133.

(29.) See, for example, Howard Campbell, Drug War Zone: Frontline Dispatches from the Streets of El Paso and Juárez (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009); Alfredo Corchado, Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter’s Journey Through a Country’s Descent into the Darkness (New York: Penguin, 2013); George W. Grayson, The Cartels: The Story of Mexico’s Most Dangerous Criminal Organizations and Their Impact on U.S. Security (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2014); Grayson, Mexico: Narco-Violence and a Failed State? (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2010); and Sylvia Longmire, Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug Wars (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).