Mexico: How the Cartels Were Born

Source: Jacobin

What’s known as the “Mexican Drug War” was fueled by American free-market policies.

Adapted from A Narco History: How the United States and Mexico Jointly Created the “Mexican Drug War,” out this spring from OR Books.

Ronald Reagan cast himself as a law and order man, ready to reverse the drug policies of Jimmy Carter, who indeed had pulled back from Nixonian fanaticism. Once in office, Reagan set up the South Florida Task Force to go nose-to-nose with the cocaine barons, whose airplanes had been dropping drug-bundles at sea, where they were picked up by fast boats and whisked ashore.

Headed by Vice President George H.W. Bush, the task force brought in the army and navy, and put Miami vice in its crosshairs. It worked. Surveillance planes and helicopter gunships throttled the hitherto wide-open Colombia–Florida connection. But the Colombians simply abandoned their direct shuttle service and increased the flow through their Mexican pipeline.

Soon, however, the Mexicans shifted from being simply a well-paid smuggling service to demanding and getting full partnership status. In short order kingpins Félix Gallardo, Fonseca Carrillo, and Caro Quintero were providing 90 percent of the cocaine pouring into the US market, and raking in an estimated $5 billion a year.  In 1984, the DEA began referring to the triumvirate as the Guadalajara Cartel, echoing the by-then common reference to the Medellín and Cali Cartels.

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