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Dead bodies with mouths duct taped shut hang from busy commuter bridges. Women are raped and murdered with impunity, and journalists who expose law enforcement corruption are kidnapped and killed. The drug war takes no prisoners. This bloody war, ostensibly to rid the country of illegal drugs and drug trafficking, has been a grisly failure. Mexico continues to be a major exporter of heroin and marijuana and a central transshipment point for cocaine from Andean South America bound for the United States.

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Drugs cross the heavily fortified US-Mexican border far more easily than do migrants seeking work in the United States. The power of the drug cartels to kill, corrupt, and elude capture has grown exponentially as have their profits. For six years as the death toll climbed and drugs flowed unimpeded through the country, El Presidente insisted that the war was being won. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge.

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The drug warriors in Mexico are junior partners in the war on drugs. It is on the other side of the border, thousands of miles away in Washington, DC and Langley, Virginia where the senior partners call the shots. For almost a century, American politicians and federal antidrug agencies have dictated drug policy to their neighbor. Coercing Mexico to enforce total drug prohibition has been a central and enduring source of tension between the two countries.

The border between Mexico and the United States spans six Mexican states and four US states, and has over twenty commercial railroad crossings. There are forty-five Mexico-US crossings with ports of entry. According to the Migration Information Source, in , , passengers and 12, trucks crossed the border every day. Border city twinnings—municipalities connected by one or more legal border crossings—dot the nearly two-thousand mile border. Two rivers, the Rio Bravo and the Colorado, and two deserts, the Sonoran and the Chihuahuan, straddle both countries. The drug war passes through this porous and dangerous, remote and urban geography.

Nature has always conspired to defeat attempts to eliminate trafficking between the two countries. It is a mathematical impossibility. The United States has never respected Mexican sovereignty and the right to self-determination. American armies invaded Mexico in and conquered half of its national territory.

Then in , the US invaded again. Since the s, the United States has intervened covertly and overtly to enforce drug prohibition south of the border. Prohibitionist drug policies have transformed Mexico into a major cultivator, exporter, and transshipment point for illicit drugs that supply the US market. History of prohibition Up until the early s, the use of opium, cocaine, marijuana and alcohol were legal in the United States and could be purchased at pharmacies and stores.

A steady series of laws passed in the United States made all drug use illegal. The Opium Exclusion Act barred the importation of opium for smoking.

Initially, the law applied only to the opium processed for smoking that was favored by Chinese immigrants in San Francisco. In , the Harrison Act was passed prohibiting all non-medicinal use of opium, morphine, and cocaine, effectively outlawing the use of medicinal morphine that white, middle-class women used in products like Mrs. The Marijuana Tax Act of made marijuana use illegal. Millions ignored the new vice laws, and black markets were quickly created to supply people with alcohol, heroin, cocaine, and marijuana.

Prohibition caused initial shortages that had the effect of dramatically boosting drug prices. The super-profits to be made ensured not only the survival of the black market, but also that new suppliers would fill the vacuum. Exports of Mexican opium, heroin, and marijuana for US consumption steadily increased as a result of Prohibition. Murder and robbery are everyday occurrences, and gambling, dope selling and using, drinking to excess, and sexual vices are continuous.

It is a Mecca for criminals and degenerates from both sides of the border. In order to enforce Prohibition, the American state created new law enforcement agencies that over time have become politically and financially invested in the continuation of prohibitionist drug policies as well as the continuation of those activities they are ostensibly designed to prohibit , despite their demonstrable failure. Prohibition created a new class of criminals—drug law violators—who needed to be processed through a criminal justice and penal system that kept expanding as more and more people were caught in its dragnet.

At the same time that the American government was enforcing drug prohibition nationally, it was attempting to do the same internationally. From the beginning, the United States directed global narcotics control efforts and threatened sanctions for noncompliance. US officials at the Hague Convention of and the Geneva Opium Convention of coerced countries to sign on to laws prohibiting the cultivation and export of coca leaf, marijuana, and poppy and to ban recreational use of all drugs. By , legislation consolidating the prohibition of the cultivation, production, and recreational use of all drugs had been enacted in Mexico.

Nevertheless, Mexicans recognized the futility of drug prohibition early on and in attempted to chart a different course. As the head of the Federal Narcotics Service, Doctor Leopoldo Salazar Viniegra implemented a new drug policy based on public health and harm reduction principles. He argued that Mexico could control the drug trade in three ways: create a government-regulated system of drug distribution, implement a public health campaign to educate people honestly about drugs, and expand the drug-treatment system.

Viniegra challenged the prevailing idea that marijuana was a dangerous drug. He knew that smoking marijuana created fewer social problems than drinking alcohol. They seem to have no fear. Anslinger allocated huge resources to stop marijuana and Mexican traffickers from crossing the border. The FBN meddled in Mexican drug policy and pressured the country to enforce prohibition more aggressively. Anslinger would never let Mexico legalize and regulate drugs.

The reaction from Washington upon learning that Mexico would create a national narcotic monopoly and that addicts could acquire drugs from official dispensaries or state-licensed physicians was swift. Anslinger imposed an embargo on the shipment of all medicinal drugs to Mexico as punishment. In Mexico City, over seven hundred drug users were enrolled in the first public health clinic.

If drug addiction is an evil habit—and who will say that it is not—it should be rooted out and destroyed.


It is a tragedy that in the battle between Mexico and the United States to define drug policy, Anslinger won. If Siurob and Viniegra had prevailed in and drugs were legalized and drug use treated as a public health issue, over seventy thousand Mexicans would be alive today. The political economy of the war on drugs A number of economic and political factors colluded over decades to make Mexico a major drug cultivating and exporting country. A critical factor that allowed the drug trade in Mexico to not only grow and survive but to expand is the central involvement of the Mexican state.

The sheer size of the drug economy, the role it plays in keeping the country financially solvent, and the insatiable greed and corruption of government officials guaranteed that prohibition could never completely succeed. Ties between the PRI and illegal drug traders began in the first half of the twentieth century during Prohibition, and by the end of World War II the relationship between drug traffickers and the ruling party had solidified.

It created a durable political, police, and military infrastructure that enabled drug traffickers to cultivate, manufacture, and distribute cocaine, heroin, and marijuana for export to the United States. Control of a plaza gives the drug lord and police commander of an area the power to charge less powerful traffickers tolls, known as pisos.

Generally, one main cartel dominates a plaza at any given time. The cartel that has the most power in a particular plaza receives police and military protections for its drug shipments. The DFS enforced the dictates of the PRI and the drug cartel capos bosses and functioned as an institutional protection racket.

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DFS agents and PRI politicians at the highest levels were involved in some of the largest trafficking operations in Mexico, and coordinated the transit and sale of narcotics. Rizzo Garcia admitted that previous PRI presidents controlled the assignment of drug trafficking routes. For forty years the DFS imposed a rigid structure and order on the drug trade that minimized violence and kept the profits flowing to the capos and payoffs to the politicians.

The fusion of political and business interests between the PRI and the drug cartels created a dynamic that reinforced the power and position of the narcoeconomy. American border-patrol agents are on the payroll. With such gargantuan sums of money on offer, everyone has their price. The endemic corruption is not an aberration, but a necessary cost of doing business. When the Drug Enforcement Administration DEA surveyed its top fifty informants and asked them to name the most important factor for running a drug business, they overwhelmingly answered corruption.

While whole sections of the government, police, and military are on the cartel payroll, another section is not and is committed to rooting out corruption and enforcing prohibition. These internal contradictions contribute to the chaos and violence of the drug war.

U.S.-Latin America Relations

Attempting to investigate and prosecute drug kingpins or powerful politicians involved in drug trafficking is a dangerous occupation. Thousands of assassinations of Mexican and American drug-enforcement agents, governors, mayors, clergy, citizens, lawyers, judges, and journalists who have tried have been assassinated. The development of narcocapitalism in Mexico depended on the enforcement of prohibition on both sides of the border. Drug production and smuggling under the dangerous conditions of illegality creates massively inflated prices for drugs.

Civil–military relations

A Mexican farmer is paid about thirty-six dollars for a pound of marijuana. In the United States a pound of pot can be sold for seven hundred dollars. This guarantees that drug cartels will assume numerous risks to supply consumers.

U.S. Civil-Military Relations in the 21st Century

Agricultural conditions in Mexico are ideal for growing poppies and marijuana. Coca leaf is not grown in Mexico and is cultivated exclusively in Bolivia, Columbia, and Peru—but Mexico is a major transshipment route for cocaine. Chinese immigrants initially introduced poppy to Mexico. The drug trade has always been a global enterprise where plants and their derivatives pass through borders in search of markets. Uneven development of the agrarian sector ensured that there was an endless supply of unskilled, landless, and impoverished workers in Mexico willing to risk working in the illicit narcoeconomy.

It is this desperate, economic necessity to earn a livelihood that the drug cartels exploit. The narcoeconomy has a multiplier effect in the vast number of other jobs it creates indirectly. The transportation, security, communication, and banking industries all service the illegal drug trade. Drug profits are invested in and have transformed rural villages from illiterate backwaters to modern towns with Wi-Fi cafes and ostentatious narco-palaces.