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Drug Trafficking Between US and South America

Approaching and addressing international drug issues in 1999 is not a simple task due to numerous contradictions that involve the inherent nature of economics, politics, culture, and individual ideologies. The normal attributes of drugs, as well as the changing characteristics of these mind-altering substances, makes them the center of complex studies that end up producing contradictory and inconclusive reports. Furthermore, confusion results from the study of available literature due to moral prejudices and sensationalism by journalists. There is a scarcity of serious, objective research as well as a lack of reliable data.

Moreover, discourses corresponding to specific economic and political interests have masked the true nature and dynamic of the drug issue by casting it in mythical terms. Consequently, a battle has emerged between United States political and economic factions shaping popular opinions as well as government action. In the 1970s, this conflict intensified when certain drugs became international commodities on a grand scale. Drug trafficking was born and the subsequent drug trade movement created economic, political, and social repercussions among the countries of the Western Hemisphere.

By examining the institution of drug trafficking in regard to bilateral relations between the United States and Mexico, one can clearly trace these same repercussions and the difficulty in creating successful policy to combat them. Economic Background of Drugs and the Drug Trade Since the beginning of human existence, societies have attempted to regulate mind-altering substances, prohibit them, or establish some sort of moral control over their use, possession, and distribution. Man has always used them for diverse purposes including magic, religion, aphrodisiacs, medicine, and war (Del Olmo 1).

These mind-altering substances carried no monetary value until nation states began creating laws and penalties against the consumption and possession of drugs. With these prohibitive laws firmly in place, drugs lost their exclusive use value and acquired exchange value as commodities, subject to the laws of supply and demand (Del Olmo 2). Thus, individuals who realized that there was profit to be made from a steady demand for drugs, created a “black market” firmly rooted in the economic conventions of free-enterprise and capitalism.

Capitalism due to prohibition, then, has been a major force in the creation of a market for these substances, elevating them to privileged position among the most profitable raw materials for foreign exchange. In the form of raw materials, these drugs – which include heroine, cocaine, and marijuana – begin as the poppy, coca, and marijuana plants respectively. These plants grow well, and quickly, in Latin American countries that experience a relatively hot, humid climate year round such as Colombia, Mexico, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Peru.

Due to these favorable weather conditions, Latin American farmers can easily harvest these plants three to four times a year and stand to earn a much greater profit than many of the farmers who produce other regional crops such as bananas, coffee, and sugar (Economist 35). Interestingly enough, the illegal drug trade existing between the United States and Latin America contains all of the variables involved in the economics of sanctioned trading activity.

Individuals from the United States and other developed countries take the role of those who demand the finished good or service, in this case, cocaine, heroine, and marijuana. Thousands of Latin American farmers assume the supplier role by harvesting and selling the drug producing plants to middlemen. These middlemen, often part of powerful Mexican or Colombian drug cartels, Mafia, or guerrilla groups, then produce the final consumable drug that is smuggled into the United States or other developed countries where demand exists.

This process is referred to as drug trafficking or narcotrafficking (Monitor 16). Despite government official’s knowledge that drug trafficking is an underground economic activity, as well as an illegal form of free enterprise, it is practically impossible to carry out an economic analysis of the international drug trade. Due to varying estimates of the amounts of drugs produced, refined, exported, and consumed, there is no clear way to accurately measure the money made or spent on all of the different phases of drug trafficking (Report 8).

However, U. S. government officials do acknowledge that thousands of Latin Americans rely on the drug trade as a means of income. For example, farmers in the Andean region in Peru harvest coca and poppy plants, and then sell these raw materials to drug cartels, as their dominant source of income. The drug cartels then proceed to create thousands of jobs for Mexican citizens in agriculture, chemical processing, packaging, transportation, accountancy, and administration in order to produce the finished goods that will be smuggled into the United States (Salgado 945).

Past Strategies Used to Combat Drug Trafficking The two Republican Party administrations that wielded the power of Washington bureaucracy in the 1980’s approached the problem of drug trafficking in a much different manner than it is today. Reagan and Bushs main policy in combating the flow of illegal drugs consisted of interdicting the substances when they first crossed the United States’ border. This approach was generally ineffective at reducing the supply of drugs indicated by the 5 to 15 percent of drug imports seized annually.

Furthermore, traffickers effortlessly adapt to such disruptions by using new smuggling innovation and routes (Handbook 1). In the 1980’s, for example, the notorious Colombian Cali Cartel used the Caribbean Islands, Miami, and the surrounding Florida Keys as a haven for their drug trafficking operations. It was not uncommon for federal agents to hear the sounds of “cigarette” boats entering the area late at night. High-powered motor boats were common means of transporting the drugs from the South American production factories to Caribbean Islands to the “friendly” ports in Miami (Constantine 2).

Federal agents eventually made a number of drug seizures and arrests, and forced the cartel to take immediate action. Instead of deterring the cartel’s business, the government merely forced it to move. The Cali Cartel began transporting the bulk of its drugs through Mexico. This move proved to be even more profitable for the cartel, as Mexico provided a country with a 2,000 mile border with the United States, a history of heroine and marijuana smuggling, and the existence of cross-border family ties.

This same relationship exists today however Mexican groups have begun to capitalize on the drug trade as well (Requesters 3). Mexicos Rise to Top Drug Trafficking Country in Hemisphere Since the early part of this decade, drug trafficking organizations in Mexico have become more powerful as they have expanded their operations to include not only the manufacture and distribution of cocaine, heroine, and marijuana, but also methamphetamines. Initially, Mexican drug trafficking organizations acted as mere transport agents for the more powerful Colombian cartels.

Their only task was smuggling the drugs across the U. S. -Mexican border. As time passed however, the Colombian groups began experiencing direct opposition from the U. S. government. As groups of Mexicans became key transporters for the Colombians, they began to demand and receive a portion of all drug shipments in exchange for their services. This resulted in Mexican drug trafficking groups substantially increasing their profits and gaining a foothold in the lucrative illicit drug wholesale business (Blair 3).

According to Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officials, Mexican drug traffickers have almost become as powerful as the Colombian Medellin and Cali cartels were at their height in the 1980s. The Mexican organizations presently control one-third of the cocaine distribution in the United States, 20 percent of the heroine, 85 percent of the methamphetamine, and a majority of the marijuana (McGraw 34). Presently, two groups control the majority of drug trafficking leaving Mexico for the United States. These groups include the Tijuana and Juarez Cartels (McGraw 34).

The Tijuana Cartel is headed by the Arellano-Felix family and controls the drugs crossing the border on the West Coast between Tijuana and Mexicali. This group is thought to be extremely violent, feuding with all rival drug organizations. Consequently, this rivalry led to the killing of Catholic Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas-Ocampo at the Guadalajara airport in 1993. This led to the indictment of several drug cartel leaders including members of Tijuana Cartel (Constantine 3). The advent of the Juarez Cartel was a direct result of the Colombian Cali Cartels demise in the early 1990s.

Spearheaded by the Carillo-Fuentes family, members of the Juarez Cartel began their trafficking careers as chief transporters for arrested Cali Mafia leader Miguel Caro-Quintero. The Carillo-Fuentes family owns several airline companies, which enables them to fly 727s full of illegal cargo from Latin American suppliers, to their ranch in Juarez. They are responsible for much of the drug distribution across the southern Texas border (Constantine 4). Unfortunately, with each passing day, these two powerful groups only gain more knowledge regarding U. S. d Mexican anti-narcotics policies.

The efforts of the U. S. government and the DEA in combating this hemispheric drug problem is often deterred by the drug trafficker’s expeditious response time to their counternarcotics policies. Already expecting interference in their illegal business, traffickers build redundant processing facilities in case current ones are destroyed. Furthermore, these sophisticated drug traffickers often stockpile surpluses of their product inside the United States in case of smuggling interruptions (Boaz 58).

Interestingly, many employees of the U. S. border patrol have recently voiced concerns regarding the amount of drugs that pass through customs every day without being discovered. They blame this on the reluctance of Washington to pursue the possibility that numerous employees of the U. S. Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the border patrol have come under bribery and corruption by the wealthy and powerful Mexican narcotraffickers. Also, Washingtons priority of speeding up border crossings has led to a neglect of the already shrinking interdiction process.

DEA agents feel powerless because their requests to mount special operations south of the border including attempts to gain information regarding Mexican politicians corruption by Mexican cartels- are denied due to the current administrations intent to avoid displeasure by the government in Mexico City. In late 1996, the Juarez Cartel, Mexicos most powerful drug trafficking organization, was revealed as the chief instigator in a bribing scandal involving Mexican drug czar General Jesus Gutierrez Rebeollo.

The following spring, further corruption within the Mexican government serviced just days after President Clinton visited Mexico for the first time during his administration. This time, Mexican ruling-party stalwart Jorge Caprizo MacGregor was accused of leaking U. S. Customs Intelligence reports and helping arrange a twenty ton shipment of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico aboard a tanker owned by a subcontractor of Mexicos state oil industry (Dettmer 10). On the subject of the U. S. governments naive attitude towards the corruption incited by the Juarez based cartel, one DEA agent remarked, We were sleepwalking then and still are.

Now we have to try and compete with a cartel that has an annual income which rivals our entire federal anti-drug budget (McGraw 41). Current U. S. Strategies Aimed at Combating Drug Trafficking In response to the actions of the Mexico based trafficking organizations and their surrogate gangs operating in the United States, the Federal Government has taken a number of steps to work with their law enforcement partners in Mexico, as well as with their state and local colleagues in the U. S.

The DEA has joined forces with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in a Southwest Border Initiative that targets the major Mexican trafficking organizations for enforcement actions. For the first time, the DEA, the FBI, the Department of Justice Criminal Division (DOJ), and respective U. S. Attorneys in every state along the Southwest Border are coordinating both intelligence and manpower resources against the Mexican drug groups. Also, three new binational Border Task Forces have been established and will focus on the principle trafficking organizations.

Senior personnel of the DEA, FBI, and DOJ Criminal Division serve on a U. S. -Mexican Plenary Group, working to enhance cooperation against narcotics and money laundering (Requesters 11). Today, the DEA advocates two primary methods of reducing the supply of illicit drugs into the United States. These methods include crop eradication programs and interdiction of drugs at the U. S. border. Crop eradication – adopted in 1993 is a program in which the U. S. government and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) pressures source countries to eliminate their illicit crops by spraying pesticides, slashing illegal plants, or burning peasants’ fields.

Unfortunately, this method appears to have had little effect on the spread of such crops (GAO 3). Merely examine the U. S. State Department’s estimates – which span over a nine-year period from January of 1988 to December of 1996 – regarding the amount of area used for growing coca plants, the chief substance used in making cocaine. The total area of these plants cultivated increased from 175,210 hectares to 214,800 globally, with the majority of these plants originating in South and Central America.

Equally as stunning are the estimates from the State Department regarding net production of all illicit drugs over this same period of time. Coca leaf production increased from 291,100 metric tons to 309,400 metric tons, and poppy plant production grew from 2,242 metric tons to 4,157 metric tons (Handbook 2). Despite U. S. attempts at controlling the amount of illegal crops produced in Latin American countries, the previous figures show that peasant farmers still view illegal drug cultivation as advantageous due to the profits it brings.

In August of 1996, near the town of Putumayo, Colombia, coca farmers revolted against their own government’s attempts to eradicate their crops by blocking muddy roads and airstrips in which eradication aircraft was to take off. Nearly 30,000 peasant farmers showed support by opposing Colombian action directly influenced by the United States’ international drug certification program and the penalties that can result for countries in non-compliance (Economist 35). Addressing the Question of Certification

The drug certification program, implemented by the Reagan Administration, is a method in which the United States government measures other country’s cooperation regarding U. S. drug policy. Every March, the President releases a list of countries that he and his advisors feel are reliable allies in the battle against illicit drugs. These countries are certified. The countries excluded from the list are decertified and have mandatory penalties imposed on them including 50 percent cutbacks in economic aid and some trade benefits.

Discretionary sanctions may include the end of preferential tariff treatment, limits on air traffic between the U. S. and the decertified country, and increased duties on the country’s exports to the United States (Hakim 16). In recent years, controversy has resulted due to the United States annual re-certification of Mexico. Colombia, which has been decertified for four consecutive years, argues that within Mexicos government lie the same problems that cause Colombia to remain decertified. Colombia might have a valid argument.

In 1997, only weeks before the certification deadline, Mexicos (then) top anti-drug leader was linked to bribery stemming from drug cartels. However, this did not effect the United States opinion of Mexican drug policy, as the country was re-certified weeks later (Economist 39). Many political analysts have begun referring to the insurgence of bribery in Mexican government as the Colombianization of Mexico, pointing to the corruption that surrounds the operation. In addition, it is now widely assumed that Mexican trafficking is more vigorous than that of its southern drug-producing counterpart.

Unlike Colombia, however, Washington granted Mexico full certification in March of 1999 despite evidence of narcocorruption throughout the Mexican government (Economist 39). The inconsistency of the U. S. drug policy would probably become too conspicuous were Washington to threaten sanctions against a partner in the North American Free Trade Agreement. Also, if Mexico experienced the level of social violence seen in Colombia, for instance, the United States would be directly affected.

This development would certainly provoke Washingtons increased involvement in Mexicos domestic affairs (Boaz 102). The United States needs to formulate a concrete method for determining criteria that will establish countries as certified or decertified. Two fundamental changes are needed. First, new legislation should abandon the use of thumbs up or thumbs down analysis in determining certification of a country. Instead, analysis should focus on getting a careful, multidimensional analysis of the drug problems facing different nations.

Second, the U. S. ould not keep the counternarcotics view to itself; it should work with other countries in a forum similar to that of the United Nations (UN) of Organization of American States (OAS). These initiatives would easily strengthen hemispheric anti-drug cooperation by replacing the current process with high-quality reporting done on a mulitlateral basis (Hakim 16). In recent years, as the political and economic ties between the United States and Mexico have strengthened, a new generation of traffickers has been able to grasp a large share of the hemispheric drug trade.

These Mexican cartels have repeatedly effected the governments on both sides of the border growing from low-level smuggling groups to sophisticated organizations that smuggle more and more drugs of every kind into the U. S. The President of Mexico, Ernesto Zedillo, has publicly stated that drug trafficking is a threat to Mexican national security, not only because of the crime inherent with such activity, but also because of the growing wealth that enables traffickers the ability to corrupt police and government officials.

The United States must strive to include other countries in the process of creating new policies regarding drug trafficking. The final development of these new policies will require a substantial commitment of time and resources to achieve the necessary level of success. It is imperative that the U. S. work with their partners in Mexico to blunt the influence the drug traffickers are having in both countries.

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