History of Drug Trafficking in Mexico (First part)


The beginning of the XX Century

Before 1914 there was no restriction in the United States on the use of drugs imported from other countries and thus drugs could travel freely from one side of the border to the other.  However, in 1914, the United States prohibited opium and other drugs, which were being smuggled into the U.S. by the Governor of the Mexican State Baja California.  Before the American prohibition in 1914, no laws were being violated in Mexico by the trafficking of drugs.  Thus, the Government and the drug trafficking business were united in one branch.

In 1917, the Mexican President Venustiano Carranza, pressured by the U.S., first enacted an order against opium trading and later another banning marihuana (which before was sold without any restrictions).  Thereafter, drug trafficking became a profitable business and even Governors decided to take control of the drug trafficking business personally.[1]  Furthermore, the local smugglers joined with the sellers of firearms, as those were necessary to fight the revolution that affected Mexico.  At that time, the increasing demand from the U.S., together with an armed and unstable Mexican country, gave birth to the illegal drugs business.

The 1960’s and 1970’s saw a conjunction of external and internal factors that began to strengthen the drug trafficking business in Mexico.  First, America’s appetite for psychotropic substances escalated from marihuana to heroin, and then from cocaine to the hardcore chemical drugs consumed in nightclubs throughout the country.[2]  For this reason, the United States Government thought that a “war” on drugs was necessary and thus intensified and strengthened the prohibitions.

In the meantime, in the southern part of the U.S. border, the trafficking business was growing very quickly, and the commercialization of illegal drugs moved from being a local problem in the States of Sinaloa and Jalisco to being a national one.  On the other hand, the power of the Colombian cartels was diminishing due to the pressure of the United States.  Consequently, Mexican organized crime took over the illegal trafficking business from the Colombians and became the first supplier of illegal drugs to the United States.  However, it is worthwhile mentioning that the structural differences between Colombia and Mexico entail that the eradication of the cartels in Mexico would be a much difficult mission for the United States:  in Colombia there was some degree of separation between the politicians and the drug growers and dealers.  This factor did not exist in Mexico because of the high degree of corruption, which has always been prevalent in this country.  Therefore, in Mexico attacking the drug dealers and smugglers was in fact an attack on the government and therefore to the State itself.

The Colombians hired and trained Mexicans in the art of trafficking drugs to the U.S.  Of particular relevance is Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, a well-known Mexican drug smuggler who “had consolidated many of the small time smugglers of the 1960’s and 1970’s into a single organization and thereafter controlled much of the illegal-drug trade along the border.”[3]  Furthermore, “the alliance between the Colombian drug lords and the Mexican Félix Gallardo Organization would produce a formidable drug cartel that operated through most of the 1980’s,”[4]which would come to be known as “the mother of all gangs.”  In response to these developments, the U.S. counteracted with a more intensified “war” against the cartels and in 1989 Gallardo was finally arrested in Mexico City.  However, it was not over.  Félix Gallardo continued to run his operation from his prison cell and ordered his “lieutenants” to divide the border into territories, each one controlling a different smuggling corridor.  It was at this meeting were the most important cartels were to emerge:  Tijuana, Sinaloa, Juarez and the Gulf Cartel.  Gallardo was a quite and peaceful man who did not like to draw attention.  However, his successors would take the opposite direction and have been fighting for territories in the border, which has created unprecedented violence within the Mexican Republic.  Today, these are the same organizations that transport at least 70% of the drugs that enter the U.S. and that continue to fight for control not only of the frontier but of the Mexican market as well.

[1] Luis Astorga, The Limits of Anti-Drug Policy in Mexico (UNESCO, 2001), p.427.

[2] Peter Braunstein and William Doyle, Imagine Nation: The American Counter-culture of the 1960’s and 1970’s, (Routledge, 2002)

[3] Tony Payan, The Drug War and the U.S. – Mexico Border: The State of Affairs, South Atlantic Quarterly (2006), Vol. 105, Issue 4, p. 865.

[4] Id.


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