The history of drug trafficking in Mexico

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Few works on drug trafficking have the documentary strength and variety of sources as Benjamin T. Smith’s book La Droga. The true story of drug trafficking in Mexico

The history of drug trafficking in Mexico could not be explained from its origin without two key archetypes that a century later remain in force: the governor and the policeman. If it were about making a sketch of that “shadow government”, as Carlos Monsiváis called drug trafficking, we would have to talk about cycles, characters and above all, the US market and its geopolitical drift.

The year 2022 that just ended left a wide and good bibliographical production on drug trafficking in Mexico. The tour ranges from the history of US anti-narcotics agents in the country, criminal wars, and the discursive hegemony of drug trafficking and violence. The most relevant editorial event – ​​without a doubt – was the publication at the beginning of the year in its Anglo-Saxon version of The Dope. The real history of the mexican drug trade, written by the British historian and professor at the University of Warwick, Benjamin T. Smith. The Spanish translation (La Droga. La verdadera historia del narcotrafico en México, Debate, 2022) came out last November, and as usually happens with large-scale works, it passed by for the vast majority of the country’s media.

The work develops four theses, documents them with unpublished information, and collects testimonies that contribute to outlining almost a century of drug trafficking in the country. The first thesis is about the economic force generated by the drug business, this impulse motivated the growth of border economies that developed cities like San Luis Rìo Colorado, Sonora, and is behind the growth of Tijuana long before the prohibition period. Another details the relationship between drug trafficking and the authorities, the official “protection networks” from which politicians and the military have benefited since the emergence of the post-revolutionary state. Until the early 1970s, these networks were controlled by governors and local police, and from the six-year term of Luis Echeverría (1970-1976) the Federal Judicial Police first,

One of the revelations in the book, of several that it brings, shows how anti-drug policies are a generator of violence based on how the use of public force has been used to “appropriate” the networks, and not to “combat” them. as the official discourse proclaims. Originally, this was and remained for several years –until its mutation in 2001 at the beginning of political alternation in the country–, the background of the wars of crime.

“Those conflicts over appropriation of safety nets were sporadic in the early years of the industry. There were outbreaks of violence in Ciudad Juárez in the early 1930s, in Sinaloa in the 1940s, and then again in Sinaloa in the late 1960s. (…) In the last 40 years, a growing number of groups have been fighting for control of protection networks, and they no longer include only local politicians, but also federal police, secret service (DFS) agents and drug traffickers. What is usually characterized as a conflict derived from the drug trade is more often a conflict for control of the protection network”.

THE BEST KEPT SECRET

In the gallery of first traffickers at the beginning of the 20th century, Estebán Cantú, governor of the then territory of Baja California, stands out due to the way in which he “imposed the first unofficial protection network for drug trafficking in Mexico.” This policy of letting go and looking the other way while the cash register rings would be a “model” that would seek to accommodate other entities as the US demand for opium gum and heroin increased. The book collects a key episode in the forties that occurred in Sinaloa, against the background of the armed struggles of agrarianism in the state in the epilogue of the six-year term of Lázaro Cárdenas. The story behind the assassination of Governor Rodolfo T. Loaiza, a colonel close to the former president, was said to be due to the struggle between the Cardenistas and the German soldiers, The suspicion behind the attack fell on General Pablo Macías Valenzuela, who would be his successor in the governorship. But the interests affected by the double standards that Loaiza used to benefit from the growing heroin traffic, with the rubber coming from the mountain municipalities having Badiraguato as its epicenter, and his policy of charging and beating distributors twice, appears as the ghost behind the crime The material author Rodofo Valdés “el Gitano” would be the first archetype of a gunman at the service of the drug trafficker who would later become one of the bodyguards of another governor, Lepoldo Sánchez Celis. But the interests affected by the double standards that Loaiza used to benefit from the growing heroin traffic, with the rubber coming from the mountain municipalities having Badiraguato as its epicenter, and his policy of charging and beating distributors twice, appears as the ghost behind the crime The material author Rodofo Valdés “el Gitano” would be the first archetype of a gunman at the service of the drug trafficker who would later become one of the bodyguards of another governor, Lepoldo Sánchez Celis. But the interests affected by the double standards that Loaiza used to benefit from the growing heroin traffic, with the rubber coming from the mountain municipalities having Badiraguato as its epicenter, and his policy of charging and beating distributors twice, appears as the ghost behind the crime The material author Rodofo Valdés “el Gitano” would be the first archetype of a gunman at the service of the drug trafficker who would later become one of the bodyguards of another governor, Lepoldo Sánchez Celis.

Benjamin Smith does not propose it, but when he mentions “the Carabineros de Santiago”, a group of peasants and miners from Santiago de los Caballeros, Badiraguato, who fought under that name in the Mexican Revolution in the states of Sinaloa and Sonora, he contributes the key where the genealogy of the first families dedicated to drug trafficking is born.

No drug story in Mexico could be told without mentioning the importance of Badiraguato and its ranches such as Santiago de los Caballeros. The Santiago police were commanded by Colonel Eduardo Fernández Lerma, Captain Martín Elenes, and Eliseo Quintero, Fidel Carrillo, Eduardo Payán, Jesús Caro, and two sons of the chief, Major Fermín Fernández Salazar and Captain Jesús Fernández Salazar, stood out.

Captain Jesús had a son whom he named after his father, Eduardo Fernández Juárez. This man was born in Santiago de los Caballeros in 1921, as a child he was sent to his uncle’s house in Culiacán to study. The book tells the story of the “Botica del Refugio”, a pharmacy that would become the first laboratory to process opium gum in the Sinaloan capital. Due to the family relationship with the owner of the place, the renowned chemist Veneranda Bátiz Paredes, Lalo started working as a teenager as an errand boy, at the beginning of the forties they put him in charge of supplying the chemical substances that the apothecary needed”, and he He became a frequent traveler to the Nogales border where, over time and due to his family relationships, he established the first heroin trade networks.

The story of Lalo Fernández Juárez, as the first great Godfather of drug trafficking in Mexico, could be the best kept secret, but he would have to share the stage with the figure of Fernando Favela Escobosa, a respectable family businessman and considered the key man in international connections. of the Sinaloan narco.

The book collects the history of both and their incidence until the first half of the seventies in the heroin business. Since the mid-sixties with the marijuana boom, other traffickers began to influence the regional economy, the agreements and the way they behaved with the authorities. Among them stands out the figure of Pedro Avilés Pérez, the “León de la Sierra”, whose story told from the perspective of the DEA in the book raises questions about the importance he had in the business and the inheritance he left behind after his death during the “Operation Condor” in 1978.

GEOPOLITICS OF DRUGS

From the last part of the work, the variety of sources stands out to give background and context to the episode that shook the bilateral relationship between Mexico and the United States in the eighties. The death of DEA agent Enrique Camarena Salazar in February 1985 is explained from different perspectives where the deliberate confusion in the criminal investigation, the handling of evidence and the destruction of evidence were the tonic.

The participation of the CIA as a hypothesis that has been mentioned for several years in the death of Camarena, is approached from the analysis of several key figures such as Lawrence Harrison, cited as an asset of the agency and who would be the source behind the version. that the crime had its origin in the information that Camarena could have about the participation of the drug trafficker in the exchange of drugs for weapons for the Nicaraguan Contras using the national territory.

The motive behind the assassination of the legendary journalist Manuel Buendía in 1984, and the subsequent silence of the last head of the DFS, José Antonio Zorrilla Pérez, are part of those stories still to be explained.

The episode that does not appear at the end of the book and that would help to understand the end of the 20th century and start the current one, as it does in the sections “The Wars” and “Drugs and Violence”, is the escape in January 2001, at the end of the book. start the first non-PRI six-year term in the country, of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. It is a fundamental moment due to the implications that it had for the decomposition and crisis that we are experiencing in internal security.

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