Regardless of its controversial role in the international community, the United States is to be regarded as the epicenter of global economic and ideological activity since the 18th century. It is through their patriotic sense of dedication and hard work, and their matchless yearning for self-actualization that Americans have found a reality within the ‘American dream.’ Yet, if I had to pick out one factor that has kept the United States from genuinely becoming a modern-day Elysium, it would be the drug issue perpetuated by oppressive and xenophobic institutions, and soulless politicians.
The United States has a drug problem, and its supplier is paying the price.
The Mexican drug war that unraveled in 2006 has claimed the lives of over 300,000 people, not counting the 72,000 that have disappeared. While the predominant narrative has been quick at blaming Mexico’s domestic instability and inefficient governance for the ongoing conflict, few have addressed the elephant in the room. Contrary to countries that have successfully regulated the progression of domestic drug markets, like Canada and Portugal, Mexico’s drug empire relies on foreign demand, particularly that of its northern neighbor.
Since 2000, the United States has seen over 700,000 drug overdoses, with over 70 percent including opioids — only a year ago, fentanyl became the top cause of death for Americans aged 18 to 45. The rise in narcotic usage in the United States can be traced back to the 1990s opioid epidemic, when American pharmaceutical corporations and healthcare professionals flooded the market with highly addictive pain medicines, prompting the HHS to proclaim a public health emergency in 2017.
Unfortunately, this is hardly the only instance of American organizations using narcotics to advance their agendas, hence contributing to increased narcotic production in Mexico. The US government first introduced Morphine during the Civil War, igniting a never-ending cycle of addiction in the American military services; recently the HSCC discovered that in the 1960s, American armed forces received around 225 million tablets of addictive stimulants. Furthermore, the government has relied on the drug market to maintain the systematic racism that has trapped Black and Latinx communities in an unbreakable cycle of narcotic dependence. However, even the rich are vulnerable to institutional normalization of drug use — cocaine, for example, has been a critical engine for the American finance industry since the 1970s, reinventing drugs as a method of advancing in the US’s hyper-competitive climate.
Nevertheless, while the demand for drugs has increased in the United States, the domestic supply of these has crumbled. Various presidents, such as Nixon and Clinton, have introduced nationwide exterminations of drug supply channels in the country. This has done nothing to reduce the dependency of their citizens, who as a result, have turned to Mexico to sustain their addictions. Essentially, the rise of organized crime dates further back to the years of prohibition in 1933 and has since remained positively correlated with the increased persecution of US domestic drug supply. Nowadays, around 90 to 94 percent of heroin and 80 percent of fentanyl consumed in the United States comes from Mexico, which along with other drugs, make up a transnational business deal worth 30 $ billion in yearly revenue.
Now that we have discussed the circumstances surrounding the United States’ engagement in the Mexican drug war, let us consider the impact of such foreign demand on Mexico’s political stability and economic potential. For one thing, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has conducted several campaigns in Mexico that have undermined the country’s sovereignty and sustainability. For example, in 2014 El Universal Mexico disclosed that the DEA had negotiated various agreements with the Sinaloa cartel, allowing them to operate in certain territories and smuggle narcotics into the United States in exchange for intelligence.
The DEA’s undercover operations have also cast suspicion on the extent to which the US is instigating violence in Mexico in an attempt to combat domestic drug consumption. Mexico was humiliated two years ago when it was revealed that Edgar Valdez, an infamous narco, had been serving as a DEA undercover agent. While Valdez’s assistance ultimately resulted in the capture of numerous capos, Mexicans were left wondering why the US had allowed a man who murdered two mayors, planted three car bombs, murdered four journalists, and tortured 72 immigrants to continue his activities in Mexico for the benefit of their own agenda.
The latter case resembled that of Enrique Camarena, an undercover DEA agent in the Guadalajara cartel who was kidnapped and murdered by two drug dealers, one CIA agent, and one DEA agent for possessing information about the US cooperating with Mexican and Colombian cartels to finance the Contras revolutionary group in Nicaragua.
Conversely, the DEA’s intelligence, methods, and oversight have been valuable to Mexican authorities on occasion. Furthermore, it is evident that foreign monitoring has regulated, to a degree, the level to which Mexican corruption and impunity have allowed the cartels to thrive in Mexico. Nonetheless, the US government seldom, if ever, acknowledges that 101 people die in Mexico every day as a result of Washington’s inability to control its peoples’ substance abuse. The DEA, along with other covert operations, sustains and encourages organized crime, at the same time that the American government issues warnings on recreational travel to Cancun in order to protect its citizens from the violence it itself has caused.
Apart from American institutions partnering with Mexican cartels on a legal and illegal basis, the US has also been accused of supplying weapons to Mexico’s organized crime. According to USA Today, ‘the Mexican government assures that over 500,000 weapons are trafficked from the United States each year, equipping Mexico’s deadly cartel wars.’ Indeed, the United States’ weak gun control regulations facilitate the quick purchase and transnational movement of firearms into Mexico. Once again, we witness an absurd situation in which the US decides to build a wall in order to defend itself from the bullets it sells.
To conclude, I emphasize two points. First, the American people are victims just as much as the thousands of Mexicans killed in the drug wars. Substance abuse is an illness, and I will not argue otherwise — the US government has consistently turned its back on its own citizens, systematically inciting them to turn to drugs in one way or another. One administration after another has opted to focus their resources on Mexico when, in truth, it is their own citizens who are in desperate need of aid.
Second, this article is not a rant against multilateral cooperation; rather, it raises concerns about the nature and true intentions of foreign intervention. It is a plea for attention to be paid to the underlying cause of the North and Latin American drug wars, which is drug addiction among the population of high-income nations, most notably the United States.
We must acknowledge that American corporations profit from substance abuse and that minorities are manipulated by the narcotics industry – we must rethink the educational system and our own morals that have convinced children that it is preferable to take unprescribed Adderall than to receive a C on an essay. Apart from going undercover and fighting violence by inciting more violence, the US must engage in progressive anti-drug campaigns that young people can trust and find inspiration in. Moreover, pharmaceutical firms must be held accountable for the damage they have caused, and the American government must stop ignoring the PTSD crisis plaguing its soldiers and homeless people.
Finally, we need the UNODC and Interpol to take a more active role in supervising Mexican politics and organized crime, because the co-dependency that has enabled Mexican-American relations to develop a drug empire is clearly not working.
While much remains to be done, negotiating with and financing organized crime, as well as conspiring against the Mexican government, regardless of how incompetent and corrupt it may be, will not put an end to the thousands of lives lost to drug-related violence or substance addiction.