The Illegal Drug Industry History Essay
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
In order to make this drug trade possible, domestic cartels from drug trafficking countries control sectors within their countries and have access to the demographic resources that primarily lead to their successes abroad. These cartels carve out secret passages and routes unknown to those outside of the cartel, whereby they transport the finished products to borders prior to having the drugs transported into the new country. Statistics show that “the Justice Department’s National Drug Intelligence Center estimates that cartels operated in 1,286 U.S. cities in 2009 and 2010, which is more than five times the number reported in 2008,” which illustrates the extent of cartel infiltration in the United States (Badkar). What is even more alarming is that this infiltration is not only immediately harmful to the individual counties and surrounding areas in which drug trafficking is occurring, but also the fact that these cartels pay off U.S. and Mexican officials in private to gain information about pending investigations with which they report back to their leadership. In this way, drug cartels are constantly expanding and are highly adaptive to their respective regions and in any conflict that should arise. Money, specifically its use in bribery, is essential to the success of drug cartels, as seen in their rise in the U.S. below:
In order to understand the success behind drug cartels, we must first carefully examine the social structure and political clout surrounding these cartels. Firstly, the geographic nature of Latin America allows for the proper harvesting and cultivation of the variety of drugs exported from there. For marijuana, tropical climates with well-nourished soil are necessary for proper growth; the soils of Mexico, in certain areas, provide the necessary base for marijuana to be cultivated properly. A sharp increase in the demand for marijuana over the past few decades has led to the cultivation of the plant in areas not traditionally suitable for plant growth, such as western and southern United States. In the case of cocaine, which is produced from the coca leaf, it is best grown in areas with heat and humidity and thus is native to locations in and around the Amazon, Peru, and Bolivia. Cocaine is also grown in Mexico, a place that has been deemed infertile for the plant, but the idea of greater profits have made Mexico’s cartels force growth under simulated environmental conditions. Methamphetamines, which are a man-made substance, can be made virtually anywhere in the world with the necessary base materials and equipment, and thus is relatively easy for existing drug cartels to add to their extensive line-up of manufactured drugs.
The environmental impacts of drug cultivation are immense. For example, in the production of cocaine from the coca plant, “Each year millions of tons and litres of processing chemicals and materials are released into the environment, both as wastes from processing laboratories and from the destruction of confiscated chemicals” (Effects of Coca Cultivation). Marijuana grows perfectly well outside, “but grown indoors, this crop needs electricity and lots of it. Some lights here run 18 hours a day. With fans, dehumidifiers, and security cameras, the electricity bill comes out to $4,500 a month – more than rent” (Morehouse). Additionally, there have been stories about oil spills around the country from these indoor grow houses, which poses an additional threat to areas serviced by those tainted water supplies. Methamphetamine, in my opinion, has the most dangerous effects on the environment. Since the base materials for meth are highly flammable and explosive household chemicals, this no doubt is an issue when mixing the chemicals to make the meth compounds. “Statistics from ‘The Meth Epidemic in America’ indicate that for every pound of methamphetamine produced, five to seven pounds of toxic waste are created. The solid wastes are usually dumped down household drains, in yards, or on back roads. The accompanying poisonous gas is released into the air. Chemicals from large-scale methamphetamine laboratory dump sites have killed livestock, contaminated streams, and destroyed trees and vegetation” (Meth).
It is easy to see how drug cartels have “turf wars” over the control of areas that produce the largest and best quantity of the various drugs. This partially stems from the inherent structure of drug cartels. At the lowest ranks are the Falcons (Halcones) who act as surveillance for the cartels. Next in rank are the Hitmen (Sicarios) who act as the enforcers for the cartels and carry out most physical aspects of cartels from kidnapping to extortion and more. Following them are the Lieutenants (Lugartenientes) who are responsible for the supervision of the Falcons and Hitmen amongst other tasks that are specifically granted to them. Above the Lieutenants are the infamous Drug Lords, or Capos, who oversee the entire cartel operation and make decisions about assassinations and other more important business decisions (El Sicario). “There are also instances where cartel operatives co-opt existing street gangs who already controlled their respective markets — and seasoned drug dealers know better than to ask a lot of questions about the source of their drugs,” which goes to show just how deeply rooted is the problem of drug trafficking (McLaughlin ). In his book, At the Devil’s Table, Jorge Salcedo, a former member of the Cali Drug Cartel, discusses the day-to-day activities of his gang in depth. Although Jorge was just an errand boy and security guard for the cartel, he “managed to deliver nearly a million dollars in payoffs. And [he] witnessed many, many millions more” (Salcedo). Salcedo talked a lot in depth about how he knew when events were going to happen before the knowledge of the parties involved as his cartel orchestrated the meetings between public officials, as well as worked to rewrite the Constitution. In another excerpt about political corruption, Jorge said:
“Besides law enforcement, the cartel bought a piece of Colombia’s justice system with payoffs to prosecutors who lost evidence, misplaced paperwork, blocked search warrants or released prisoners before they could be questioned. Some judges became overnight millionaires. I see police and judicial corruption as the biggest price of organized crime” (Salcedo).
As important as the hierarchy of a drug cartel is, so are the trade routes upon which the cartels’ business thrives. Below are images of popular drug trade routes in both Mexico and Columbia:http://geo-mexico.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Drug_routes_2010_800.jpg
As you can see, Mexico’s trade routes are much more expansive within the country as raw goods are converted into finished products in different cities. The manner in which these goods are shipped, primarily into the U.S., are determined by the numerous drug cartels in Mexico. Due to a changing political and economic landscape, the eight primary cartels in Mexico have formed alliances of four cartels, each in order to combat turf wars and to maximize profits within the cartel alliances. I will be briefly be discussing each of the eight cartels in Mexico and show how each contributes to Mexico’s increasing drug trade.
Mexican drug cartels mimic the rise and fall of great empires. As old cartels fade away and become disbanded, new cartels spring up in their place and carry the illegal drug trade further into the future. Among Mexico’s eight prominent drug cartels, the Sinaloa Cartel, Gulf Cartel, La Familia Michoacana, and Knights Templar are allies, rivaling up against the Beltran-Levya Cartel, Los Zetas, Tijuana Cartel, and Juarez Cartel. However, La Familia Michoacan and the Beltran-Levya Cartels have become disbanded due to reasons that I will discuss later on.
The first and most prominent cartel in Mexico is the infamous Sinaloa Cartel, headed by what Forbes notes as one of the world’s wealthiest billionaires, Joaquìn Guzmàn. This notorious Mexican outlaw known as “El Chapo”, or shorty, has become the biggest drug lord ever (Vardi). Guzman’s influence over the Sinaloa Cartel has made it a force to be feared within Mexico. The Sinaloa Cartel is responsible for the exportation of marijuana, Mexican opium, methamphetamines, and heroin into the United States. Sinaloa, as the cartel’s name suggests, is the hub of the Sinaloa Cartel, whose influences span across northern and northwestern Mexico and even into the United States. The Sinaloa Cartel operates along the lines of the basic structures of a cartel as outlined before with Guzman at the top and the Falcons at the bottom. This is best illustrated in the picture below:
The Sinaloa Cartel prides itself on its aggregate size, which is comprised of individual sections of Hit Squads under each Lieutenant, as well as the most dangerous street gangs within the United States, MS-13, and Mexican Mafia street gangs. The reason the Sinaloa cartel is a dominating force is that it controls the borders between the U.S. and Mexico, specifically the Arizona-Mexican border and Baja California-California border. During its initial growth period, the Sinaloa Cartel overtook and incorporated a former rival, La Familia Michoacan, who previously controlled the borders between U.S. and Mexico. In his book titled, The Last Narco: Inside the Hunt for El Chapo, the World’s Most Wanted Drug Lord, Malcolm Beith discusses Guzman’s right hand man, Vicente Niebla, who controlled the trade between South American countries and the U.S. for the Sinaloa Cartel. Niebla used every means of transportation possible to smuggle drugs into the U.S., some of which included a tractor and buses (Beith). What makes the Sinaloa Cartel more powerful than its rivals is that it is able to control the drug trade from other South American countries. Guzman’s agreements with Colombian drug cartels allow him to make profits by assisting the cartels with cocaine shipments across the border as well. An important aspect to note is that the Sinaloa Cartel also operates within the United States and has its major shipment center in Atlanta as seen in this excerpt in USA Today, “From the border, shipments of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin are routed over land to Atlanta for storage in a network of stash houses. They are then moved to distribution operations in the Carolinas, Tennessee, the Mid-Atlantic, New York and New England” (Copeland). Another major fact to keep in mind is Sinaloa cartel members have the lowest arrest rates out of any other gang, which shows clear favoritism of the Sinaloa gang by public officials and law enforcement in Mexico; an essential reason explaining why it is getting more and more difficult to eradicate this cartel.
One of Sinaloa Cartel’s alleged allies is the Gulf Cartel, which operates in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, across from the Texas-Mexico border. Created by Juan Guerro and his two brothers during the Prohibition Era of the U.S., the Gulf Cartel worked to help the poorer members of society who considered Juan as a “godfather.” What started as alcohol smuggling into the U.S. has now bloomed into a thriving business of drug trafficking and money laundering. A man by the name of Osiel Guillen was on a mission to hire the best men for the Gulf Cartel’s expansion project, and he did so by paying top soldiers in the Mexican Special Forces more than they were getting paid by the government. One of these men, named Heriberto Lazcano, eventually became the leader of a defective movement within the Gulf Cartel known as Los Zetas.
As Lazcano and other hires began working for the Gulf Cartel, they helped to eradicate all opposition for the Cartel by fighting off the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Negros. The Gulf Cartel received a severe blow when Osiel Guillen was captured by Mexican Special Forces during a fight with them. While in jail, Osiel orchestrated the plan that led to the demise of the Gulf Cartel; he allied with Gulf Cartel rivals and broke off the growing section of the Gulf Cartel. As this section was fully realized, Los Zetas was born. The reason for Los Zetas success is due to the fact that they eventually became bigger and more powerful than the Gulf Cartel, which prompted the Gulf Cartel to seek safety with former rivals, the Sinaloa Cartel and La Familia Michoacana.
La Familia Michoacana started off as part of a synergistic alliance with the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas. Its original leader, Nazario Gonzalez, preached about the group’s divine right to kill their enemies, which were the drug leaders and perpetrators primarily within the state of Michoacan, and to aid the poor and elderly that needed protection from the outside world. As La Familia Michoacana expanded and took over their enemies businesses, they also resorted to increasingly violent actions. After Gonzalez’s capture and death, an event which hastened the demise of La Familia Michoacana, a small defector group broke off and created the Knights Templar, a cartel which aligned itself with La Familia’s rivals. The Knights Templar, while different in its allies, still upholds La Familia’s tradition of social justice for the poor and needy.
Fighting against the allies of La Familia, Gulf Cartel, and the Sinaloa Cartel was the Beltran-Levya Cartel. This cartel was founded by a group of four brothers in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. Originally strong allies with the Sinaloa Cartel, specifically with Joaquin Guzman, the Beltran-Levya brothers changed allies as recently as 2008 after a series of misunderstandings and personal assassinations of Guzman’s son and close aides. The Beltran-Levya Cartel owns most of the tourism industry surrounding areas in Mexico such as Cozumel and Cancun and allies itself with the Tijuana Cartel, Juarez Cartel, and Los Zetas, amongst other Cartel allies in Colombia who act as providers of raw materials to the Levya brothers.
The Tijuana Cartel was created and maintained by the Arellano Felix family and continues to be a small, but strong force in the areas surrounding and including Baja California. The Tijuana Cartel grew at a fast rate initially, but due to several arrests over the past few years of its high ranking members due to unnecessary violence, the Tijuana Cartel has diminished in numbers and influence in the area. Regarding future sustainability of the cartel, the press has said:
“A string of arrests and extraditions of important members of the Tijuana Cartel over the last month show the group is debilitated but resilient, able to maintain control of its home turf in Mexico and regenerate faster than the authorities can cut it back. The Tijuana Cartel is able to maintain some business income by charging Cartel taxes to other cartels wishing to transport drugs within Tijuana Cartel territory” (Jones).
The last cartel in the second alliance is the Juarez Cartel, which was founded in the 1970’s by Rafael Guajardo. The Juarez Cartel can best be described as being in a perpetual dispute with the Sinaloa cartel over trade routes, turf size, etc. The personal attacks of both Guzman, of the Sinaloa Cartel, and Vicente Fuentes, of the Juarez Cartel, upon each other’s family members, sparked this turf war between the two that has still been unresolved. The Juarez Cartel is known for its infamous smuggling of cocaine into the United States and prides itself on instilling fear into the public and into the leadership of rival cartels by sending back the corpses of members to the heads of the respective cartels.
It is easy to see how many of the Cartels’ allegiances lie within the boundaries of trust and power. The respective turfs of each Cartel allow them to fully exploit and expand upon the resources available to them in order to be the most profitable drug trafficking Cartel in the country. In the map below, we can see just how expansive the Mexican drug trade system is along with the drug cartels and their areas of operation:
As Mexican cartels pose a greater threat to the United States, the United States enacted a plan called the Merida Initiative, also known as Plan Mexico. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, gave a speech about the Merida Initiative and stated that:
“The United States remains committed to helping the Mexican Government go after the cartels and organized crime and the corruption they generateâ€¦. Our goal is â€¦ to provide support and help to enable our Mexican friends and partners to be as successful as they are seeking to be. And we will continue, through the Merida Initiative, to provide significant support” (Merida Initiative).
Growing border disputes between the United States and Mexico is a priority for President Obama and Mexico President Felipe Calderon. There are several indicators of Mexican cities that are showing progress in combating drug cartels such as “reduction in violence, cleaned-up cities, and increasing professionalization of the Mexican security forces” (Farnsworth). Recently elected Mexican President, Enrique Nieto, will face challenges in combating Mexico’s growing cartels. “Judicial reform is moving forward, albeit slowly, but Mexican authorities still rely too greatly on confession by apprehended suspects and have deficits in the acquisition and use of intelligence” (Farnsworth). The United States-Mexico initiative to remove drug trafficking rings and drug cartels “has claimed more than 55,000 lives” (Badkar). Going forward, President Nieto must also decide whether legalizing the drug trade and receiving an influx of tax dollars from the trade will be a viable option to combat the increasing violence of the drug cartels.
Colombia’s drug trade is drastically different when compared to the drug trade system of Mexico. While Mexico has many drug cartels which “own” and control their own spaces in Mexico, Colombia’s few drug cartels almost never exist simultaneously and rather came about successively after the previous drug cartel disbands. Additionally, Colombia’s drug trade is world renowned as being notoriously dangerous and violent as Colombia is the World’s largest cocaine producer. Just as in Mexico, Colombia’s drug trade actually started out with an answer to prohibition by smuggling alcohol across the borders into the United States. As U.S. citizens realized the potential of Latin American countries, they began to ask for more and more, which is why over 90% of the United States’ cocaine supply is of Colombian origin, as I mentioned earlier.
Cocaine and marijuana were never cultivated specifically for exporting abroad, but rather they were part of the Andean lifestyle as it helped most overcome altitude sickness amongst other health concerns. Although today’s commercialized drug harvesting process is in place, the process by which these drugs are cultivated is harmful to the environment. Chemical pollution of the water table, slash-and-burn agriculture techniques, and soil disruption are a few of the many problems associated with drug trafficking. This seemed like a necessary evil in the eyes of the few who realized that there was money to be made in this business. By the late 1960’s, government bans on drugs across the Americas provided the catalyst necessary for Cartel growth as they served the unmet needs of people in the United States and even around the World.
One of the most infamous cartels known as the Medellin Cartel, led by Pablo Escobar, one of the World’s wealthiest drug kingpins before Joaquin Guzman of Mexico, served to meet the needs of clients who wanted drugs. The Medellin Cartel was largely successful due to their excellent fronts known as MAS and ACDEGAM. MAS allowed the Medellin Cartel to protect themselves from attacks by local officials or people looking to take over the Cartel. ACDEGAM was a front that helped create local infrastructure for the government, such as roads, bridges, and schools, but it was actually a disguise meant to allow the Medellin Cartel to grow in size without suspicion, at least for a while. Medellin, Colombia, “became the capital of cocaine trafficking in the 1980s as Mr. Escobar’s multinational Medellín Cartel earned up to $60 million daily in drug profits. Even after he was killed in 1993, violence persisted amid ongoing feuds between left-wing guerrilla groups and paramilitaries who worked for traffickers” (Llana). Once Escobar’s Cartel became too violent until the point at which they killed Supreme Court members and presidential candidates for having certain views, the World had to intervene. The U.S. Delta Squad helped to train Colombian nationals on tactics for taking down Escobar and, in 1993, that is exactly what happened. As with almost all other cartels, the Medellin Cartel disbanded after Escobar’s death.
One of Medellin Cartel’s rivals, the Cali Cartel, was instrumental in hastening the downfall of the Medellin Cartel. In contrast to the Medellin Cartel, the Cali Cartel maintained growth and prosperity by employing non-violent tactics and abiding by the government’s rules/regulations. Although the government did not make an exception for the Cali Cartel on the legality of drugs and drug trafficking, they did work out a deal such that the Cali Cartel would provide documents about the inner workings of the Medellin Cartel. The Cali Cartel was also able to flourish due to its organizational structure, which operated more like a company with different departments rather than a monarchy or dictatorship structure like most cartels. What I find interesting about the Cali Cartel is that they legitimately just wanted to make money as any other person would earn his/her money. The Cali Cartel founders were supposedly already wealthy and sought to exploit the fact that the U.S. government was not placing a ban on cocaine imports for a certain while, which helped the Cartel to flourish. The cartel’s money laundering operations, however, led to their downfall. Below, you can see the complex web of transactions by the Cali Cartel, which the government quickly picked up on, that led to the downfall of the Cali Cartel:
Preface: The Cali Cartel hid behind more than 10+ different organizations that they created. They funneled money through the complex web which eventually reached the Cartel by the end of the web.
After the disbanding of the Cali Cartel, the Norte del Valle Cartel took over the illegal drug trade business. Led by Diego Montoya and Wilber Varela, the Norte del Valle Cartel became one of the most powerful cartels in Colombia, doing almost $10B in cocaine sales each year. After the capture of several high-ranking members of the Norte del Valle Cartel, the remaining members broke off into three smaller factions, which are less powerful now, but still exist. In the Miami Herald, it was written that “The Norte del Valle group was also known for its connections in the police. Leaders Danilo Gonzalez, Orlando Henao, Wilber Varela, Victor Patino, and Patino’s half-brother, Luis Ocampo, were all former policemen – a connection that gave them unparalleled refuge from the law,” but Ocampo couldn’t stop the international forces after the top-ranking members (Dudley). As with the other cartels, the Norte del Valle Cartel declined in numbers over the years due to an increase number of crackdowns by U.S. Special Forces and by the Colombian Army.
The last of the remaining drug cartels in Colombia is the North Coast Cartel. Headed by Alberto Gamboa in Barranquilla, the North Coast Cartel acted like the Cali Cartel in that they had the company-like organizational structure that allowed them to succeed, and the powerful force of the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel, in that they commanded respect and tributes by the other smaller, local cartels. As with the Norte del Valle Cartel, the North Coast Cartel’s successes were short-lived as extradition and conviction of Gamboa and several top members forced the disbanding of the Cartel.
A recurring theme that can be seen within the most recent attempts at creating large-scale, organized cartels has been the increasing cooperation efforts between the U.S. and Colombia to extinguish existing drug cartels by extraditing convicted felons to the United States. This program, dubbed Plan Colombia, essentially aimed to collapse the structure of drug cartels by bringing the heads of cartels to trial within the United States, thereby severely limiting the influences of the cartels on police and political figures. Historically, these strategic alliances between the cartels and local law enforcement have helped drug cartels to avoid the charges brought against them, but with the Capos in the United States, the disbanding of their respective cartels ensued. An excerpt from the Plan Colombia aptly states:
“This change represented a vital step by the Colombian government to overcome the most significant barrier to extraditing accused criminals from Colombia, and ushered in a new era of bilateral cooperation on extradition matters. The number of fugitives arrested for extradition and surrendered to the United States amply demonstrates Colombia’s good faith efforts to ensure that criminals are brought to justice in the United States” (Plan Colombia).
Additionally, CNN contributor, William Rempel, wrote that “Extradition is a bargain.
It’s also the most potent weapon against organized crime available in the region. Mexico and its Central American neighbors should embrace it with Colombian enthusiasm” (Rempel). These two sentences struck a chord with me in that I realized that not much is heard about Mexico’s attempts to stop drug cartels from taking over. In Colombia, it sounds like the government and citizens are actively fighting against the drug cartels and want a better future for their children to grow up in. Rempel also discusses the fact that “the beauty of extradition as practiced by Colombia is not its power to stop drug smuggling. There is scant evidence it has had much direct effect in that regard. But it continues to splinter the leadership of trafficking gangs, keeping them in a perpetual state of rebuilding. In short, extradition disorganizes organized crime” (Rempel). I wholeheartedly agree with Rempel, as there will always be people that will try to transcend the law, but there is so much past evidence showing the horrific demise of many drug lords, which dissuades other from joining their ranks. Furthermore, an important and interesting fact to note is that “gross wholesale drug sales in the US generate as much as $38 billion for Mexican and Colombian drug trafficking organizations in 2009. That’s more than Google’s global revenue for the year!” (Badkar).
Today, all of the old, powerful cartels have smaller factions still in place, although with certain legislative and political shifts over the past few decades, organized drug trafficking in Colombia, and even in Mexico, is becoming harder and harder to maintain. There is still a long way to go before Colombia and Mexico are rid of these problems, but so long as there are people willing to take bribes to look the other way, these problems will still be a very real problem, even for our children in the future.
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