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05/31/2012

The Genesis of the Drug Trade with Mexico

David Keys of BBC History Magazine has a piece titled “Mexico’s bloody drug war” in the current issue that goes into the history of how it all started, including actions such as that of President Richard Nixon in 1971, where he pressured the Turkish government into suppressing Turkish opium production, but this shifted production to Mexico.   Then in 1976 when U.S. planes sprayed poison on hundreds of square miles of marijuana fields, U.S. drug dealers started importing marijuana from Colombia, which led to the creation of the powerful Colombian drug cartels.

And in 1982, when President Ronald Reagan used the military to prevent Colombian drug smuggling into Florida, the Colombians re-routed their drugs (by then mainly cocaine) through Mexico. Well, then the U.S. learned the 2,000-mile-long Mexican border was more difficult to police than the coast of Florida.

But David Keys writes of the very early days…and how “Mexico’s drug smuggling tradition has its genesis 10,000 miles away, on the other side of the Pacific. For it was from China that Mexico’s ‘opium industry’ was first imported in the 1870s. China had, in turn, first been introduced to opium on a large scale by British merchants who shipped the drug in from India.

“Seeing the harm opium was doing to the population, the Chinese imperial government tried to ban it. But the British defeated China in two so-called opium wars and forced China to accept the trade and its serious social consequences. As a result the number of opium smokers in China rose 50-fold between 1842 and 1881.

“It was during this drug boom that, in the 1870s, Chinese migrants started to arrive in Mexico, many of them recruited as cheap labor to build the country’s first railways. The migrants, many of whom were opium users, brought opium seeds with them, and started production when they reached Mexico. Soon opium dens were flourishing both in Mexico and north of the border.

“However, in 1909, the U.S. made opium importation and consumption illegal – and, as a result, Mexico’s trans-border drug smuggling industry was born. 

“But it was another U.S. ban – alcohol prohibition in the 1920s – that was to transform Mexican opium smuggling.

“Between 1909 and 1933 opium smuggling was mainly controlled by Chinese Mexicans. But during the U.S. alcohol prohibition period (1920-33), indigenous/Hispanic Mexicans launched and controlled a substantial alcohol production and cross border smuggling operation. When prohibition ended, their lucrative smuggling operation became redundant but they quickly identified a replacement smuggling trade: the Chinese-controlled opium run.”

But the Chinese were a wealthy minority in Mexico, a very unpopular one, and the indigenous Mexicans stoked anti-Chinese sentiment to incite mass violence against them, which drove the Chinese out, after which the Hispanic smugglers took over the former Chinese-Mexican-run opium operations.

It then took off in the 1960s driven by the marijuana and heroin revolution in the U.S. It’s been a mess ever since, both in the U.S. and Mexico. Last year 15,000 Mexicans died in the drug war. Over 50,000 have been killed the last five years.

Hot Spots returns in two weeks.

Brian Trumbore


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-05/31/2012-      
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Hot Spots

05/31/2012

The Genesis of the Drug Trade with Mexico

David Keys of BBC History Magazine has a piece titled “Mexico’s bloody drug war” in the current issue that goes into the history of how it all started, including actions such as that of President Richard Nixon in 1971, where he pressured the Turkish government into suppressing Turkish opium production, but this shifted production to Mexico.   Then in 1976 when U.S. planes sprayed poison on hundreds of square miles of marijuana fields, U.S. drug dealers started importing marijuana from Colombia, which led to the creation of the powerful Colombian drug cartels.

And in 1982, when President Ronald Reagan used the military to prevent Colombian drug smuggling into Florida, the Colombians re-routed their drugs (by then mainly cocaine) through Mexico. Well, then the U.S. learned the 2,000-mile-long Mexican border was more difficult to police than the coast of Florida.

But David Keys writes of the very early days…and how “Mexico’s drug smuggling tradition has its genesis 10,000 miles away, on the other side of the Pacific. For it was from China that Mexico’s ‘opium industry’ was first imported in the 1870s. China had, in turn, first been introduced to opium on a large scale by British merchants who shipped the drug in from India.

“Seeing the harm opium was doing to the population, the Chinese imperial government tried to ban it. But the British defeated China in two so-called opium wars and forced China to accept the trade and its serious social consequences. As a result the number of opium smokers in China rose 50-fold between 1842 and 1881.

“It was during this drug boom that, in the 1870s, Chinese migrants started to arrive in Mexico, many of them recruited as cheap labor to build the country’s first railways. The migrants, many of whom were opium users, brought opium seeds with them, and started production when they reached Mexico. Soon opium dens were flourishing both in Mexico and north of the border.

“However, in 1909, the U.S. made opium importation and consumption illegal – and, as a result, Mexico’s trans-border drug smuggling industry was born. 

“But it was another U.S. ban – alcohol prohibition in the 1920s – that was to transform Mexican opium smuggling.

“Between 1909 and 1933 opium smuggling was mainly controlled by Chinese Mexicans. But during the U.S. alcohol prohibition period (1920-33), indigenous/Hispanic Mexicans launched and controlled a substantial alcohol production and cross border smuggling operation. When prohibition ended, their lucrative smuggling operation became redundant but they quickly identified a replacement smuggling trade: the Chinese-controlled opium run.”

But the Chinese were a wealthy minority in Mexico, a very unpopular one, and the indigenous Mexicans stoked anti-Chinese sentiment to incite mass violence against them, which drove the Chinese out, after which the Hispanic smugglers took over the former Chinese-Mexican-run opium operations.

It then took off in the 1960s driven by the marijuana and heroin revolution in the U.S. It’s been a mess ever since, both in the U.S. and Mexico. Last year 15,000 Mexicans died in the drug war. Over 50,000 have been killed the last five years.

Hot Spots returns in two weeks.

Brian Trumbore