Margaret Scott

Blowback in Mexico’s Drug Wars

Mexican President Felipe Calderón's policy of all-out war with the country's powerful drug cartels has fueled an extraordinary rise in violence, with drug-related killings doubling last year. But, at least in the short term, there is no alternative to Calderón's strategy.

MEXICO – Drug trafficking has existed in Mexico for decades. But trade in illegal narcotics did not seriously threaten Mexico’s stability or provoke conflict with the United States until the mid-1980’s, when Colombian cocaine began to flood across Mexico to the US. By that time, Mexican police institutions were in a state of decomposition, making them fertile ground for the drug traffickers to corrupt. And so they have.

The dismantling of Colombia’s Cali and Medellin cartels in the 1990’s created a vacuum that Mexico’s cartels were able to fill, ultimately consolidating their position in the drug trade. Still, the levels of drug-related violence in Mexico remained relatively low.

This “dealers’ peace” can be explained by the Mexican government’s policy of tolerance, which sought a degree of equilibrium between the drug cartels and the state in terms of trafficking routes and the territories that the cartels infiltrated.

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