IPS speaker talks Mexico, cartels

By Jubenal Aguilar
Managing Editor

Photo by Jubenal Aguilar Monica Rankin, director of the University of Texas at Dallas Center for Latin American Initiatives, talks about the origins of Coca-Cola. The beverage, originally made from coca leaves and African kola nuts, was marketed as alleviating many of the symptoms patented medicines already were, including exhaustion.
Photo by Jubenal Aguilar
Monica Rankin, director of the University of Texas at Dallas Center for Latin American Initiatives, talks about the origins of Coca-Cola. The beverage, originally made from coca leaves and African kola nuts, was marketed as alleviating many of the symptoms patented medicines already were, including exhaustion.


Drug trafficking in Mexico is a $13-billion-a-year business. It is a business from which a war emerged, plunging Mexico into unrelenting violence – a war that has strained U.S.-Mexico relations for decades.

The increased violence in Mexico led the United Nations to consider the murder rate to be of epidemic proportions, Monica A. Rankin, associate professor of history at the University of Texas Dallas, said during the first Open Book Project event of the year.

Maria Martinez, a student, said it was good to see the cause and effect of the development of the drug cartels in Mexico.

Martinez said she thinks it is important to understand the subject to be more aware of the world events.

The event was held jointly with Brookhaven College’s Institute for Political Studies Sept. 8 with a crowd of more than 100 students, staff and faculty attending in the Performance Hall.

This year’s Open Book Project revolves around journalist Alfredo Corchado’s book, “Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter’s Journey Through a Country’s Descent into Darkness,” and the war on drugs in the Aztec nation.

“About 90 percent of the cocaine that [comes] into the U.S. passes through Mexico,” Rankin said. “About 70 percent of the firearms in Mexico that are responsible for the increase of the murder rate [originate] from the U.S. So this is not an issue that we can isolate ourselves from being in a different country.”

Rankin, who specializes in history in Mexico, Latin America and U.S.-Latin American relations, spoke about the history of drug cartels in Mexico and Latin America and the resulting violence their rise throughout the 20th century has caused.

“The murder rate in Mexico is extraordinarily high,” Rankin said. In 2007, the murder rate in the country was 8.1 per 100,000 people. “These are [intentional] murders. This is someone killing someone else,” Rankin said.

Between 2000 and 2006, about 60,000 murders were reported in Mexico, Rankin said. Those numbers doubled between 2007 and 2012 and have remained high since. Rankin said organized crime is responsible for a significant portion – about one-third to one-half – of the increased murder rate in Mexico. Young impoverished, lower-class men, journalists, mayors and law enforcement officers are among the most at-risk individuals in the country, Rankin said.


Rankin presented events and time periods that drastically changed how drug cartels and law enforcement operate, sometimes in complicity, in Mexico. An increased popularity of unregulated substances in the early 20th century in the U.S. helped establish the drug networks of Mexico.

Among these substances were coca plant leaves from South America, whose chemical production into cocaine led to the development of all-healing snake oils and other unregulated, patented medicines. Marijuana and opium were also among these mind-altering substances. Their various nutritive and medical benefits and multiple uses helped spread their popularity, Rankin said.

“The infrastructure for later drug trafficking networks was set with the trafficking of alcohol,” Rankin said. This was done inadvertently with the 18th Amendment, which established prohibition. Americans in the southern states established alcohol trafficking routes through Tijuana and Juarez, both of which became major drug corridors.

But it was the introduction of cocaine into Mexico’s drug network that drastically altered cartel operations. Before, Rankin said, coca leaves were grown and processed in South America. The final product, cocaine, was transported through the Caribbean to Miami, where it entered the U.S.

“U.S. law enforcement began to crack down on those trade networks going through the Caribbean,” Rankin said. “And when they did so, they specifically stated: ‘We are going to try to stop the trafficking of cocaine from the Caribbean; we know that it’s going to shift to the U.S.-Mexico border. We are just going to have to figure out a way to deal with it.’”


In the 1980s, Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, who led the then Guadalajara Cartel, contacted Colombia’s Medellin Cartel and began transporting cocaine through Mexico. Rankin said this new partnership created an enormous profit margin for Mexican drug cartels as the price per kilo, about 2.2 pounds, of the narcotic skyrocketed – $2,000 upon entering Mexico, $5,000 at the border and $25,000 wholesale in the streets in the U.S.

Rankin said Felix Gallardo, also known as El Padrino, was by this time the single leading drug lord of Mexico. All drug-related activity in the country was done under his control. Felix Gallardo instituted the Pax Padrino, or peace under the godfather, which with incentive and protection from the Mexican Dirreción Federal de Seguridad, the nation’s equivalent to the FBI, kept violence relatively in check, Rankin said.

This relative lack of violence reinforced the relationship between the DFS and drug lords, ensuring the former’s prosperity.

But it was the kidnapping, torture and murder of Enrique Camarena, a Drug Enforcement Agency special agent, that ended the Pax Padrino and led the way for the modern era of violence in Mexico.

“All hell broke loose,” Rankin said.

The U.S. pressured Mexico into investigating Camarena’s death, Rankin said. The investigation uncovered the deeply rooted relationship between the DFS and the cartels and resulted in the disbandment and replacement of the DFS with a new agency.

The disbandment marked the end of Mexican government protection for the cartels, Rankin said, and led to the rise of new drug cartels – the Sonora, Juarez Tijuana and Gulf cartels – as in-fighting and territorial control became a norm.


Rankin said other factors that contributed to today’s drug war in Mexico are the 2000 defeat of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, or PRI, an authoritarian party that ruled Mexico for 71 consecutive years. With the defeat of the PRI, President Vicente Fox arose as the first national leader who made it a priority to go after the drug cartels. Felipe Calderon, Fox’s successor, expanded exponentially on Fox’s militarization strategy. Parts of Calderon’s plan included Operation Michoacan, the militarization of the state of Michoacan that further increased the violence in the country.