Again, this is part of the war on drugs narrative. Mexico’s protection from drug trafficking is proof of endemic or institutional corruption. All the cases where US authorities protect drug traffickers are just a few bad apples. But the corruption spreads north of the border. I found several accounts of it during the 1970s and 1980s among local sheriffs, local customs officers, drug officers, and even American senators.
In fact, America’s first drug agency, the FBN, was dissolved in 1968 following a massive corruption scandal. Investigators estimated that about a third of the officers were on the spot. The next drug agency, the BNDD [Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs], was also closed five years later amid similar charges of corruption and incompetence.
I would venture to guess that during the counterculture drug boom there was just as much corruption north as south of the border. This was the reason why so many narcotics passed. It was not the 500 or so Mexican PJF agents at the time, but the thousands of DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration], customs and local police do the same in the United States.
Why do we know more about Mexican corruption than American corruption? It’s not a very popular opinion, but I think the United States and Mexico differed in two ways.
First, Mexico has declassified much of its secret services and court documents, so we have much more evidence of this corruption; in contrast, the United States Grand Jury transcripts and spy files remain classified to this day. The only way I was able to fight corruption on the American side was through unofficial leaks and this extraordinary Arizona corruption investigation conducted by journalists following the murder of one of them by the Mafia. .
Second, Mexico had – and still has in some areas – a much more dynamic and aggressive local news network than the United States. Mexican journalists were – and still are – ready to point fingers at corrupt officials.
What has changed over the past three decades or so is that the American police force – unlike the Mexican police force – has been given a mandate to effectively and legally shake off drug traffickers. When they stop traffickers north of the border, they can seize their homes, cars and other property, and use them to float their own police forces.
There is no longer a need for the type of secret protection snowshoes that still circulate south of the border. This is similar to something that came out during the Ferguson racial justice protests investigations a few years ago. Ferguson Police weren’t just racist – they systematically rocked the locals for money.
The second question about what motivates US anti-narcotics initiatives south of the border is more delicate. It depends on the timing and the policy. But in general, it’s a matter of institution building. Time and time again, US drug authorities have pushed initiatives in Mexico to generate larger budgets or maintain their relevance to cover failures at home.
Why did Harry Anslinger and the FBN stop the Mexican drug legalization experiment in 1940? Because he was trying to challenge his rivals in the customs department and extend his department’s remit to foreign policy.
Why did the DEA push Operation Condor, Mexico’s massive militarized anti-drug campaign, in 1975? Because the successive scandals and the increase in heroin consumption have generated the need for easy scapegoats.