By: Adam Burkhart •
On December 1st , Anabel Hernandez gave a presentation at the 2nd Annual Bi-national Conference on Border Issues atSan DiegoCityCollege. Hernandez, a journalist and author of the book “Los Señores Del Narco,” which deals with the serious subject of Mexico’s drug cartels, has given speeches around the world since the book’s publication, including in Berlin, Rome and Geneva. With five years of research invested in the book, including declassified government documents, interviews with members of the DEA, CIA, Mexican security agency personnel, ex police and military officers and cartel insiders and firsthand visits to the areas in Mexico where narcotics are produced, “Los Señores Del Narco” has done more than any other work to reveal the immense network of the Mexican drug cartels and their influence on almost every aspect of modern life in Mexico, most importantly on its politics.
As well as drawing attention to the intertwining of drugs and politics, the book has also attracted much unwelcome attention to its author. For making sensitive information public, Hernandez has been the recipient of death threats, reputedly from the Mexican government, that forces her to travel with a bodyguard at all times and places. She has been given offers of political asylum in more than one country, but has refused all, claiming her commitment to promoting the book and to educating the public about the information it contains. “No se puede destruir lo que no entiendo,” “You cannot destroy what you do not understand.” This is the belief of Hernandez, whose journalism is really a form of activism which she would like to see destroy the drug cartels she investigates and that she so despises.
The book informs the content of her research that traces the long history of the drug trade since before the 1970’s, when it was far less turbulent compared to its current state of ultra-violence and militarization, which remains constantly at war both internally and with the government. “One big bloodbath” is how Hernandez describes it, but it was not always so. As she shows in her book, the Mexican drug cartels have existed for fifty years. In the beginning drug production was a common and prosaic business, with the farmers of crops such as marijuana and poppy accustoming their children to work the fields beginning at seven years old. The business of growing narcotics for the drug cartels was a profitable one, earning much more for the farmers in amounts of marijuana sold than would the same weight in legal crops like papaya and guava fruits. During this time individual cartels conducted their operations relatively free of conflict because they all occupied their own land meaning there was no competition between cartels. During this time the PRI and the Echeverria presidency (1970-76) cooperated with the cartels by accepting bribes and condoning their existence.
The major shift in the policies of the drug cartels came in the 1980’s with the introduction of cocaine into the market. This happened because –according to Hernandez— theU.S., fearing the spread of socialism in South America, funded a guerilla army –known as the contra army— to combat the Sandinista rebels inNicaragua. TheU.S.in part funded this war with money from Guatemalan drug lords who through ties with Mexican drug cartels began the production of the much more valuable drug of cocaine inMexico. Marijuana and poppy, unable to fetch the kind of prices going for the new commodity were eventually replaced by it.
In the early 2000’s with the presidency of Vicente Fox (2000-06), the government’s rules of engagement concerning drug cartels began to change. Fox decided to commit to the Sinaloa cartel as an ally in stamping out the rest of the cartels with the aim of creating a monopoly which the government could then more easily control. This is substantiated by the escape of “El Chapo” Guzman, the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, from prison in 2001. The official explanation has it that Guzman escaped after bribing the prison staff. However, Hernandez cites a government document which reveals that Guzman’s release was ordered by the government of Vicente Fox. The consequences of the government’s new policies in the war on drugs has been extreme and widespread violence as the competing drug cartels defend their territory against the Sinaloa cartel aided by the government, para-military groups operating on all sides of the conflict and training camps for combatants where terrorist and torture methods are rehearsed, all of which are unprecedented in the history of the drug trade.