The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday March 28th

Mexico’s war on drug cartels

In Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, about 200,000 people have left the city in the last 18 months alone due to drug-related violence. Many have crossed the border into the United States. Thirty thousand people are estimated to have moved to El Paso.

Ninety percent of cocaine entering the United States comes through Mexico.

The Andean region and Mexican drug cartels supply 350 metric tons of cocaine to more than 6 million U.S. consumers who spend $40 billion annually on the illegal drug.

Drug trafficking is clearly a major policy issue in the United States. An aim to combat drug trafficking has been in existence since the Reagan administration in the 1980s.

Great Decisions will host a lecture on global crime by Bruce Bagley on Tuesday evening, focusing on drug trafficking and some of the key challenges surrounding drug cartels in Mexico and Colombia.

Bagley is chairman and professor of the Department of International Studies at the University of Miami. He is an expert on U.S.-Latin American relations focusing on drug trafficking and security issues.

Drug cartels became a household term with the rise of the infamous Cali and Medellín cartels in Colombia. These cocaine powerhouses controlled every aspect of the cocaine industry, from production to its arrival in consumer countries.

The demise of the Cali and Medellín cartels in the 1990s prompted for the rise of smaller “cartelitos” in Colombia controlled by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). The loss of central control in Colombia paved the way for Mexican cartels’ domination of the illicit drug market. Today, Mexican drug cartels control the wholesale illicit drug market in the United States. Colombia still produces the majority of cocaine imported into the United States but depends on Mexico for a large portion of its transportation into the U.S.

The power has shifted between Mexican cartels recently. A market that once was controlled by the Juarez and Tijuana cartels is now controlled by the Sinaloa and Gulf cartels. Turf wars have become prominent in an aim to control the drug market.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón declared a formal war on drug cartels by the Mexican government in 2006. Since then, however, drug-related violence has only escalated, including 69 drug-related killings in one day earlier this year, contributing to ever-growing fears both here and in Latin America of the deadly trade.

Improved technologies and relaxation of restrictions on cross-border flows, both hallmarks of globalization, have created opportunities for the drug trade to increase significantly.

Bagley’s Great Decisions lecture will focus on drug cartels in Mexico and the Andean region in order to address the systemic causes behind their emergence and the political consequences of the cartels’ growing power. In doing so, Bagley will attempt to provide answers to two urgent questions: what can be done to alleviate this growing problem?

And how do the United States and Latin America respond to drug cartels in both an effective and expedient manner?

Yosha Gunasekera is a junior political science major from Charlotte. Contact Yosha at Celeste Lascurain is senior international studies major from Caracas, Venezuela. Contact Celeste at

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