Mexico Government’s Safe Haven Policies for Drug Cartels! They Happily Look the Other Way


The illegal drug manufacturing and distribution industry in Mexico has a long history. Reports of illegal drug activity can be traced back to the 1960s and 70s as drug smuggling increased along Mexico’s porous borders. According to a 2007 U.S. Department of State International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), drug trafficking was already an entrenched problem in Mexico by the mid-1980s. In more recent years the scope of the illegal drug industry in Mexico has grown to include the production of a variety of illicit substances, reaching beyond smuggling to encompass drug production, trafficking, and distribution. This paper will focus on the growing production and distribution of illegal drugs in Mexico and the political leaders who have chosen to ignore this widespread issue. Through an exploration of statistics, the paper will aim to distill the most pertinent characteristics of the illegal drug industry in Mexico. These include which drugs are being produced and where they are destined, how the industry grew to its current scale, and why political leaders have been so reluctant to address the problem.

Overview of Production

Mexico is the primary source of illicit drugs smuggled into the United States. In particular, the manufacturing and trafficking of methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin in Mexico has risen significantly in recent years. According to the 2017 INCSR, the production of methamphetamines in Mexico is continuing to grow in both quantity and degree of sophistication. In 2015 alone, Mexico was determined by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to be the source of 80 percent of the methamphetamine used in the United States. Additionally, Mexico produces most of the marijuana, heroin, and cocaine smuggled into the United States.

Destination of Drugs

The primary destination for the drugs produced in Mexico is the United States, but there is evidence that Mexico-produced drugs have been smuggled to a variety of other countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Guatemala, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, and Colombia. As the most profitable market for drugs produced in Mexico, the United States absorbs the majority of these shipments. According to a DEA report from 2016, most cocaine, and especially most heroin, transported from Mexico is destined for the United States. On the other hand, most of the methamphetamine, marijuana and other illegal stimulants produced in Mexico are generally transported to Europe, Central America, and even East Asia.

Growth of Illegal Drug Industry in Mexico

The illegal drug industry in Mexico has grown exponentially over the past several decades. This growth can be attributed to a number of factors, including the weakening of government control in the region, the inability of Mexican authorities to stem the flow of drugs crossing the border into the United States, and drug trafficking organizations that have become increasingly sophisticated and powerful.

With the weakening of government control, Mexican drug trafficking organizations have been able to capitalize on the easy access to the United States market. According to the INCSR, a growing number of traffickers have gone beyond simply smuggling drugs, to actually manufacturing and distributing a wide range of illicit substances, from cocaine and heroin to marijuana, methamphetamine, and other controlled substances. The scale and sophistication of these organizations has enabled them to become entrenched in Mexican society and to operate at an increasingly dangerous, large-scale level.

Political Leaders Who Choose to Ignore the Problem

Although the illegal drug production and trafficking in Mexico is an issue of significant concern, political leaders have been slow to address it. Political leaders and lawmakers in Mexico have traditionally been unwilling or unable to address the issue of drug trafficking, often because of fear of upsetting powerful drug trafficking organizations or undermining their own power base. Even when they do take action, it is often too little, too late, or possibly even worse, counterproductive.

There is little incentive for political leaders to take meaningful action on the issue of drug trafficking and production in Mexico. The illegal drug industry is highly profitable, and thus, lucrative and powerful drug trafficking organizations have the resources and connections to ensure that political leaders who do try to oppose the drug trade are either silenced or blocked from taking action. In addition, Mexican drug trafficking organizations have an increasing presence in the cities and region surrounding the U.S. border, and are believed to be adept at bribery, corruption, and intimidation. There is thus a strong counterincentive for politicians in Mexico to speak out against the drug trade, as doing so can often lead to political reprisal or, even worse, violent reprisal


Since the late 1980s, Mexico has become notorious for its illicit drug trade. The illegal drug markets are capable of producing and distributing a wide range of drugs, including cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, marijuana, and other narcotics. Although the Mexican government has attempted to suppress the drug markets through legislation and militarized anti-drug initiatives, their efforts have primarily been unsuccessful. A majority of the drug trade is conducted through informal networks, with the power and influence of drug cartels having a huge influence over the market. This paper will discuss the history and scope of the illegal drug manufacturing and distributing in Mexico, the leaders in Mexico who have shown complicity in tolerating the drug trade, and how the drug industry has grown so large in the country despite the ongoing efforts to control it.

History and Scope of Illicit Drug Manufacturing and Distribution in Mexico

The illegal drug industry in Mexico has a long history that predates the legalization of the drug trade. Cannabis cultivation and consumption have been an integral part of the culture in Mexico since before the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. In the 1950s, a wave of new immigrants into Mexico created the opportunity for the cultivation and sale of marijuana, which were two of the first drugs to be trafficked in significant quantities across the U.S.-Mexican border. From this initial illegal drug smuggling system, the Mexican drug trade expanded to encompass the trafficking of a variety of illicit drugs, including cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and other narcotics.

The Mexican government has made efforts to control the illegal drug trade through legal and militarized initiatives during the past few decades. The Mexican government’s anti-drug strategies have included using paramilitary forces, offering rewards for the capture of drug-traffickers, strengthening border control and immigration laws, increasing penalties for drug-trafficking offenses, extraditing drug-traffickers to the U.S., and dismantling drug cartels and production networks. Despite these efforts, the illegal drug trade in Mexico remains a major economic industry and continues to thrive. As a result, the scope of the illicit drug market has grown significantly in Mexico since the late 1980s, with a majority of the drug trade conducted through informal networks.

Leadership Who Choose to Ignore the Drug Problem in Mexico

The illegal drug industry in Mexico is of such a size that it is capable of influencing political institutions and leaders in Mexico, making it difficult to effectively crack down on the drug trade. In some cases, political leaders have turned a blind eye to the drug trade in Mexico, enabling the cartels and traffickers to continue to operate with relative impunity. This inaction by Mexico’s political leadership is an example of the phenomenon known as “ni modo” or “se la rifa”, which is based on the idea that collectively ignoring the issue of drug trafficking is the most effective way to deal with it.

For example, former President of Mexico Vicente Fox has been widely criticized for his failure to effectively address the illegal drug industry during his tenure. Fox was a firm believer in the “ni modo” approach to drug trafficking, and was characterized as the “Incredible Do-Nothing” by the media. Fox’s inaction set the tone for the next administration, allowing the illegal drug trade to remain largely unchecked during the tenure of his successor, President Felipe Calderon. Calderon also took a laissez-faire approach to the problem, and failed to address the drug problem with adequate resources or attention. His administration was characterized by a widely-criticized move to legalize small amounts of marijuana; an initiative that had little effect on the illegal drug trade.

Mexico’s current President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has espoused a similarly ineffectual approach to the drug trade, in which he has stated that the problem requires a different approach than opting for military intervention. In addition, Obrador has relied heavily on negotiations and “peace pitches” to resolve disputes between rival cartels. While his administration has made some effort in combating the drug trade, the results remain inconclusive, particularly in regards to cartels such as Los Zetas and Sinaloa that operate in different parts of the country.

How the Drug Industry Grew So Large

Given the size and sophistication of the Mexican drug industry, it is worthwhile to look into the conditions that made it possible for such a massive and lucrative industry to develop.

There are a few primary factors which enabled the illegal drug production and distribution to expand to its current size in Mexico. One of the contributing factors is the extreme poverty in Mexico which means that many turn to the drug industry to provide them with an income, without having to commit to a more legitimate opportunity. This has allowed them to make lucrative incomes within the drug industry.

In addition, the geographic location of Mexico is ideal for the drug industry. It provides a bridge between the drug markets in the south, such as Colombia and Bolivia, to the consumer markets in the north—predominantly the United States. This has enabled the Mexican drug cartels to easily access the materials necessary to produce and distribute drugs, as well as to have a business model which can take advantage of the large consumer market in the United States.

Furthermore, the lack of effective law enforcement and corruption within the Mexican government have allowed the drug industry in Mexico to flourish. Many of the drug cartel leaders have bribed government officials in order to be able to keep their businesses running. Moreover, law enforcement is not well equipped with resources, meaning that the drug cartels can function relatively unhindered by law enforcement.

Finally, globalization has also played an important role. The development of international trade networks has enabled the drug cartels to access the necessary materials needed to manufacture and distribute drugs, as well as to distribute them throughout the world. This has enabled the drug cartels to expand their operations to global proportions.

Which Drugs are Being Made

The Mexican drug industry is responsible for the manufacture and distribution of a multitude of drugs. These include illicit drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamines, and heroin, as well as other, less potent drugs such as marijuana, crack, and crystal meth. Each of these drugs is produced, distributed, and consumed around the world, particularly in the United States.

The Mexican drug cartels are also responsible for the production and distribution of counterfeit drugs, as well as counterfeited consumer consumer goods such as DVDs, electronic goods, and clothing. These goods are produced in Mexico and then moved to the United States in order to be sold illegally.

Leaders Who Choose to Ignore These Problems in Mexico

Unfortunately, there are many government leaders in Mexico who choose to ignore the illegal drug production and distribution that is rampant in the country. This includes the president of the country, Enrique Pena Nieto, who has done little to combat the problem. His approach has been to downplay the issue, instead focusing on social and economic development, which has done little to actually address the issue.

In addition, there are many local leaders in Mexico who are corrupt and have been tied to the cartels through bribery and other means. These leaders have enabled the cartels to continue operations without consequence, as they have refused to take any meaningful action or attempt to reign in the illegal activity.

Even though some politicians have suggested an overhaul of the government’s approach to the drug problem, including a militarized approach, there has been little progress on that front. This is due to a lack of political will and resources to effectively tackle the issue. This has enabled the illegal drug industry to thrive, without any serious attempts to contain it.


The illegal drug production and distribution in Mexico is a major problem that has created immense challenges for the country. The industry has grown so large, partly due to poverty, geographic location, corruption, and globalization. There are a plethora of drugs being manufactured and distributed, from some of the most powerful opiates to more ‘innocent’ substances such as marijuana, crack, and crystal meth. Unfortunately, many leaders in Mexico have chosen to ignore this issue, despite its devastating effects. The only way to effectively combat this issue is for leaders to become more proactive and for resources to be allocated in order to combat the problem.