Pubdate: Thu, 27 Aug 2015
Source: Independent  (UK)
Copyright: 2015 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Author: Nina Lakhani


A US Ultimatum Demanding That Mexico Ban Previously Legal Narcotics 
'Forced Addicts and Producers to Take Up Arms'

Mexico's drug trade is synonymous with violence, corruption and 
cartel bosses battling for territory. But it could have been so 
different, it's claimed in a new book, had the US not issued an 
ultimatum 75years ago which ignited the war on drugs - leading to 
death and destruction on both sides of the border.

Documents in the book reveal that Mexico legalised drugs in 1940, 
after doctors convinced the then president, Lazaro Cardenas, that 
prohibition was damaging public health. Doctors believed that the 
best way to tackle drug-related ills was to treat addicts rather than 
lock-up smugglers and producers.

Mexico launched a diplomatic campaign to halt the global trend 
towards prohibition by addressing the League of Nations about the 
health benefits of legalisation. Several countries were supportive, 
but America and Canada, led by the US federal narcotics chief and 
staunch prohibitionist Harry Anslinger, objected and 
counter-campaigned to smear the Mexican doctors and their scientific studies.

Mexico resisted for four short months, during which Lola La Chata - 
the country's first female drug trafficker and tabloid sweetheart - 
was livid at the downturn in her business as addicts started 
receiving drugs on prescription. But the government caved in when the 
Americans threatened to block the supply of legal pharmaceuticals. At 
that time, Mexico was almost completely dependent on the US for 
modern medicines. This historic U-turn set Mexico on the violent path 
it is still on.

A new President, Manuel Avila Camacho, sworn in at the end of 1940, 
aligned himself wholly with the US prohibitionist movement. Within 
months, he launched the first military operation against peasant 
farmers growing marijuana and poppies for heroin in the Sierra Madre 
mountains. The region is now known as the Golden Triangle - the 
epicentre of the powerful Sinaloa cartel and its boss Joaquin "El 
Chapo" Guzman.

Froylan Enciso, a historian and author of the new book Our Drug 
History: Passages to (Re)legalise Drugs in Mexico, told The 
Independent: "This was a key moment that Mexico has never come back 
from. Before this the drugs trade was peaceful in Mexico. But these 
military operations created an incentive for producers and smugglers 
to arm themselves and pay bribes."

Enciso has investigated Mexico's complicated relationship with drugs 
dating back to pre-Hispanic times, when people used natural 
substances such as peyote to connect to the spiritual world. His book 
focuses on pivotal moments in the 19th and 20th centuries - such as 
the arrival of cocaine and morphine from Europe and the first 
prosecutions of small-time smugglers in the 1920s - which he argues 
shaped Mexico's current $30bn drug trade, and the ill-fated policies 
that have led to 100,000 deaths and 26,000 disappearances since 2006.

Born in Sinaloa, Encisco traces his home state's transformation into 
one of world's most important producers of drugs and drug lords back 
to the huge Pacific port of Mazatlan - one of the most important in 
the 19th century. It was here that opium from India and China and 
marijuana seeds marketed by European pharmaceutical companies first 
arrived in Mexico.

Documents reveal that the first production in Sinaloa began in 1931, 
prompted by the opium wars and wave of prohibition across Asia which 
contributed to a worldwide shortage. A local merchant asked poor 
unemployed miners  left destitute by the gold crash  to cultivate 
marijuana. The soil and climate were perfect and so began the boom in 
drug cultivation in Sinaloa.

In 1936, a politician helped poverty-stricken peasant farmers in the 
municipality of Badiraguato to start cultivating marijuana. Many of 
Mexico's most notorious drug lords, including Guzman, Ismael "El 
Mayo" Zambada and the Beltran Leyva brothers, were born and raised in 
the Badiraguato hills.

During the 1970s, these future cartel bosses witnessed increasingly 
aggressive US-Mexican military operations against their communities, 
who were taking advantage of soaring global heroin prices.

Encisco documents one operation witnessed by Guzman in 1974, during 
which his village was robbed, women forced to undress and a child 
shot. He said: "These villages were the laboratory of human rights 
abuses, and the victims went on to become the aggressors. Mexico's 
relationship with drugs is all about violence, corruption and pain, 
but it wasn't always like that, and doesn't have to always be."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom