Front Page Titles (by Subject) The U.S. & Mexico: The Drug Connection - Literature of Liberty, Summer 1981, vol. 4, No. 2
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The U.S. & Mexico: The Drug Connection - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Summer 1981, vol. 4, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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The U.S. & Mexico: The Drug Connection
“Operation Condor: Mexico's Antidrug Campaign Enters a New Era. Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs Vol. 22 No. 3 (August 1980): 345–363.
In the past decade Mexico has become one of the world's largest heroin producers, along with a growing capacity to cultivate, process, ship, and transship vast quantities of other illegal drugs. Drug trafficking in Mexico has grown under the pressures from domestic poverty, enormous profits, and American demand. U.S. officials have long sought to persuade their Mexican counterparts to use herbicides to permanently eliminate some drugs. “Until such time that herbicides were applied on a massive scale against marijuana and opium poppies, they argue, the annual Mexican campaign would prove an exercise in futility.” The Mexicans responded in the fall of 1975 by launching a new campaign called Operation Canador (later called Operation Condor) — an antidrug offensive that included the use of defoliant chemicals.
The Mexican government employed the most modern aerial technology to discover and spray the fields: remote sensors, multispectral and infrared photography, over 40 aircraft (most of which were provided by the U.S.) and even spy satellites. To combat drug-related corruption involving military officers, politicians, and judges the government began a new policy of constantly rotating commanders and officers to remove the temptation of becoming involved in the multimillion dollar drug business.
The first year of the campaign was relatively successful. Yet despite impressive results, it revealed only the tip of a massive opium/heroin iceberg located in the triangulo critico — the northwestern states of Sinaloa, Durango, and Chihuahua. The extent of the drug production in the triangle surpassed estimates: more opium plots, more processing laboratories, more weapons, more desparate campesinos, more corruption, more lawlessness, more money.
The eradication process began with high level multispectral reconnaisance photographs which revealed the numerous marijuana and opium plots. Following confirmation by low-level flights, the opium fields were sprayed by helicopter with 2 & 4-D, the marijuana plots with Gramoxone. Squads of soldiers were then ferried in by helicopter to secure the area and destroy any surviving plants. The process often proved extremely hazardous for pilot, soldier, and campesino.
Pilots flying at low-level often encountered heavy ground fire; others were killed when their helicopter blades struck well hidden cables strung between hill-sides. Many soldiers were killed leaving their helicopters when the campesinos defended their plots instead of hiding or replanting their fields as soon as the soldiers departed.
The government antidrug project has brought economic disaster to the agrarian society. Rendered unable to survive off the land, desperate campesinos are flooding the cities and streaming across the U.S. border as illegal immigrants. The army's efforts to pacify the country-side has been difficult and controversial; however, the restoration of law and order has had some success. During 1976 there were 2–3 drug related homicides daily in parts of the triangle. Following a year of martial law, the figure has been reduced to one killing every 3 days.
The impact of Operation Condor on the U.S. drug scene has been far-reaching. The percentage of the U.S. heroin market captured by “Mexican brown” has declined from 85% in 1974 to 50% in 1978. Deaths resulting from heroin overdose dropped 80% from 1976 to 1979.
Craig concludes by speculating as to why Mexico finally opted for the extensive use of herbicides and the massive military presence in eliminating its drug market. First, government officials were very embarrassed by the fact that Mexico has become a major source of heroin. Not only was Mexico's international image tarnished, but increased domestic drug use was becoming a major concern.
Second, the entire revitalized campaign was inexorably linked with Mexico-U.S. relations. Vast quantities of oil not-withstanding, friendly relations with Washington are politically and economically crucial to Mexico City. When Mexico replaced Turkey as the prime source of heroin for the U.S. market in the early 1970s, narcotics became a priority target for American diplomats in Mexico City.
Perhaps the more decisive factor in the minds of Mexican officials was the possibility that drugs would produce internal chaos and pose a serious threat to regional stability. The components—increasingly more violent defiance of Mexican law and authority, the infusion of enormous sums of money poured into rural areas that came to dominant economies and politics, and these combined trends breeding possible rural guerrilla movements—made local and regional governments increasingly insecure.
International and internal concerns, especially U.S. pressure, led to the creation of Operation Condor and its continued existence to rid Mexico of illegal drug production and export.