Sound Stories. Sound Voices.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
You are on the KUOW archive site. Click here to go to our current site.

From The Front Lines Of Mexico's Drug War

El Narco
Courtesy Bloomsbury Press

Since 2006, more than 40,000 soldiers, police officers, traffickers and citizens have died in Mexico’s bloody drug war — from the mountains where pot and poppies are grown to the streets of Mexico City. Journalist Ioan Grillo tracks the rise of the cartels and their increasing influence north of the border in his book, "El Narco." He joins Steve Scher with a report from the front lines of the Mexican drug war.

The drug trade as it's currently structured can be traced back to Mexico's surge in poppy and opium production in the early 1900s. US regulation of the drug in 1914 created a black market for opium. Grillo reports that while the theory can't be substantiated, it's likely that increased demand for morphine for US soldiers during WWII gave the drug trade the boost and structure that persists today.

Grillo says today's cartels are built on this legacy; members can trace their roots to past generations in the drug trade since the 1930s. Cartels are so entrenched in their small communities, citizens have a greater allegiance to the cartel bosses than to the government. And the wealth that flows into the communities from the cartels is enough to pay local officials to turn a blind eye to the illegal activities.

How will legalizing marijuana affect "el narco"?

“This vote to legalize marijuana in Washington state was historic,” Grillo points out. “Nowhere in the world has marijuana been fully legalized before. The vote on November 6 had global implications rippling into Mexico right now; there is a sea change in how we approach the war on drugs ... In the long term, if marijuana became legal in more states, Mexican officials could easily say, why are we burning marijuana fields, why are we having gun fights with people growing marijuana here?”

It’s estimated that anywhere from $2-20 billion flow back to Mexico from the US in the marijuana trade alone, Grillo says. That money is used to run cartels and buy guns from the US. “[Legalizing marijuana] would take billions of dollars away from cartels. Mexican military and DEA can’t do that,” he says.

Cartels have plenty of other business; they are also involved in trafficking cocaine, crystal meth, heroine -- even oil. But, Grillo says, billions of dollars of loss from the marijuana trade would make them an easier target for the Mexican government.

Mexico's marijuana legalization movement has support from former President Vicente Fox and other politicians as a way to decrease cartel violence and put money in the hands of farmers, but critics say it would not be effective unless other countries also legalized the drug. Ioan Grillo reports for Global Post on the push to legalize marijuana in Mexico.

Also this hour: Aviation Week senior editor Guy Norris updates us on the FAA's decision to ground the Boeing 787; Katy Sewall speaks with the editor of a new book that showcases some of the lesser-known artworks of Ted Geisel (also known as Dr. Seuss); and Marcie Sillman profiles two actors behind “The Seagull Project” at Seattle's ACT Theatre.

Produced for the Web by Jenna Montgomery.