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The Dope: The Real History of the Mexican Drug Trade

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The Mexican drug trade has inspired prejudiced narratives of a war between north and south, white and brown; between noble cops and vicious kingpins, corrupt politicians and powerful cartels. In this first comprehensive history of the trade, historian Benjamin T. Smith tells the real story of how and why this one-peaceful industry turned violent. He uncovers its origins an The Mexican drug trade has inspired prejudiced narratives of a war between north and south, white and brown; between noble cops and vicious kingpins, corrupt politicians and powerful cartels. In this first comprehensive history of the trade, historian Benjamin T. Smith tells the real story of how and why this one-peaceful industry turned violent. He uncovers its origins and explains how this illicit business essentially built modern Mexico, affecting everything from agriculture to medicine to economics—and the country’s all-important relationship with the United States. Drawing on unprecedented archival research; leaked DEA, Mexican law enforcement, and cartel documents; and dozens of harrowing interviews, Smith tells a thrilling story brimming with vivid characters—from Ignacia “La Nacha” Jasso, “queen pin” of Ciudad Juárez, to Dr. Leopoldo Salazar Viniegra, the crusading physician who argued that marijuana was harmless and tried to decriminalize morphine, to Harry Anslinger, the Machiavellian founder of the American Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who drummed up racist drug panics to increase his budget. Smith also profiles everyday agricultural workers, whose stories reveal both the economic benefits and the human cost of the trade. The Dope contains many surprising conclusions about drug use and the failure of drug enforcement, all backed by new research and data. Smith explains the complicated dynamics that drive the current drug war violence, probes the U.S.-backed policies that have inflamed the carnage, and explores corruption on both sides of the border. A dark morality tale about the American hunger for intoxication and the necessities of human survival, The Dope is essential for understanding the violence in the drug war and how decades-old myths shape Mexico in the American imagination today.


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The Mexican drug trade has inspired prejudiced narratives of a war between north and south, white and brown; between noble cops and vicious kingpins, corrupt politicians and powerful cartels. In this first comprehensive history of the trade, historian Benjamin T. Smith tells the real story of how and why this one-peaceful industry turned violent. He uncovers its origins an The Mexican drug trade has inspired prejudiced narratives of a war between north and south, white and brown; between noble cops and vicious kingpins, corrupt politicians and powerful cartels. In this first comprehensive history of the trade, historian Benjamin T. Smith tells the real story of how and why this one-peaceful industry turned violent. He uncovers its origins and explains how this illicit business essentially built modern Mexico, affecting everything from agriculture to medicine to economics—and the country’s all-important relationship with the United States. Drawing on unprecedented archival research; leaked DEA, Mexican law enforcement, and cartel documents; and dozens of harrowing interviews, Smith tells a thrilling story brimming with vivid characters—from Ignacia “La Nacha” Jasso, “queen pin” of Ciudad Juárez, to Dr. Leopoldo Salazar Viniegra, the crusading physician who argued that marijuana was harmless and tried to decriminalize morphine, to Harry Anslinger, the Machiavellian founder of the American Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who drummed up racist drug panics to increase his budget. Smith also profiles everyday agricultural workers, whose stories reveal both the economic benefits and the human cost of the trade. The Dope contains many surprising conclusions about drug use and the failure of drug enforcement, all backed by new research and data. Smith explains the complicated dynamics that drive the current drug war violence, probes the U.S.-backed policies that have inflamed the carnage, and explores corruption on both sides of the border. A dark morality tale about the American hunger for intoxication and the necessities of human survival, The Dope is essential for understanding the violence in the drug war and how decades-old myths shape Mexico in the American imagination today.

30 review for The Dope: The Real History of the Mexican Drug Trade

  1. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    The history of the Mexican drug trade is complex, the path to a restoration of order and calm, far from obvious. Professor Smith has written an excellent account of why this is so. To begin, the drug trade, which dates back more than a century, has involved multiple products, notably marijuana, opium – and its derivatives, morphine and heroin – and cocaine, and multiple constituencies, namely Chinese immigrants, Mexicans at the local, state and federal levels both in and out of government, the F The history of the Mexican drug trade is complex, the path to a restoration of order and calm, far from obvious. Professor Smith has written an excellent account of why this is so. To begin, the drug trade, which dates back more than a century, has involved multiple products, notably marijuana, opium – and its derivatives, morphine and heroin – and cocaine, and multiple constituencies, namely Chinese immigrants, Mexicans at the local, state and federal levels both in and out of government, the French, Colombians, and, of course, the Americans, both as consumers and enforcers. Interestingly, Professor Smith notes that while Mexico has been a significant producer of narcotics through the decades, Mexicans as a whole have not been large users. The principal users are American. In his introduction, Professor Smith notes four findings from his meticulous study. First, the drug trade and its effects on the Mexican people fundamentally relate to economics. Second, members of the drug industry and various governing authorities have experienced an ever-changing relationship, where local protection rackets transitioned to the state then to the federal level and ultimately back to the industry itself. Third, the counternarcotic policies have largely been drivenby invented panics, the need for bureaucratic fundraising, and managerial scapegoating. They target whatever group is deemed easiest to cow, capture, and sell to the public as a victory. And they are supported by the relentless manipulation of facts and figures through administrative sleight of hand, the deliberate distortion of evidence, or straight out lying. Fourth, the connection between the trade and the use of force had two components, the appearance of new governing actors seeking to alter the status quo and the war on drugs itself. These observations along with Professor Smith’s documented history make for a distressing, revealing read. Good stories are best with villains, of course, and there’s no shortage of them in this book; Professor Smith reveals one of the bureaucratic American variety in Harry Anslinger, at one time head of the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Given an enlightened attempt to offer drugs at low cost through Mexican government programs in 1940, Anslinger worked to shut down the entire effort in the name of the standard demonic drug myth, beginning a series of policies that continue to this day. His is apparently a name to be remembered in understanding how Mexico arrived at this sad situation. Because the issues here are so thorny and the fix so daunting, if not impossible, no wonder there’s so much appeal for the tough on crime rhetoric of political simpletons. I’d like to place some blame on my favorite presidential simpleton, Ronald Reagan, however, he barely figures in this story, though his administration’s Central American drugs for arms initiative is discussed, largely as a possible factor in the death of a prominent US DEA agent, Enrique “Kiki” Camarena. The book ends with things appearing to get worse in Mexico, the murder rate today rising to some astonishing levels nationally. What does a modern lawless realm look like? Professor Smith offers a glimpse in his concluding remarks.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Paxman

    On the subject of Mexico’s narcos, The Dope really is the dope. Popular convention and recent TV series claim that Mexico’s drug trade got going in the 1980s, when ramped-up vigilance by the US Coast Guard forced Colombians to switch from the Caribbean to Mexico when shipping up their cocaine … Enter the Guadalajara Cartel. But Smith takes the story back a hundred years or more, for the United States has been sourcing its highs from Mexico since the Harrison Act of 1914 severely limited public a On the subject of Mexico’s narcos, The Dope really is the dope. Popular convention and recent TV series claim that Mexico’s drug trade got going in the 1980s, when ramped-up vigilance by the US Coast Guard forced Colombians to switch from the Caribbean to Mexico when shipping up their cocaine … Enter the Guadalajara Cartel. But Smith takes the story back a hundred years or more, for the United States has been sourcing its highs from Mexico since the Harrison Act of 1914 severely limited public access to narcotics. Smith’s historical perspective clarifies the dynamics and economics of the trade. The book argues that, whatever one may hear about drug “pushers”, flows from Mexico have always been mostly demand-driven, for the USA has historically shown a massive hunger for narcotics by global standards. Smith shows that narco-economics, based on high US demand and low Mexican wages, have inevitably made Mexico the main supplier to its northern neighbour; Smith claims that in the recessionary 1980s a Mexican could earn as much growing a single marijuana plant as driving a taxi for a year. More revealing still are Smith’s findings on how Mexico’s politicians and police have long run protection rackets to profit from the trafficking they supposedly worked to suppress. It’s the competition between local and federal authorities to control these rackets, coupled with pressure from the US government to produce TV-friendly drug busts, that have done most to drive the violence associated with the trade. In the early years, traffickers went about their business peacefully. The final chapters, on 1990 to the present, zip by too quickly; I’d have happily read another 100 pages of Smith’s engaging and often humorous prose. Beyond its analytical savvy, what makes this book really swing is Smith’s eye for stories. One subject is Dr. Leopoldo Salazar Viniegra, who tried to kill Mexico City’s black market in the late 1930s through legalisation and official dispensaries, a programme that worked well for four months before the US government bullied Mexico into nixing it. Another is female border crime boss La Nacha, who controlled the Juárez market before converting to Christianity. A collection of sleazy state governors features Chihuahua’s Oscar Flores Sánchez, so eager to continue profiting from drugs in the 1970s that, as the nation’s attorney general, he had at least one noble crime fighter framed and shot dead.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    A history of narcotics trafficking from Mexico. Begins with prohibition in the USA, where American law enforcement tries to stamp out illegal drugs and alcohol use. Works up to more violent forms after drug trade is forced out of Columbia. Good thorough account.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    This is an impeccably researched and well-written saga. I got bogged down in the names and details at times, especially at the beginning of the journey in the early 1900s, but the paced picked up rapidly as the author pushed into the last 30 or so years. This book pairs very well with any of Don Winslow’s stellar novels about the cross-border drug trade, and will leave you both shaking your head in frustration and wincing at the staggering violence and suffering that has resulted from the War on This is an impeccably researched and well-written saga. I got bogged down in the names and details at times, especially at the beginning of the journey in the early 1900s, but the paced picked up rapidly as the author pushed into the last 30 or so years. This book pairs very well with any of Don Winslow’s stellar novels about the cross-border drug trade, and will leave you both shaking your head in frustration and wincing at the staggering violence and suffering that has resulted from the War on Drugs. It shines a glaring spotlight on the failures of US intervention and begs for us to reckon with the fact that American Exceptionalism has contributed to immeasurable death and tragedy on both sides of the border.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nisso Bucay

    Excellent introduction and overview of the Mexican drug cartels This is the first time I was able to understand the evolution and changes that drug trafficking in Mexico has undergone since the beginning. It is a must read for anybody interested in the topic. The only downside was that it felt a little rushed discussing the most recent time period.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Laura Jordan

    I guess we can all be a little proud of ourselves as Americans, knowing that our unending need to drug ourselves into oblivion (and our desire to make ungodly amounts of money selling automatic weapons) has basically destroyed an entire country from within. Good lord.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jan Notzon

    I felt compelled to give this four stars for the incredible research and scholarship involved, though there were times I had to work to stay focused. I completely agree with Mr. Smith that the origin of drug problem is the demand in the United States (the author says little about the demand from Europe which I gather is comparable to that in this country). I also concur that interdiction, i.e. trying to stop supply, beyond being ineffective, is horribly destructive both in Mexico and in the US, e I felt compelled to give this four stars for the incredible research and scholarship involved, though there were times I had to work to stay focused. I completely agree with Mr. Smith that the origin of drug problem is the demand in the United States (the author says little about the demand from Europe which I gather is comparable to that in this country). I also concur that interdiction, i.e. trying to stop supply, beyond being ineffective, is horribly destructive both in Mexico and in the US, exacerbating violence that is already of Olympian proportions. Most people involved believe that those efforts stop at the very most 10% of the drugs, and there are many who put the figure at 2-5%. I am sympathetic to the idea of decrimialization. That said, I also find in Mr. Smith's account the typical Brit progressive's fundamental belief that all evil in this world emanates from the flagitiously corrupt United States of America. All suffering and obstacles on the way to a socialist paradise originates in its fetid corruption. In this, he has much in common with American progressives ("Irredeemably racist"; "heartlessly lacking in compassion", "founded on hypocrisies", etc. etc. The conclusions of anyone giving kudos to Andrés Manuel López Obrador (who is clearly an aspiring dictator) I have to take with a grain of salt.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Meli

    NYT Review: The Phony War on Drugs "mythmaking and storytelling have served to “demonize the drug traffickers and cement the narrative of the drug war as a struggle between good and evil.” Despite the inescapable truth that the illicit trade feeds America’s unending demand for narcotics, this portrayal of Mexico has tilted American political realities. “Drug war myths provide the essential background for the upsurge in U.S. nativism,” Smith writes, and with it “the expansion of a massive deportat NYT Review: The Phony War on Drugs "mythmaking and storytelling have served to “demonize the drug traffickers and cement the narrative of the drug war as a struggle between good and evil.” Despite the inescapable truth that the illicit trade feeds America’s unending demand for narcotics, this portrayal of Mexico has tilted American political realities. “Drug war myths provide the essential background for the upsurge in U.S. nativism,” Smith writes, and with it “the expansion of a massive deportation industry [...] But as profits increased, competition for protection schemes intensified and eventually engulfed the federal government. By early 1997, even the Mexican Army general in charge of the nation’s war on drugs was taking payments to protect the cartels [...] The cartels spread their infection to car theft rings, kidnappers and illegal loggers, and then demanded protection payments from legitimate businesses. They even stalked Mexican elective politics. Just this past June, 35 candidates for local office were killed as cartels ensured that their own candidates won." Sure to be a worthwhile read

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jon Hainer

    Drug Trade History It is difficult to rate this book. If you are primarily interested in the last 20 years, you should give it a pass, and I would give it two stars. If you want a really detailed and long explanation of how did we get here and why are these our policies and how does any of this make sense, then you have found the perfect book. If you want scholarly research with detailed footnotes, a quick reading would make an effective overview, but otherwise the book will not help you. A dilem Drug Trade History It is difficult to rate this book. If you are primarily interested in the last 20 years, you should give it a pass, and I would give it two stars. If you want a really detailed and long explanation of how did we get here and why are these our policies and how does any of this make sense, then you have found the perfect book. If you want scholarly research with detailed footnotes, a quick reading would make an effective overview, but otherwise the book will not help you. A dilemma for the author I surmise was to find a nonfiction voice that was interesting but not tale-telling, detailed but not pedantic, inclusive but not unfiltered. The narrative tone is not consistent. There are times when the author makes judgments when the reader nods along and times when the reader wants to know how the blank did he know that or who says? This could have been a great book and it doesn't achieve that, but it is illuminating and thorough in an area almost impossible to cover.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Arun Murali

    This is a terrific history of Mexico as seen through the eyes of the drug trade. While some of the world has its perception of Mexico and its culpability in the drug issue, this book provides a variety of perspective that makes it, at least, easier to understand why the issue exists. Matters like this are very complicated and require a real historical understanding. There is stories of survival, corruption, global demand, violence and more that make the book impossible to put down. Hopefully oth This is a terrific history of Mexico as seen through the eyes of the drug trade. While some of the world has its perception of Mexico and its culpability in the drug issue, this book provides a variety of perspective that makes it, at least, easier to understand why the issue exists. Matters like this are very complicated and require a real historical understanding. There is stories of survival, corruption, global demand, violence and more that make the book impossible to put down. Hopefully others find it as educational as I did.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Susan Sherman

    Smith has written a comprehensive history of the Mexican drug trade. As he says "America outsourced what it desired but didn't want to see" There was money to be made on one side and thrills often leading to need on the other. It seems that the two sides will always have this relationship. Smith has written a comprehensive history of the Mexican drug trade. As he says "America outsourced what it desired but didn't want to see" There was money to be made on one side and thrills often leading to need on the other. It seems that the two sides will always have this relationship.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rafael Saucedo

    Amazing history lesson.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tyler

    tough to keep track of everyone involved but well researched. 3.5

  14. 5 out of 5

    Richard Sewell

  15. 4 out of 5

    Brian D. Cornett

  16. 5 out of 5

    Javier Sepulveda Amor

  17. 5 out of 5

    Rob Smith

  18. 5 out of 5

    Bernardo Jimenez

  19. 4 out of 5

    J. Martin

  20. 4 out of 5

    Doug

  21. 5 out of 5

    Chris Walsh

  22. 4 out of 5

    Wayne Reilly

  23. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  24. 5 out of 5

    Iulius Molinarius

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tom

  26. 5 out of 5

    Philip Bagley

  27. 5 out of 5

    James

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mark

  29. 5 out of 5

    Liz

  30. 5 out of 5

    Joe

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