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Supply or Demand? The Business of Drug Trafficking

San José de La Parrilla, Durango is a five thousand people city in the north of Mexico. Its inhabitants can testify that it was one of the key areas that has been severely affected by the violence that comes along one of the most profitable, yet deadly businesses in the world: drug-trafficking.

In Durango, Northern Mexico, after having driven south for over one hour and enjoyed splendid views of the Sierra Madre Occidental, one of the longest mountain ranges in the world, you would enter a small town that consists of a small plaza, a great cathedral, a dried river that reminds its people of colonial times and an almost-dried-up silver mine that hires vast amounts of citizens, keeping the town up float and donating a small piece of life to it.

However, regardless of the beauty, history and traditions that it offers, the surroundings of this town were also home to large plantations of narcotics and some of the most transited routes of the Sinaloa Cartel. By being a keystone in the game of drug trafficking, La Parrilla was well protected from military units and other cartels trying to appropriate it, but this protection came at a high cost, and not necessarily a financial one. Only during the presidential period of Felipe Calderon (2006-2012), there were more than fifty narco-related deaths recorded in and outside the town, although in Mexico the word “recorded” does not share the meaning of accurate.

San José de La Parrilla accounts for only one of the towns that have suffered the weight of a well-known war that has seen its own beginning but it is nowhere close to see its end. Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana and Acapulco are only a few examples of cities that have been hit by the fist of drug trafficking resulting in high increases in the amount of local murders and human disappearances.

On one side of this war stand the drug traffickers—a.k.a. Narcos—enterprisers who run billion dollars organizations that go back to pre-Revolutionary times and have little to no interest in shutting down their operations just because the government recently decided to start a war. They are well prepared and do not hesitate on using the force when necessary. On the other side stands the Mexican army. It is the second largest army in Latin America but not allowed to deploy its full power over the traffickers.

On a whole different side of this chessboard, stands a hidden player recognized for its chess expertise. You guessed it: The United States of America. According to Expansion magazine, about 70% of the weapons used by Mexican cartels are purchased in the neighboring country. Not surprisingly; there are over 6,700 stores in the US that hold a permit to sell firearms just a few kilometers away from the Mexican border, while there is only one licensed weapon store within Mexican soil (and it is not open to the general public). This is nowhere near to change. The current president of the United States Donald J. Trump holds a strong policy against stricter gun control protocols. So one may say that while drugs go north, weapons move south, and it turns into a nonstop trafficking border.

Besides playing the role of weaponry supplier, the United States also plays the role of final consumer. In accordance with the Mexican political magazine Proceso, 75% of the drugs produced in Mexico are aimed at the North American market, while only 10% stay in the country for selling purposes. The southern country is considered the main supplier of marihuana and methamphetamines of North America.

Drug trafficking however, has little to do with producing and manufacturing drugs; in fact, its main activity plays in the form of logistics. Moving the product from point A to point B while avoiding checkpoints and customs along the way. Point A is the supply side of the consumption chain while point B accounts for the demand side. In other words: Transporting the product from its manufacturer to its consumer, which in this war translates as: Moving drugs from Mexico to the U.S.

Controversy has raised as it who it is to blame, the country that produces narcotics or the country that consumes narcotics. The supplier or the demander? As a result of the disappointing results of a useless and failed drug war, journalists and technocrats around the globe start to wonder if instead of using the Mexican Army and the DEA to violently eliminate narcos, governments should rather focus on preventing civilians in the US and Canada from using drugs.

Research conducted by Rand Corp, a think-tank, shows that compared to other developed economies, the U.S. lacks funding in drug use prevention programs, even though these are considered to be the best way to reduce drug consumption in a country, after legalization. In spite of this, the United States Federal government insists on tightening customs control and increasing funding to DEA programs related to the capture of Mexican drug-dealers. A practice that some consider of short-term benefit but of high death toll cost.

A vast majority of drugs imported to the United States are purchased with no other purpose but the recreational one; as a consequence, the lack of drug-related education in the United States is costing lives not only in Mexico, but also in multiple countries that have suffered a boost in production of narcotics due to adequate climate conditions and fragile political stability. From where the famous drug-related phrase was born: They get “fun”, we get the deaths.

It is difficult to eliminate a market worth $60 billion annually, but it is harder to eradicate it when the fighter is also the financer and the consumer all at the same time. Let alone the importance of the arm industry to the United States and their little interest on decreasing the sale of weapons regardless of whom the buyer is. Mexican authorities are expected to implement drug-related policies, such as legalization in order to reduce production and consumption of the product, nevertheless the United States and other developed economies also play an enormous role in the evolution of this war.


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