Written by Isabela Supovitz-Aznar
This article is the first in a series exploring how different local issues in Philadelphia have global causes and effects.
if you ask about “the drug trade” in Philadelphia, you will typically hear stories of people lingering on street corners of dangerous neighborhoods. If you walk by, them maybe they’ll say a code word that means they are distributing some sort of drug. It is not uncommon to occasionally see people on the street on on public transportation acting out–presumably because they are high.
To many, the occasional drug related murders, and discreet distribution of drugs in Philadelphia is enough to feel unsafe. Let’s compare that to how the drug trade looks in Mexico, one of the main drug distributors to the United States.
According to the book Narcoland by Anabel Hernandez, at least 80,000 people have died in Mexico’s drug wars since the year 2006, and those are just the numbers we know of.
Drug trade has been happening around the world including Mexico for decades, but it wasn’t until 2006 that the drug wars in Mexico spiraled into pure chaos. It began with the formation of cartels such as the ‘Sinaloa Cartel’ and ‘Los Zetas’ trafficking drugs on a major scale throughout Mexico and into the U.S. They gained power by bringing guns from the United States into Mexico (in Mexico guns are illegal, except to the authorities).
The men running these cartels such as Joaqüin Guzmån Loera, better known as “El Chapo” or the head of the Sinaloa Cartel gained power through violence. Forbes Magazine named El Chapo the biggest drug lord of all time, the man is worth a billion dollars. El Chapo dropped out of school in second grade but managed to become the most dangerous and powerful man involved in Mexico’s organized crime.
These drug Kingpins are best known in Mexico for their brutal torture methods, some of which involve putting bodies into large kettles where they are then boiled alive in kerosene, or decapitating people with chainsaws. Dead bodies are often disposed publically, to instill fear amongst the population.
In Mesa El Frijol, Mexico, more than 80% of the population grows poppy (used to make heroin) and marijuana. Mexico is divided into wealthy and poor, there is no real middle class there. Newer generations in Mexico born into poverty see the wealth of the Kingpins and more of them want to become drug barons themselves, they see it as their only way out of poverty. Education is no longer valued as something that could help kids succeed because drug lords impose taxes on people who work hard to earn their own money, the price of not paying is often death.
Aside from the gun laws in the United States indirectly aiding the Kingpins and their armies of drug dealers, there are other vital pieces to their system. Government ties with the cartels have been long suspected, and some of them have been proven. It is hard to believe that these semi-illiterate kingpins, such as El Chapo could be in charge of such a complex and illegal system without the support of the government. January 19th, 2001 El Chapo “escaped” from Puente Grande’s Federal Center, where he had been held for 5 years without being sentenced.
It was long believed that he escaped by paying prison guards off to help him get out, but more recently there has been much debate on this suspicious break out. One of the more recent theories is that the President at the time, Vincente Fox secretly released him for a bribe of one million dollars. Ex-President Fox is now an advocate for the legalization, consumption, production, and distribution of drugs.
With a government that does very little to protect it’s people, malicious drug cartels, and extreme poverty, Mexico has dug itself into a hole. It’s important to realize that even though all of this is happening seemingly far away, Philadelphia’s drug trade is a result of much more severe drug trade in other countries. What’s happening in Mexico is happening in places around the world.