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Has Mexico always had a drug problem?

Since Felipe Calderon became president in 2006, most of the news about Mexico published in the United States has focused on drug traffickers and the drug-related violence that has resulted from the government's intense efforts to destroy the cartels. That pattern continues to be the case under Pena Nieto. Whereas the level of drug-related violence and the large number of homicides are recent phenomena, drug trafficking has been present in Mexico for decades. Mexico's long-t erm drug-t rafficking history is tied to the consumption of illegal products in the United States. When the United States prohibited the production and sale of alcohol in the 1920s and 1930s, Mexico and Canada both became sources of illegal shipments. The repeal of Prohibition ended the illegal transportation of alcohol across the border, but the consumption of other illegal substances grew, reflecting the huge population increase in the second half of the twentieth century. Mexico has been the source of drugs, such as marijuana, for decades and the source for the transshipments of drugs from South America. During his presidency, Richard Nixon declared a "War on Drugs," which focused US resources on an interdiction strategy to prevent drugs from coming into the United States. Under President Miguel de la Madrid (198288), the United States encouraged Mexico to use the army to identify drug-producing farms and to destroy their crops. To that end, battalions were sent from central Mexico to drug-producing regions in the north, including such states as Sinaloa and Chihuahua, which are currently among those most directly affected by drug cartels, where they typically spent six months each year. In the following administration, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-94) attempted to expand the military's role in the drug interdiction strategy, going beyond destroying crops to capturing drug traffickers. The army made it known that it was not amenable to such a mission, and the president withdrew his request to expand its antidrug role. As large, organized cartels seized control over trafficking and production, the United States attempted to increase its collaboration with the Mexican government and again to pressure the Mexican government to use armed forces to enhance its antidrug effort. The army accepted this expanded role in 1995, under President Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000), and the federal government began expanding the army (its size increased 24 percent from 1994 to 2015) as well as the resources devoted to antidrug tasks. Public security expenditures increased 363 percent from 2003 to 2015, and Pena Nieto's 2014 budget proposed $4.4 billion for security, more than a third of the total federal budget. Nevertheless, by the end of the Zedillo administration, the domestic consumption of drugs had increased significantly, creating a serious social problem. As the 2011 Addiction Survey in Mexico reported, the percentage of Mexicans who have tried illegal drugs since 2008 has increased from 4.1 percent to 7.2 percent.

 
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