This week, El Universal reported that the Drug Enforcement Administration may have been collaborating with the Sinaloa Cartel, one of the largest cartels in Mexico, for more than a decade, giving it a free pass to import tens of millions of dollars worth of drugs into the United States in exchange for information concerning rival drug cartels. More disturbingly, the court case El Universal cites indicates that the U.S. may have even provided weapons to the Sinaloa Cartel in order to aid it in an effort to hurt other cartels and also offered to drop charges against the cartel’s top leadership in exchange for collaboration with the DEA. In short, an arm of the federal government allegedly provided material support to an organization that U.S. officials have called “the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the world” apparently in order to help end the war on drugs.
In light of this information, Congress ought to reconsider the level of autonomy and power it has granted the DEA; over the last decade, the DEA has apparently been the de facto sponsor of a drug cartel that now effectively controls the drug trade in much of Mexico.
This aid to the Sinaloa was allegedly part of a “divide and conquer” strategy by the DEA through which it hoped that by striking a deal with a single cartel, it could weaken the others and therefore reduce violence and overall trafficking. While this strategy apparently yielded limited success in places like Colombia, in Mexico it has produced worse results. While the DEA cites information from Sinaloa informants leading to a 21-ton cocaine seizure as well as other smaller seizures and arrests, the Sinaloa cartel has been trafficking and distributing up to 2 tons of cocaine per month through Chicago alone over the last few years.
Obviously, any sort of drug bust is a good thing if it prevents illicit drugs from entering the country, but when a cartel can use the DEA to eliminate its competition in the drug trade and therefore enrich itself, perhaps such a drug bust is not such a good thing. It appears that the DEA’s strategy has not reduced drug trafficking to the United States or violence in Mexico but instead empowered the Sinaloa cartel. From the late 1990s to 2012, when the DEA was allegedly collaborating with the leaders of the Sinaloa, the cartel appeared to reach the apex of its power.
During the last decade, the Sinaloa Cartel outed the Juarez Cartel from Ciudad Juarez, in the process killing an estimated 10,000 individuals in the city, possibly utilizing guns smuggled into the country through operations similar to operation “Fast and Furious.” Moreover, it solidified its control over the so-called “Golden Triangle” in Mexico, a region responsible for much of the country’s drug production. The kingpin of the cartel, Joaquin Guzman, is now considered to the be the world’s most powerful drug lord of all time, surpassing even Pablo Escobar in wealth and power.
It seems clear that these sequences of events are related; a cartel that was given impunity and possibly even aid by the Drug Enforcement Agency was able to consolidate its grip on drug trade to the U.S. while also ensuring that its rivals are stopped or slowed at every turn by the DEA.
This is no coincidence and is apparently what the DEA’s war on drugs now looks like. The DEA made an extremely shortsighted decision to pick sides in a bloody drug war and has harmed or killed tens of thousands of innocent American and Mexican citizens in the process. Its decisions did not reduce the amount of drugs flowing into the United States nor the number of guns or amount of drug money flowing back into Mexico. Instead, the DEA helped to create the world’s most powerful drug lord.