Mexico’s political history is one of upheaval. From the time the country declared its independence from Spain at the turn of the 19th century, to the Mexican Revolution that drove thousands of Mexicans to the U.S. in order to escape the conflict that cost over 1 million lives.
Today, the power struggle continues in a new form — one of assassinations, kidnappings and drug cartels that have shaped Mexico’s recent history.
Alex Aviña researches 20th century Mexico and is the author of Specters of Revolution: Peasant Guerrillas in the Cold War Mexican Countryside.
Drug traffickers in Mexico often worked hand-in-hand with the state to suppress political dissidents and social protest movements in the 1970s. Cartels made deals with police in the 1980s to provide protection to criminal organizations.
Former Mexican president Felipe Calderón declared a war on cartels in 2006. That action escalated the violence and since then; more than 300,000 people have been killed in cartel violence and 40,000 people have disappeared.
What’s fueling that violence? Drug demand in the U.S.
“There's a direct responsibility — American responsibility — for the violence that's occurring in Mexico,” said Aviña, associate professor of history at Arizona State University.
Not only is the war on drugs fueled by American consumption, but the economic system the narcotic industry depends on is built upon the backs of poverty-stricken communities. Aviña believes this makes finding a solution far more complicated than just legalization.
“For this type of economy to work, it's going to depend on the growers at the bottom and their laborers generating a certain level of return that cannot exceed that of the companies,” said Aviña. “The drug problem, as I tell my students, it's also a capitalism problem. It's a problem of inequality. It's a problem of an economic system that is based on the exploitation of many by a few.”