Why Drug Traffickers Love Free Trade

Why Drug Traffickers Love Free Trade

Laredo, Texas, the busiest land port between the United States and Mexico, offers an intimate view of the marriage between illegal narcotics and free trade. Along the Rio Grande, U.S. law enforcement officials refer to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as the “North American Free Trafficking Agreement.” But in Washington, amid finger-pointing about who’s soft on drugs, no one on either side of the aisle wants to admit that nothing favors drug traffickers more than the nature of the modern global economy itself.

Last winter I stood on the Juarez-Lincoln bridge, enveloped in the exhaust fumes of trucks backed up five miles into Mexico. As the line of eighteen-wheelers inched toward U.S. Customs, I wondered which ones held hidden caches of drugs. Despite stepped-up border inspections since 1995, U.S. officials concede that more than 90 percent of the cocaine and heroin shipped through Mexico from South America gets past them.

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Lima