Dancing with the devil: The politics of drug control in United States-Mexico relations, 1980-1998

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

First Committee Member

Bruce M. Bagley, Committee Chair


Mexico is a significant producer of both marijuana and opium poppy. In 1995, U.S. officials estimated that Mexico produced between 70 to 80 percent of all foreign marijuana and 35 percent of the heroin destined for the U.S. market (INCSR 1995). Mexico is also estimated to transit somewhere between 60--80 percent of the cocaine routed from South America's Andean region (INCSR 1998). This dissertation examines the evolution of the Mexican drug trade, the development of transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) in Mexico, and the impact these have had on U.S.-Mexican relations. The principal time frame for this study spans the period 1980--1998.The rationale behind this study is that the growth of the illicit drug trade threatened Mexico's stability and its political institutions. It presents a potential threat to U.S. cities. The theoretical undergirding for this issue is the juxtaposition of the differences between a developed and less developed country, especially given the partially protected, border which they share time. Some research analysts and many U.S. policymakers have approached the drug problem in Realist terms however I will observe it from an interdependence perspective.The research implications of this study have lead me to believe that the emergence of TCOs has made drug policy implementation problematic in Mexico and caused problems for the larger bilateral relationship, especially in light of Mexico's inclusionary political system which has to some extent institutionalized corruption.Furthermore, Mexico's political institutions are weak and highly centralized. Even if Mexico were completely willing to aggressively attack TCOs, the institutional weaknesses of the system do not permit Mexico to fully engage against traffickers despite U.S. pressures for it to do so. Mexico is limited by a variety of institutional and economic constraints. In light of Mexico's interdependence with the United States, their shared border, growing integration and rapid rate at which technology has expanded and virtually nullified the blocking role of the border, the United States has been placed in a vulnerable position to which it has responded by trying to close its border or applying economic pressure.


Political Science, International Law and Relations

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