Historical Roots

Mexico's international drug-control efforts have their roots in the SHANGHAI Convention of 1909 and the Hague Opium Convention of 1911-1912. In 1923, Mexico's President Alvaro Obregon prohibited the production of opium and condemned

Officials from the Mexican Attorney General's office display to the media one ton of confiscated marijuana and three suspects in Mexico City, March 1, 1996. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

what was then widespread and increasing drug-induced violence. In 1934, President Cardenas del Rio created the first centralized narcotics administrative unit in the government.

After the United States entered World War II in 1941, Mexico was asked to provide opium for the war effort, since it was processed into MORPHINE, a medication used extensively for war-related wounds. In both Mexico and the United States, HEMP was grown to fill U.S. military need for rope and cordage; hemp is processed from Cannabis sativa, which is also used as marijuana. By mid-1943, opium constituted the most profitable cash crop in Mexico's northwestern state of Sinaloa. Despite Mexico's efforts to control the production of these crops after the war, drugs were grown, processed, and smuggled into the United States from Mexico.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Mexico soon became the major supplier for the illicit U.S. heroin market when Turkey prohibited opium cultivation and the French Connection had been ended. Consequently, in the fall of 1969, the U.S. BUREAU OF Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (the predecessor organization of DEA) and the U.S. Customs Service initiated Operation Intercept—a three-week operation that subjected every person crossing the border in the San Ysidro, California, area to intensive baggage and body searches. The economic losses and dismay on both sides of the border prompted termination of the operation—but not before focusing attention on the volume of drugs entering the United States from Mexico. The Mexican government then began to locate and manually destroy the poppy fields—the source, at that time, of all the heroin produced in the Western Hemisphere. Originally, the search for poppy fields was made in small planes that flew over mountain zones where crops were suspected to be growing on remote plots of government land.

Prior to 1975, once the poppy had been spotted and the approximate location registered in official correspondence, military squads were sent to destroy the plants by cutting them down. In 1975, the Mexicans began to use the most modern technol-ogy—a system called Multi-Opium Poppy Sensing (MOPS), which used multispectral sensing cameras on board low-flying aircraft to read and print images from the electromagnetic spectrum. In nature, every substance emits its own unique electromagnetic waves that can be read on the color spectrum using special cameras. The fields were then destroyed by aerial application of the contact herbicides 2,4-D and paraquat. By the 1990s, a fleet of nearly 120 aircraft were being used.

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