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10 Big Ideas

1. Mexico is one of the world’s principal producers of illegal poppies and heroin. This reality, one of the pillars of the country’s “war on drugs”, contrasts sharply with the scarcity of studies that seek to understand what this market represents in the social, economic, political, and agricultural panorama of the country.

2. Poppies do not have traditional roots in Mexico. Rather, it is an economic phenomenon: a production nourished by a demand and a market, though this does not impede the flower from being integrated into cultural practices. It is important, however, to avoid romantic visions of poppy cultivation.

3. The drug derived from poppies represents an illegal resource that perturbs social and economic equilibria. The boom of the poppy economy in the years 1980-1990 represents a brutal turn that severely shook up perspectives on work, relations between rural and urban spaces, and the way in which the Mexican State relates to marginal territories.

4. The poppy boom is associated with structural reforms implemented by the Mexican State in the 1980s and 90s that culminated with the signing of the Free Trade Agreement (TLCAN-1994). This transformed certain areas into regional and international agricultural powers (like Sinaloa or Michoacán), while increasingly converting others, like Guerrero, into sources of cheap labor.

5. At the local level, poppy production is no secret. People in production zones know where and when poppies are cultivated, and who grows them. This includes authorities and public forces. The boom of illicit crops, then, does not occur behind the State’s back but is articulated with political-economic interests that have not been studied sufficiently.

6. The understanding of illicit crops production in Mexico is severely limited by the absence of any systematic recording that would make it possible to monitor their evolution over time, their territorial distribution, and the basic characteristics of production (surface areas planted, prices, and yields, among other aspects).

7. Profitability of illicit crops lies in (i) demand and (ii) the illegal nature of the product. Consumption markets incentivize production, and remuneration is high due to the risks and necessary expenses, such as transport and corruption costs. Each time the product passes through the hands of intermediaries, the price multiplies, but these participants capture the lion’s share of profits, not the growers.

8. The issue of illicit crops is not only a rural phenomenon. Earnings generated by the drug market flow constantly between cities and peripheries, nourishing entire local economies.

9. It is crucial to consider the less “cinematographic” aspects of illicit economies: the business side, and the local-regional infrastructures required for them to function. The development of drug-trafficking cannot be understood if we fail to recognize that everything that facilitates legal commerce has the same effect on illegal trade.

10. Since 2017, fentanyl has upset the poppy and heroin markets. No one, neither growers nor analysts, had foreseen the crisis of the gum market. We are ill-prepared to conceptualize the idea of a crisis of the market for drugs, accustomed –obsessed? – as we are with their supposed perpetual expansion, profitability, and vitality.

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