How the United States and Mexico Jointly Created the “Mexican Drug War”

By Carmen Boullosa and Mike Wallace


This past September, 43 students went missing in Iguala, Mexico. While searching for them, authorities uncovered a mass grave, presumably of those recently disappeared, only to realize that none of the remains uncovered belonged to the students. The world looked on in terror at this morbid mix-up: how could so many go missing so easily? The incident seemed only the latest of many grisly transmissions from Mexico.

In A Narco History, celebrated Mexican novelist Carmen Boullosa and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Mike Wallace trace the history of drug violence in Mexico back more than a century to its gnarled roots, showing the way in which United States drug policy has long driven violence across the border. Time and time again, xenophobia, political opportunism, and profit has steered policy, from the first outlawing of poppy cultivation in US the mid 19th century that drove opium cultivation to Mexico to Mexico’s IMF-backed neoliberal reforms in the ‘90s that made narcotics the only profitable industry in town.

While the story Boullosa and Wallace tell is a somber one, A Narco History ends on a note of measured optimism. The authors point to signs of change: increasing efforts to decriminalize the possession of narcotics in the United States, successful grassroots resistance to narco rule in Mexico.

Yet, as Boullosa and Wallace’s comprehensive history shows, progress has slipped before. With nearly 100,000 dead, it is time that the United States and Mexico confront their shared tragedy. A Narco History, by contextualizing the failed war on drugs, provides the lessons we must never forget if this slow movement forward is not to falter.

Carmen Boullosa has published fifteen novels, most recently Tejas, La virgen y el violín, El complot de los románticos and Las paredes hablan. Her novels in English translation are Texas: The Great Theft; They’re Cows, We’re Pigs; Leaving Tabasco and Cleopatra Dismounts. She has received the Xavier Villaurrutia Prize in Mexico, the Anna Seghers and Liberaturpreis in Germany, and the Café Gijón Prize in Madrid. She is a member of Mexico’s Sistema Nacional de Creadores.

Mike Wallace, Distinguished Professor of History at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York, and director of the Gotham Center for New York City History, won the Pulitzer Prize for History for his book Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 (Oxford University Press). He is the founder, co-publisher and editor of the Radical History Review and author of the essay collection Mickey Mouse History (1996).

MEDIA CONTACT: Matthew Schantz |

A Narco History
Publication date: May 28, 2015
Paperback, $17, 978-1-939293-79-4
E-book, $10, 978-1-939293-80-0
250 pages

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