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Was Oliver stoned?

12 July 2012

Stolen in it’s entirety from Patrick Corcoran (

New piece here about some recent silliness from Oliver Stone. Highlights:

The problem continues with Stone’s statement that flows of drug money in Mexico are larger than those from tourism, oil, or remittances. Estimates for the value of the Mexican drug trade are all over the map, but the most rigorous analyses have concluded that export revenue from the drug trade is far lower than Stone suggests. Alejandro Hope, for instance, places the figure somewhere between $4.7 to $8.1 billion, while the RAND Corporation estimates that Mexican traffickers earn roughly $6.6 billion per year from sending drugs to the US.

In contrast, remittances sent by Mexicans living abroad in 2011 amounted to $22.7 billion. Mexico’s tourist trade, notwithstanding the nation’s unfortunate image in the international press, still managed to generate $11.9 billion in 2010. Stone’s claim is even further from the mark with regard to oil: the revenues for Pemex, the national oil company, amounted to $125 billion in 2011.

Consequently, Stone’s statement that the Mexican economy “would die” without drug money drifts into the terrain of the indefensible. Unfortunately, Stone is not alone in this exaggerated view of drug money’s role in the Mexican economy. One story, put forward by authors like Richard Grant and Charles Bowden, holds that a 2001 study by CISEN, Mexico’s intelligence agency, found that an end to the drug trade would result in a 63 percent contraction of the Mexican economy.

The study is not public — citing a story from El Diario de Juarez, Bowden wrote that it was leaked to the media in 2001, though InSight Crime’s online search for the original study turned up nothing. It is difficult to know, therefore, if its authors were perhaps making a more nuanced point that was lost in subsequent references to it. However, the scenario posited by Grant and Bowden, and the implicit idea that the Mexican economy would “die” without drug money, is simply absurd.

After the article’s publication, Hope, who used to work for the agency, told me on Twitter that the CISEN study is nonexistent. Also, by way of comparison, it’s worth noting that in 2011 the GDP in Libya, which suffered through a brutal civil war and the overthrow of the longstanding government, declined only by 60 percent.

Patrick, being a mainstream kinda journalist has to be more polite than I do.  Bowden, Grant and Stone are fucking idiots, or opportunists preying on the credulity of their followers. Or, cynically exploiting racist presumptions about Mexico and Latin America in general.

Although Antonio Maria Costa, of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime speculated in 2009, that the narcotics trade accounted for $352 billion in annual profits, that’s the aggregate of the entire planet’s RETAIL, not wholesale, profits.  And, as it is, Costa was claiming the money was not returning to the producer countries, but was propping up foreign (European and U.S.) banks.  I have speculated that much of the hysteria about narcotics income is based on a presumption that that the producers do not “deserve” to control the profits of their commodities exports.  It’s probably bad manners to bring up the British opium trade (a highly respectable business in its day), but as with gold, silver, sugar, coffee, lithium, oil… even bananas… there is hardly a peep when the cartels controlling the industry are from the rich north (or Australia, in the case of Asian mining).

At any rate, anyone with the eyes to see, can tell those tremendous profits said to be created — even if the cartels shared the same nationality as the producers — are not flowing back to what Aldous Huxley once called the “sweatable coloured labor” that harvested, or mined, or lived over said commodity. Or much of anyone else here, for that matter.  Oh, it provides some paychecks:  up to 45,000 according to some estimates, which would account for … one percent of the workforce (estimate based on an extremely low base-line of 4.2 million workers in 2002).  And how many of those “narcotics workers” are actually working in the narcotics industry, how many are casual laborers, or simply outside suppliers of goods and services (like undertakers in Culiacán) is left out of the equation.

At any rate, being informed about the economics and labor statistics makes it easy enough to bamboozle the rubes.  Throwing in the “story from El Diario de Juarez,…  leaked to the media in 2001” is a nice touch.  It appeals not only to those, like Stone, who tend to see conspiracies everywhere (or at least find  conspiracies entertaining), it also buys into the Anglo-Saxon myth of the perfidious Latins and their sneaky ways.  Admittedly, a lot of Mexicans believe there are “black numbers” buried somewhere (and assurances by a former spy agency employee that a study by the agency doesn’t exist aren’t always to be taken at face value), but any reporter making such a claim about a European nation, or about the United States without proper attribution would be looking for another line of work.

The scary Mexican bandito — in his more modern guise as the “narco” or corrupt Mexican official —  as presented by writers such as Bowden and Grant, and by filmmakers with an agenda like Stone, is easier for us.  Building on stereotypes of the not-so-noble savage, the black legend of Spanish cruelty (which go back to rivalry between Castille and England for control of the Flemish woolen trade in the 1300s, by the way) and the puritan sense of entitlement, and paranoia about the rising “brown tide” coming to a community near you… critical thinking is too hard.  Racism and stupidity is easy, and these bozos are taking your money — retailing…  what should I call it… opiates for the asses.



4 Comments leave one →
  1. Allen G permalink
    13 July 2012 7:53 am

    An excellent summarization of our financial picure. Most Mexicanos and extranerjos know well that figures for the drug trade are wildly exaggerated .
    But a lie goes down well, more appetizing, or a distortion of the truth by the likes of Michael Moore.
    Yet some things are overlooked by all the media. How much of the retail amounts stay in the country of sale?
    Or in the case of Canada, how many fancy, expensive cottages are purchased? To believe for one moment that profits are all returned to the transit countries is foolish.
    What we are seeing here in Sinaloa is a very negative impact on the financials. Lower tourism, fewer investors, not huge, but noticeable.
    Ah yes, you can fool all of the people, some of the time.

  2. 13 July 2012 7:55 am

    When one has a desire to project a people and everything they do in a negative image, and to guide public perception in the same vein, one has to ask what are the detractors ulterior motives?

  3. 13 July 2012 8:31 am

    Why pick on Stone? From Ashley Fantz, CNN:

    What could explain such savagery?

    Traffickers don’t have a political or religious ideology like al Qaeda.

    The answer, some experts say, is a number. Something like $39 billion.

    That’s the top estimated amount Mexican and Colombian drug trafficking organizations make in wholesale profits annually, according to a 2009 Justice Department report, the latest year for which that calculation was available.

    (I’d link the original report to get at the nuances of “top estimated amount” and “Mexican and Colombian”, but it has been archived and would take too long to find)

    Granted, it’s not larger than the amount given for oil, but at about 1.3 B barrels per year and $100/barrel, assuming that profit is 10% (Exxon Mobil claims a 9% net margin), wholesale profits would be in the range of $13B.

    I don’t pretend to know who is right or wrong here. But there are so many figures given out, and the uncertainty on drug profits are so high that it’s possible that what Stone said was technically accurate, while being misleading.

  4. MeridaGOround permalink
    13 July 2012 10:49 am

    Great closer: “opiates for the asses.” ~eric. (Buffalo NY)

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