Cultural Baggage / October 17, 2010

Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

“It’s not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally Un-American.”

“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”
“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”


My Name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison and judicial nightmare that feeds on Eternal Drug War.


Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. I’m so glad you could be with us. I really am folks. The Drug War is ending. Exactly when that might be is really up to you. The news is just rife with horrors, to tell you the truth. Above the fold in the Houston Chronicle today, “Mexico’s plague of police corruption, despite millions in US aid forces continued to be out-gunned, overwhelmed and often purchased outright by gangsters.”

To speak in this regard, I’m proud to have with us, an author of a great book. It’s A True Story, Drug Lord, The Life and Death of a Mexican Kingpin. It’s the story of Pablo Acosta and in that regard we have the author with us. Mister Terrance Poppa, are you there, sir?

Terrance Poppa: Yes I am, Dean.

Dean Becker: Thank you, Terrance. I know you probably haven’t had a chance to see this Houston Chronicle but it’s indicative of the continuing problem in Mexico. Is it not?

Terrance Poppa: Well, it sure is. I pick up a lot of the news about that via the internet so, I’ve been on top of it.

Dean Becker: Alright, and again, Terrance, this book is the story of Pablo Acosta. He kind of represents what these drug lords are all about down there, right?

Terrance Poppa: Oh absolutely, he thrived during the 1980s. I documented his rise and his fall in the book but his story is no different than the story of the drug traffickers of today in Mexico, with one exception.

The framework for the book that I wrote had to do with, in fact the whole purpose of the writing the book was to show how drug trafficking worked in Mexico under the PRI, the Institutional Revolutionary Party that ruled Mexico for seven decades.

What I found as a journalist when researching this subject while I was working on the border was a deliberate and organized involvement of the Mexican government in this activity. Somebody like Pablo Acosta operated under a protection scheme that he had worked out or that the government had worked out with him, through the military, through he military police to operate freely in a particular zone. That is how drug trafficking worked up and down the border, up until the year 2000. So, that was the purpose of my book, to show how that worked.

Now, a third edition is coming out because it needed to be updated and that is because after the year 2000, that’s the year the Institutional Revolutionary Party lost it’s grip on Mexico. It was a significant event. I would say that it was regionally as important as perhaps the collapse of the Berlin Wall was globally. That’s how significant it was.

It was the accomplishment of the Mexican people. It took decades and decades of struggle to bring an end to the type of government that the PRI represented. It was like a one party dictatorship. So, it’s a different story now.

Now, the upper echelons of power in Mexico have decoupled themselves from drug trafficking. That wasn’t the case up until the year 2000 but there has been this decoupling. You can see that in the aggressive actions of the government against drug traffickers in Mexico across the board.

Dean Becker: It brings to mind though, Terrance that the fact of the matter is that the decoupling, as you say, means that it’s not a hierarchy or it’s not a straight forward handing over of those rights to the corridor as it once was but there are still players at every level within government that get involved in this trafficking as well, right?

Terrance Poppa: Well, I suspect that’s true but it’s more of a hit or miss type thing. You have to understand the nature of – the power of how it works down there. You know, under the PRI, the idea of being in government was to get rich and to use you position to make money. A lot of people made money by stealing tax money basically, through one kickback scheme or another.

It really depleted the tax revenues of Mexico and that was one of the reasons that it was such a continually poor country. Other people would also get involved in using their power to protect drug trafficking. So, who do you expect that they would appoint as underlings? Like minded people.

Now, you get a democratically elected government that comes from the perspective of the Panistas. By and large they emerged from Catholic Mexico. I find if they have any faults, it tends to be ridged moralism. They are a high-minded people, the ones that I have known. Who do you think that they are going to appoint under them to carry out functions of government – the legitimate functions of government? Like minded people. So, there still is a problem of corruption but it’s more at the lower levels now and I don’t know that there’s ever going to be a resolution to that because of the volumes of money that continue to go into Mexico, from the United States’ drug profits.

Dean Becker: Yeah. Yeah, there was some discussion, just this past week that the ONDCP is revising their stats. Heretofore they had said that 60% of the profits that go to the Mexican cartels were derived from the sales of marijuana but now they’re saying, “Oh, we were wrong. It might just be 15%.”

They’re trying to diminish the impact of the potential legalization of marijuana in California and the dollars involved there and the impact against the cartels. Do you have any idea of the percentage of drugs and the various types that come across the border?

Terrance Poppa: Well, not really, you know, that’s a mystery. The only people who compile statistics about that are people in our government. I suppose they’re in a better position to throw out numbers than anybody else, other than the cartels. I mean, they certainly keep their books done.

You know, as far as the – you know, you have a lot of interests in the government of the United States. People want to keep their jobs and legalization is a threat to a whole lot of jobs. You figure it’s a $40 billion a year government industry that is spent on drug enforcement and I suppose incarceration at the federal level too but huge amounts more at the state level. So, there’s a lot of jobs involved.

If you divide those number those numbers by, let’s say 100,000 – say each person involved in that industry is making an average of $100,000 – probably that’s exaggerating but you’ll see the number of jobs there. You divide that into $40 billion. There’s a lot of interests that are built in. So, you can assume that they’re going to throw out numbers that are going to preserve their jobs.

Dean Becker: Oh yeah

Terrance Poppa: That’s the intention of it, job preservation.

Dean Becker: If you’ll allow me – and once again folks we’re speaking with Mister Terrance Poppa. He’s author of A True Story, Drug Lord, the Life and Death of a Mexican Kingpin and Terrance, I wanted to read to you a paragraph from here from today’s Houston Chronicle:

“Mexicans justifying have long considered their police suspect but today, many of those wearing the badge are even more brazenly bad. Either unwilling or unable to squelch the lawless terror that has claimed nearly 30,000 lives in less than four years.”

It has really escalated and gone mad, hasn’t it in the last few years?

Terrance Poppa: Well, yes. The Calderón administration, it’s outright – it’s out and out war on drug trafficking has really unleashed a – the Pandora’s box.

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Terrance Poppa: It really shows how entrenched drug trafficking became in Mexico over many, many decades. It’s a really deeply enrooted. So, when it declares war, there’s a reaction to that. It is what you see. There’s been a tremendous disruption in the activities of these crime groups – these organized crime groups because of these government actions against drug trafficking in Mexico.

Now, you’ve got every one of these drug trafficking groups are fighting each other and they’re all fighting the government. So, the net result is the body count that you read about that continues to go up day after day.

Dean Becker: Terrance, I wanted to ask you this, you know, the fact of the matter is, just like the United States the Mexican government is in dire financial straits as well. There was a piece in Reuters, just last week, that indicated that there are now 50,000+ Drug War orphans in Mexico and that the state doesn’t have the money and doesn’t have the means to even help those kids. Many of them are just becoming homeless and are – I would think, are going to be susceptible to joining those same gangs here in a couple of years. Your thoughts on that?

Terrance Poppa: Well, I wouldn’t be surprised. Poverty is a big recruiting ground for criminal activities because a lot of people don’t have any other options, so they get involved in criminal activities. It’s also so easy because it’s part of the environment. It’s so entrenched.

You know my concern is this, Dean. You know I never was a big fan of legalizing drugs but the way I see it now is – it’s something that has to be done because you have a country like Mexico where the people, over decades, very high minded people that struggled year after year to bring an end to the old regime and finally succeeded in the year 2000.

They have established a true democracy now in Mexico and a government that is responsive to the extent that they can, to the people. But that is threatened now because of the volume of drug money that continues to go into Mexico day after day. These people who are now running Mexico are making a real true effort to try to upgrade the police and to reform police agencies. They have a plan now to create a national police force, in order to take – in order to upgrade the quality of police but also to detach the police from the municipal governments because that’s the weakest – that’s one of the weakest links in the police in Mexico because they’re so underpaid. They’re easy to intimidate and they’re easy to buy off – local police.

Look at the – look at what drug money does. It’s like throwing acid on something. It dissolves the best efforts to bring about an authentic change. There’s too much money going in there.

Dean Becker: Well, look, I admire them for trying, for continuing to try but the fact of the matter is there was an instance of, well, more than a decade ago, where they were doing much the same thing, taking some of the best police and soldiers and training them to be good anti-drug warriors, if you will. Yet, they – many of them spun off and became what we now call the Zetas.

Terrance Poppa: That’s true. That’s true.

Dean Becker: Highly trained, go ahead, sir.

Terrance Poppa: Yes, well that just shows you the utter futility of their efforts because of drug money. I put – I look at it this way. Up until the year 2000, the United States was the victim. The United States was the victim of the people who were running Mexico. They exploited drug trafficking. They exploited drug addiction in the United States to make money for themselves. They were in it to make money, the more the better.

So, the United States was victimized by those kinds of people. They also victimized Mexico and indirectly Canada, but all of North America was affected by that government. Now, it can be truly said that Mexico is the victim but it’s the victim of American drug money.

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Terrance Poppa: Terrible things could be in store if these huge volumes of drug profits continue pour into Mexico. I see just two scenarios.

One is that the democratic gains of the Mexican people are going to be eroded and you’re going to end up with a new class of people in Mexico in power who will make accommodations with drug trafficking organizations, but of course, in exchange for a percentage of the profit.

So, if that happens and it’s very likely, Mexico would be back where it was ten years ago prior to the year 2000. So, there would be no benefit for the United States – all of our drug enforcement efforts are just going to get even more difficult without the cooperation of Mexico. Now, it’s very cooperative but it could very quickly revert to what it was before.

Dean Becker: I want to talk about –

Terrance Poppa: There’s –

Dean Becker: Go ahead now, Terrance.

Terrance Poppa: I’m sorry, go ahead.

Dean Becker: Terrance, I wanted to talk about – a little bit about the way it was before. The book you wrote, Drug Lord, about Pablo Acosta. When he was selected, I think is the right word, to run that corridor, bringing drugs north, he was given the chore of providing and tell me if I’m wrong on this – was it $400,000 per month that needed to be routed to his higher-ups within the Mexican government?

Terrance Poppa: Well, I never really named a figure but that’s all something that they worked out among themselves but it wouldn’t be surprising that a third of all drug profits ended up in the hands of the protectors.

So, if he was running, you know and making $100 million dollars a year. You could figure that $33 million dollars was going to people in power. That’s how it worked. So, it was a phenomenal amount of money, making people in government very rich and in exchange, they let him do what he did.

He had another role too, of fingering other people, the independents. Then the military and the federal police would go after the independents and arrest them and get their drugs. They would get good publicity and statistics that they were doing their job but it really was just a culling of the herd. Then they would sell the confiscated drugs back to the drug trafficker who was in charge. You see that’s how it used to work. It was a huge racket. The government of Mexico was an out and out mafia back then.

Dean Becker: Right and if I understand things correctly, the best case scenario is that it would return to that, which would then quell some of the violence and –

Terrance Poppa: Yes, exactly. It would. But you would have an out and out narcostate once again.

Dean Becker: Right.

Terrance Poppa: Who’s going to benefit from that? You would have the government of Mexico being packed to the ceiling again with opportunists, who would go back to what they used to do, which was steal money right and left.

Anything that wasn’t nailed down, they used to steal. That is what contributes to the poverty in Mexico because that’s the kind of money that would normally go to – in a normal country, into building roads and bridges and schools and so on and so forth.

You’d have that same class of people, opportunists, taking over again, ripping off the country and then actively involved in drug trafficking activities that are detrimental to the United States and they were also involved in auto theft. They were also involved in human smuggling. Here’s how it used to work. I’ll tell you.

This is authentic. The comandante would buy a zone from the attorney general’s office on the northern border. They used to go for about $3 million. He had to have good political connections and lots of money backing him up.

Now, every month he had to turn over a quota to his bosses. That’s money derived from protection he gave to the favorite groups, drug traffickers, auto thieves, human smugglers. It was a huge racket. I mean, what else can you call it? It was a Mafia operation.

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Terrance Poppa: That’s how it worked, up until the year 2000.

Dean Becker: Ok, once again folks, we’re speaking with Mister Terrance Poppa, author of Drug Lord, the Life and Death of a Mexican Kingpin. We’ve got a couple or three minutes here and I want to kind of open this up. You mentioned earlier that heretofore you had not seen legalization of drugs as the answer.

I think more and more people in the US. I think, in Mexico and probably around the world, are beginning to at least lean in that same direction. I guess the question that I’m really wanting to get to is this; You have made that new determination. What was it that convinced you? What swayed your opinion?

Terrance Poppa: Well, just the overall futility of attempting to suppress drug usage. It’s not working. This country arrests all kinds of people right and left for consuming drugs and the incarceration rate has skyrocketed in this country over the last three decades but people still use drugs.

So, it’s a failed approach. It doesn’t work. In a country that is supposedly pragmatic, if something doesn’t work, you try something else right?

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Terrance Poppa: So, this has clearly failed, the prohibitive approach to drugs. Drugs are – you know, are an awful thing. They do terrible things to people. Addiction is a horrendous problem but it’s fundamentally a medical problem.

So, isn’t it time to try a different approach?

Dean Becker: Well, there it is. There it is. Alright, Mister Terrance Poppa, I thank you for being with us. I want to recommend this book. If you want to understand what’s going on just south of our border. If you want to get a better picture of why it’s happening. I urge you to pick up a true story, Drug Lord by Terrence Poppa.

Terrance, thank you so much for being with us here on Cultural Baggage.

Terrance Poppa: Yes, thank you, Dean. My Pleasure.

Dean Becker: Alright, sir.


(Game show music)

It’s time to play: Name That Drug By It’s Side Effects

Dry skin, hair loss, loss of appetite, high blood pressure, anemia, joint soreness, weakened immune system, kidney disease, liver damage, emphysema, cancer and a shortened life span.


Time’s up!

The answer: Cadmium.

I couldn’t find a medical use for cadmium but I wanted you to know that prisoners across America are working in factories, smashing computers and being given the chance to inhale cadmium vapors for six cents an hour.


Over the last several weeks, we’ve had occasion to speak to our good friend Mister Howard Wooldridge of Citizens Opposing Prohibition. He’s been in California riding his horse, Misty, to various cities across the state in support of Proposition 19 but this is going to be our last report.

Howard Wooldridge: Dean, we’re doing Ok but we’re tired. We’re hot. We’re happy. We’ve had just a tremendous response here in California from both media and people in the streets. We’ve made a lot of people smile and a lot of thumbs up and we think we made a contribution.

Dean Becker: Well, I’m sure you have. As you’ve indicated, you’ve had a lot of coverage from newspapers and television and radio in your travels there but you’re going to have to pull the plug a little bit shorter than you wanted to because your horse, Misty’s health is vital. Is it not?

Howard Wooldridge: Yeah, Misty has been at this for five weeks and she’s been putting up with all of the noise, all of the air horns, all the sirens and just the hustle and bustle of city life. We go to the busiest intersections in every town and she’s told me very clearly that this is her limit.

So, with reluctance, we have to – I have to obviously defer to my horse and pull the plug just about two weeks early but we’re real happy for what we did and we think we made a positive contribution to this whole thing.

Dean Becker: You and that same horse, Misty, traveled across this nation, the whole breadth of this nation twice in support of ending our madness towards drug prohibition, right?

Howard Wooldridge: Yeah, we did and that’s what really prepared her to spend so much time on street corners here in California because she is used to traffic but everyday for four to five hours, it just got too much. So, we’re going to take care of the horse, take her home and give her three months off with no work, no nothing. She’s going to get a nice big break.

Dean Becker: Well, that’s good to hear. Broadcasters all across this country are bringing focus to bear on this situation in California, even though it only impacts California – at least initially. What’s your thought there?

Howard Wooldridge: Well, certainly we were just focusing mostly on California but you and I both know that this is going to have national – international impact. Mexico is looking at it closely and if California cracks like they did in 1996 with medical marijuana, we’re looking at a good six states that will try for in 2012, which will be the beginning of the end for the national nightmare of marijuana prohibition.

Dean Becker: Is there a website you’d like to point folks towards?

Howard Wooldridge: Yeah, for more information on this, go to The homepage shows you some of the best reasons why we need to end the madness of marijuana prohibition.


Phil Smith: This is Phil Smith of the Drug War Chronicle with this week’s report for the Drug Truth Network.

Today, we got news out of Los Angeles, US Attorney General Eric Holder said today in Los Angeles that the federal government will enforce its marijuana laws in California even if voters there decide in November to legalize marijuana by approving Proposition 19, the tax and regulate marijuana legalization initiative.

Holder’s comments came during a joint press conference with Prop 19 foes, including Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley and LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, as well as former heads of the DEA and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Cooley, who is running for state attorney general, has said he believes all medical marijuana dispensaries are illegal.

According to the Associated Press, Holder on Wednesday released a letter written to former heads of the DEA saying the Justice Department strongly opposes Prop 19 and remains committed to enforcing the Controlled Substances Act all across the country. Here’s a quote from the letter:

"We will vigorously enforce the CSA against those individuals and organizations that possess, manufacture or distribute marijuana for recreational use, even if such activities are permitted under state law," Holder wrote. Legalizing marijuana would be a "significant impediment" to the federal government's efforts to target drug traffickers and would "significantly undermine" safety in California communities, the attorney general said.

Prop 19 would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults over 21. It would also allow them to grow up to 25 square feet of marijuana and possess the resulting harvest. And it would allow cities and counties in California to permit, regulate, and tax commercial marijuana sales and cultivation.

The Holder Justice Department last year said it would not interfere with medical marijuana in states where it is legal, but the department is apparently drawing the line at legalizing recreational use. Whether the DEA could actually arrest three million California pot smokers remains to be seen.

As always, we’re on-line. Check it out at


The following message is brought to you by the US Ministry of Homeland Security:

(Sung to the music of Deck the Halls)

Fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear….

(Music stops)

Never forget fear!
And hatred.
Or lies.
Or deception.
Big brother says, “The war of terror will last forever.”

(Massive crowd cheering… with sheep sounds)

(Detective music)

You are listing to the Unvarnished Truth about the Drug War on Pacifica Radio and the Drug Truth Network. Teaching the choir to sing solos since 2001.


(Country music)

War is peace. Peace through war.
A hundred years of prohibition
Needs a hundred years more.

We’ve gotta fund
The terrorists and gangs
To save the kids
We’ve got to do the same damn thing.


Alright, I hope you enjoyed this edition of Cultural Baggage. I want to thank our guest Mister Terrance Poppa, author of A True Story, Drug Lord and I also want to thank Howard Wooldridge for that last report out of California and Phil Smith for that talk about the situation out there as well.

I want to ask you to do me a big favor. I want you to go to my website, and there near the top of the page, there’s a little second paragraph. It’s got a petition link. I want you to go there and sign that. It’s seeking the Unvarnished Truth about the Drug War for Michele Leonhart, the administrator of the DEA and Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the ONDCP.

As always, I remind you that because of prohibition, you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please, be careful.


To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.

This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.

Drug Truth Network programs are archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies.

Transcript provided by: Ayn Morgan of

Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.