Heads of The Drug Cartels

The cartels in the Americas have been smuggling drugs, weapons, and cigarettes for more than 40 years and have taken advantage of America’s lax infrastructure to import contraband into the United States. While this has been going on for decades, a new player is emerging on the world stage. As America tries to stop the title wave of drugs that reaches its shores through the Merdian Initiative that targets the heads of the cartels, they may be missing the true masterminds of the drug war.

Recently, several high-profile Lebanese citizens have been accused of participating in the drug trade. It has gotten so bad that Saudi Arabia has distanced itself from the country by cutting off its economy from Lebanon and has halted precious aid that has kept the balance between the Sunni, Shia, and Christian religious factions in the country.

If the largest drug traffickers in the world have recruited the Lebanese diaspora into the trade then the Merdian Initiative will have little impact on the drug trade. This is because the Merdian Initiative would be going after the heads of the cartels in Mexico and not the individuals that installed the heads of the drug cartels. These Invisibles have the real power and unless these people are taken down then the drugs and the violence will keep flowing around the world.

History of the Lebanese Diaspora

In 1975 civil war erupted in Lebanon. This civil war pitted Christian, Shite, and Sunni neighborhoods against one another as alliances shifted during the 15-year war. This led millions of Lebanese to leave their country and relocate to Canada, America, Mexico, South America, and other parts of the world where they can live in peace. This civil war also led to the creation of Hezbollah, which has been designated a terrorist group by both the United States and the European Union.

The graph below shows the population of Lebanese living abroad.

Lebanese Diaspora

Hezbollah has injected itself into the Iraqi, Yemenis, and Syrian wars and has even started its own wars against Israel. It has become a very capable fighting force for Iran to use against the West as it expertly plans bombings, conducts political assassinations, and continually harasses Israeli troops on its shared border.

The Lebanese diaspora has its largest concentration in South America with approximately 8.5 million people, followed by North America with approximately 2.75 million citizens, and Europe and Australia with 435,000 inhabitants each, with the rest scattered across Africa and Asia.

Lebanese citizens have been accused of laundering money for drug cartels in Miami, Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina, and other places around the world. Hezbollah was even known to traffic drugs in the Tri-Border Area of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. Drugs are also crossing the Lebanese border into Syria and then to Turkey where several high-profile drug busts have taken place. Iran, which is the main political, military, and financial backer of Hezbollah, has been supporting Venezuela which is a major producer of cocaine destined for Europe and the Western Hemisphere.

Saudi Arabia has even taken the added step of cutting off Lebanon’s aid that helps keep the delicate balance of the Christians, Sunnis, and Shiites in the country. Saudi, which is a major importer of produce from Lebanon, banned the import of produce which has had a substantial impact on the fragile Lebanese economy.

Recently drugs and small weapons have been seized on Israel’s Egyptian and Lebanese borders. This has been attributed to smugglers in Lebanon trying to smuggle drugs into the country.

History of Drug Trafficking in Latin America

Mexico and the United States met this month to discuss a new phase in their plan to tackle transnational organized crime (the cartels). Mexican drug cartels started out as couriers for the Colombian cartels to ship cocaine in the 1970s and 1980s. After the crackdown on cocaine from Colombia in the 1980s and 1990s Mexican drug cartels began gaining more power in the drug trade.

Mexico has moved from being a middleman to being a major producer and wholesaler of illicit drugs in the United States. Fentanyl, methamphetamines, opium, cocaine, and marijuana are the main drugs that Mexico is either producing or is smuggling into the United States. Fentanyl and methamphetamines are synthetic drugs that are made with chemicals mainly sourced from China, but India has also become a big supplier of the chemicals.

Mexico has become a major producer of opium gum and shipped heroin into the US before Fentanyl. became the drug of choice for cartels. Since they have started production of Fentanyl (a synthetic but extremely more powerful version of opium), opium gum prices have collapsed by 80% in the country to such an extent that ideas to support opium growers have been floated to support farmers in the area.

Cocaine was typically grown in Colombia in the 1970s and 1980s but today it comes from a variety of sources across Latin America.

Peru allows cocaine to be grown legally but is restricted by the government.

Colombia is still officially the largest producer of coca plants but the Colombian government has made valiant efforts to disrupt the cartels by arresting the heads of cartels, distributing chemicals that kill coca plants, bearing the brunt of the violence of the cartels, and has launched several campaigns against narco-terrorist at the behest of the US government.

Bolivia is another large producer of cocaine in South America with little restraints on its production by the government.  It has grown into a major producer and exporter and shows little sign of slowing down.

Ecuador is also a big producer and distributor of cocaine but still not to the scale of its neighbors. The new president has started to restrict some exports since violence has started to appear in the country and its prisons.

Brazil and Argentina have become major distributors of cocaine since they have extensive exports going to Asia, Europe, and the United States.

Large-scale coca plantations have been discovered in Guatemala in 2019 and other Central American/Caribbean nations are thought to have started large-scale production of coca plants as well. Usually, these nations are thought of as transit points between producers and the Mexican drug cartels but as plantations are found in Guatemala, they probably have already gained a foothold in Honduras as well.


But the country that would take the crown as the largest producer of cocaine might be Venezuela if there was any reliable data coming out of the country. Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, large deposits of gold, blue gold, excellent agricultural industry, rare earth minerals, and other resources that could make it an economic powerhouse. But the largest industry in the country by far is drug trafficking.

Venezuela was once Latin America’s richest nation. In the 1960s Venezuela was the richest country in Latin America, produced 10% of the oil in the world, had a thriving healthcare system, was four times richer than Japan and twice as rich as China. The country faced disaster in the 1980s when oil prices crashed, and the petrol giant began to struggle. Their entire economy was based on producing their 300 million barrels (300 MMMBBL) of reserves and had no economic diversity. The 1980s oil glut wreaked havoc on the nation which set the stage for a socialist revolution planned at least in part by Cuba and executed by Hugo Chavez in the 1999 election.

Chavez was elected as president and took power in 1999 where he seized the wealth of wealthy individuals, land, and independent companies. After seizing these items, he put his supporters in charge of broad sections of the economy. This turned out to be a disaster as the people he installed to run Petroleos De Venezuela (PDVSA) knew nothing about the oil industry and the economic situation began to deteriorate rapidly. Chavez gave oil at discount rates throughout Latin America gaining favor among the people of Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Cuba. When Chavez was elected, the country was producing approximately 3.5 MMM BBL of oil a day. At the time of his death, the country struggled to produce any oil at all. Oil production is slowly returning as Iran has been assisting with oil production and refining but it’s still nowhere near what it was when Chavez took power.

Venezuela has heavy oil reserves which are difficult to produce to the surface. This is why Venezuela needs to import light oil to break up the heavy oil to get it to the surface. But without the capital to buy the light oil and condensate, it is difficult to produce enough money to get the capital to buy the light oil. This is where a country like Iran comes in. They have plenty of oil but need gold, food, and allies.

Maduro has taken over the country after Chavez’s death in 2013 and has run the country since oil collapsed from $100/BBL to below $60/BBL in 2014. This was a major blow to the economy and Maduro has done little to combat hyperinflation as well as mismanagement of resources since Chaves’ death.

China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Turkey, Bolivia, and Nicaragua are big supporters of the Maduro regime. Venezuela owes approximately $100 billion to foreign creditors of which China owns approximately $20 billion and Russia owns $2.3 billion. China has been instrumental in supporting the Venezuelan oil sector after the US put sanctions on the oil industry. Russia has provided extensive military support on several occasions, Turkey has been trading food and fuel for gold, Cuba sends doctors to Venezuela to treat its population, and Iran has been heavily involved in supporting Maduro by bringing in light oil to trade in heavy oil, food, and gold.

Venezuela has been trying to pay back China for their $20 billion loan with heavy oil but after prices collapsed this bankrupted the country. Russia also made loans to Venezuela which Maduro. Maduro stopped paying Russia but continued to pay the Chinese which angered Putin. Maduro then signed over a 49.9% stake in the US-based but Venezuelan-owned refinery Citgo. Since taking ownership of half of Citgo, Russia became more active in the country and has even landed bombers and military troops that have helped Maduro maintain power.

But all this turmoil is nothing compared to Venezuela’s role in the drug trade. Colombia has been fighting the remnants of the FARC and the ETL which are major coca producers on the border of the two countries. Venezuela has welcomed these groups and these groups have been able to elect governors that are favorable to each individual group. The groups have established rapport with the local farmers and have increased the size of their plantations without the threat of the United States attacking their fields. The groups then ship their cocaine through the Caribbean to Europe or the United States. They have also taken over artisanal mining operations in the country and will likely be an unstoppable force in the country in less than 5 years.

Venezuela has also installed Tareck El Aissami as the Vice President in 2017 and then the oil minister in 2020. The Chavez and Maduro regimes install their biggest supporters in charge of powerful positions in the country and there is no more powerful position in Venezuela than oil minister. El Aissami was born and raised in Venezuela, but his mother is Lebanese and his father is Syrian. He was the head of the local Ba’athist Party in Venezuela and his great-uncle was the Assistant Secretary-General of the National Command of Sadam Hussein’s Ba’athist party. Even though he has Druze roots and ancestral ties to the Sunnis in Iraq, he has chosen to align himself with the Iranians and Hezbollah which explains how he has gotten into power in Venezuela. This suggests that in Venezuela, El Aissami has outsized influence in the government’s affairs and is a key player in Venezuela’s transformation into a narco-state.

El Aissami has recently been in the news as it was reported that he returned to work after a prolonged medical leave and will not be replaced. He is currently wanted for drug trafficking allegations and laundering Hezbollah’s money through the Venezuelan oil industry.


Recently Hezbollah, which is a designated terrorist organization by both Europe and the United States but is a close all-weather ally of Iran, has been accused of drug trafficking by several nations. Saudi Arabia has accused the organization of drug trafficking and has made moves to cut Lebanon off from the economy. This is a disaster for Lebanon since Saudi is one of Lebanon’s biggest donors and a large export market for Lebanese agricultural products. Also, several drug shipments have been found on the border with Turkey that was thought to have originated in Lebanon.

Several Lebanese have also been arrested trying to smuggle drugs into the US or have been accused on the Tri-Border Area where Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay intersect. This area is a known hotspot for terrorist groups trading weapons, drugs, children, and laundering money. Some of these persons arrested for drug trafficking or money laundering have so much control over South America that they were released and deported back to Brazil or Lebanon with no jail time.


It’s clear what role Iran and by extension Hezbollah have in propping up Venezuela and it’s clear that Venezuela is a massive supporter of drug trafficking. It’s less clear what support Venezuela has given to Argentina, which is quickly becoming a major drug exporter and a narco-state.

Argentina has turned into a drug transportation hub. The rest of the economy may be collapsing but the drug industry is thriving in the country. The President of Argentina, Alberto Fernandez, and the Vice President, his wife Cristina Fernández have destroyed the country by accepting drug money, mismanagement, and corruption. Argentina’s Peso has collapsed during Covid and the current president and his wife have done nothing to blunt the collapse of the economy while the population flees the country.


Another supporter of Argentina is the richest Mexican billionaire, Carlos Slim. Slim, age 81, is the son of a Lebanese immigrant and became famous for being the richest man in the world in 2014. His fortune has taken a massive hit during President Trump’s time in office before regaining some ground in recent years. He was already on his way to becoming the richest man in the world when he Teléfonos de Mexico, or Telmex but now called America Movil. Having control of this monopoly on telecommunications allowed Slim to grow this business into the largest telecommunications company in all of Latin America. This purchase occurred during the tenure of then-President Carlos Salinas when Mexico privatized several monopolies.

Carlos Salinas was elected President of Mexico in 1988. His cousin and a close family friend were arrested for drug trafficking in 1992. This is the same year he put restrictions on the number of DEA agents in the country, where they could live, and forced them to turn over information to the government. His brother was arrested in 1995 for ordering the murder of a PRI official, Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu, and Carlos Salinas was questioned in 1997 about the murder. This is the same year the Times reported “American officials thought that Raul Salinas received suitcases full of cash from drug traffickers to distribute to Mexican government officials at a meeting that took place in 1993”. Raul Salinas was sentenced to 50 years in prison in 1999 and was released in 2005 after the murder was overturned.

When Carlos Salinas left office, he was put on the Dow Jones company board of directors, which publishes the WSJ, after making a $10 billion investment even though he remained in public office his whole life. It’s important to note that Carlos Slim made substantial investments into the New York Times and at one point he owned close to 20% of the publication. Salinas fled Mexico after his presidential term ended and was questioned over his brother’s involvement in a murder of a PRI official. He was wanted on corruption charges but went into hiding for years. He fled to Ireland and gave up his campaign to become Director-General of the WTO which was backed by the United States.

During his tenure, he oversaw the creation of NAFTA and took down one of the heads of a cartel but the economy quickly collapsed within a month of handing over the presidency to Ernesto Zedillo known as the Peso devaluation Crisis. But his role in NAFTA, selling state-owned companies, and the Peso Devaluation might not be his true legacy.

It is important to note that Carlos Salinas and Carlos Slim have never been accused or charged of drug trafficking and Carlos Salinas even leads a very public life where he attended the funeral of George H.W. Bush.

There are rumors in Mexico that Carlos Slim was the frontman for Carlos Salinas who is rumored to be the boss of bosses in Mexico. These rumors include that Carlos Slim was the financial face of the rumored Salinas drug empire. Carlos Slim was already well on his way to becoming a billionaire when he bought Teléfonos de Mexico during Salinas’ efforts to privatize monopolies and he could be innocent of the rumors against him.

If the rumors of Carlos Salinas appointing the heads of the drug cartels were true this would be a major blow to the US efforts to reduce the flow of drugs in the United States since Carlos Slim would naturally be involved in drugs as well. Again, these are just rumors and no charges or investigation has been led into either of the public figures.

An article from whowhatwhy.org shows several emails that were released during the Wikileaks scandal where US officials question the likelihood that the richest man in Mexico is involved with the cartels. One official even says “Regarding your question, the MX telecommunication billionaire is” meaning that, according to the author, the billionaire was involved in drug trafficking. There is even a book by Diego Enrique Osorno outlining Slim’s personal history and social ties.

One more time, it’s important to note that Carlos Slim has never been accused of drug trafficking or involvement with any of the cartels. But if he were involved, that would undermine America’s entire strategy to reduce the drugs that are flowing into the country.

If Slim is investing in Argentina and around Latin America then he could gain outsized influence around the region. He is also known for his generous donations which could be gaining him even more influence in the region. This would mean that the Meridian Initiative in the US means that it will have about as much success as the war on drugs.

Merdian Initiative

The US and the Mexican government are overhauling the Merdian Initiative to try and deter drug trafficking. This overhaul involves taking down the heads of the drug cartels. But governments are not addressing the real individuals behind the drugs that are pouring into the US and Europe.

The new Merdian Initiative can try to deter individuals from using drugs or to expand rehab facilities in America but until they hold the architects accountable then they have little hope in reducing drug trafficking.

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