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Mexico and the War on Drugs, 1492-Present

4. The Mid-20th Century, 1940-1975

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In this module, we explore the growth in the Mexican drug trade from the beginning of the Second World War to the middle of the 1970s. In particular, we look at the rise of organised crime in the 1940s, and the level of collaboration between the drug cartels and local government officials. In addition to this, we explore the reasons behind the rapidly rising demand in the United States for drugs such as marijuana and heroin.


In this course, Dr Benjamin Smith (University of Warwick) gives an account of the drug trade in Mexico from the pre-colonial period to the present day. After a brief history of the South American continent, including an account of the use of psychotropic and other drugs by the aboriginal inhabitants of the continent, the course goes to explore how and why the Spanish attempted to prohibit the use of drugs after their arrival from the early 16th century onwards, and how prohibitions on drugs, and the fight against the illegal production and distribution of drugs has continued into the 20th and 21st centuries.


Dr Benjamin Smith is currently Associate Professor of Latin American History at the University of Warwick, where he teaches several courses on Latin America, 20th-Century Mexico and the Mexican Drug Trade.

As a historian of nineteenth and twentieth-century grassroots politics, he has done most of his research in the archives, villages, churches, and markets of the predominantly indigenous state of Oaxaca. His first book, Pistoleros and Popular Movements: The Politics of State Formation in Postrevolutionary Oaxaca attempted to capture the diversity of post-revolutionary politics and looked at regional bosses, female-led social movements, violence, and agrarian reform from the 1920s through to the 1950s. He has also co-edited a collection of essays on the subject, entitled Dictablanda: Politics, Work, and Culture in Mexico, 1938-1968, which was published in early 2014.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Smith, B. (2018, August 15). Mexico and the War on Drugs, 1492-Present - The Mid-20th Century, 1940-1975 [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Smith, B. "Mexico and the War on Drugs, 1492-Present – The Mid-20th Century, 1940-1975." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,

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