After the drug warriors killed Escobar in 1993, Wallace-Wells writes, the Medellín cartel didn't dissolve. Instead, it cleaved into smaller operations that obtained protection for their coca crops from the Colombian and U.S. armies from FARC, the ultraviolent and well-armed rebel army in Colombia's jungles. Smuggling to the United States through Mexico, the microcartels partnered with local drug gangsters who compromised police, the army, and politicians as they cut them in on the action.
The end result is a more violent and better-established drug trade than before, and much more than ever before. The old-school Colombians were "civilized" compared with the Mexicans, as this recent Reuters report shows. One Mexico anecdote in Wallace-Wells' piece reads like a lost paragraph from Blood Meridian. He writes:
Last year, gunslingers wearing military uniforms walked into a popular nightclub in Uruapan and dumped the severed heads of five rivals on the dance floor, like soccer balls.
A piece doesn't have to be perfect to win my admiration, and Wallace-Wells' isn't. Although Mexican drug operations came to dominate the U.S. illicit methamphetamine market, I think he gives them a tad too much credit for popularizing and spreading the drug. The drug was very well-established in the U.S. West before the Mexicans pushed their way into the market in the early 1990s.
For example, Nexis tells of a 1,000-pound methamphetamine bust in San Francisco in 1989; a 125-pound methamphetamine bust in Fullerton, Calif., in 1987; a 1978 lab bust in Toronto with chemicals on hand to make 200 pounds of the drug; and much more. An Aug. 20, 1988, Los Angeles Times article reports the seizure of three chemical-supply plants in Los Angeles and San Diego counties that supplied upward of 2,000 other meth labs with chemicals.
"Federal agents said there were enough chemicals in the plant to make more than 50 tons of methamphetamine, which over the years could wholesale for millions of dollars," the Los Angeles Times reported.
But I'm quibbling. Read Wallace-Wells' fine feature, and if you know any journalists, buy them a copy.
Addendum, Dec. 3: Also worthy of your attention is Mark A.R. Kleiman's piece in the American Interest.
But when Rolling Stone botches a drug story, it's just as bad as the rest of the pack. See this feature about methamphetamine from 2003, which Reason's Nick Gillespie rightly condemned. Seen a good drug story out there? Or a wretched one? Send sightings to firstname.lastname@example.org. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum, in a future article, or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)