An estimated $25 billion in U.S. illegal drug sales heads for Mexico each year, but a U.S. Treasury Department program aimed at starving Mexican drug cartels of that cash is currently blocking just $3 million, an Associated Press investigation found. That’s in addition to $58 million seized at the U.S.-Mexico border. That means $99.75 of every $100 the drug cartels ship south is getting through, money that is fueling a brutal war that has killed 14,000 people in three years.
Bundles of $100 bills that add up to billions are sneaked in to Mexico each year and laundered into seemingly legitimate funds at various kinds of businesses. The money pays Mexican farmers to grow marijuana and Colombian smugglers to sneak in cocaine. It bribes Mexican soldiers and U.S. border patrol agents, and pays assassins and mercenaries to kill rival smugglers or would-be prosecutors. “This is the brilliance of the drug cartels. They pay ordinary people to get cash across the border for them, and then easily launder it into working capital to build and expand their violent and illicit operations,” said Louise Shelley of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason University.