The international drug trade goes in two directions: Narcotics go north and money goes south, says NPR. All the drug profits made on the streets of U.S. cities like Chicago and Atlanta and Dallas are funneled down to ports of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border where they’re smuggled back into Mexico. In 2012, one federal agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, seized $411 million in cash hidden in vehicles, mostly heading south.
Once the bundles of U.S. banknotes are delivered to the cartel, the money flows in many directions. Growers, warehousers, smugglers, assassins and corrupt police and politicians must be paid. Mostly, the dollars have to be laundered. Dirty money has to somehow be injected into the legal economy. The prosperous city of Culiacán, on Mexico’s northern Pacific coast, is a good place to see how U.S. drug dollars are spent in Mexico. This is home to the Sinaloa Cartel, the world’s most powerful and richest drug cartel. Its leader, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, was arrested last month after 13 years on the run, but few analysts think his capture will cripple the mafia he created.