The Drug Enforcement Administration, established by President Nixon in 1973, has been overshadowed by the more celebrated CIA and FBI. In the television series Narcos, two swaggering FBI agents taunt a DEA undercover: “Dogs at airports now do your work.” They picked on the wrong guy. The DEA agent helps bring down the notorious drug lord Miguel Ángel Felix Gallardo, now in prison, though that is hardly the end of the story of a battle that continues uninterrupted to this day.
The show pulls no punches as it tries to get to the heart of the matter. The drug villains are no cardboard creations but full bodied portrayals. Gallardo, elegantly played by Diego Luna, is a loving family man while perfectly vicious as a cartel boss. He dreams of creating an organization that mirrors any legitimate business, and he approves the hideous torture of a DEA agent who threatens that business.
The agent, real life Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, discovered a 2500 acre marijuana field in an obscure setting in Mexico. Gallardo’s cartel is enraged, but as one member notes, the field will be worthless once the U.S. legalizes marijuana, which implies a certain futility on the part of everyone. Suffering Camarena is drilled full of holes for a product that will soon be discarded for more profitable cocaine.
The series shows that the problem is far larger than just trafficking. Politics are involved at the highest level. Outfitted in a tuxedo that seems as comfortable to him as working clothes, Gallardo attends sumptuous dinners as a ranking member of the Mexican elite. The president returns his calls, may even call him. Billions of dollars of drug money, thanks to American consumers, keep everyone content. Only unrelenting DEA pressure brings Gallardo to justice. But in the show’s final scene, Gallardo tells his DEA antagonist that by putting him out of action, you have splintered the cartels into various parts that will be even bloodier and more dangerous.
And what of U.S. involvement? The film doesn’t go there except to note accurately that American drug consumers finance the cartels that run and ruin Mexico. Without the demand there would be no supply. But are there powers beyond consumers that keep the drug trade going? Is there a culpable American establishment akin to Mexico’s? “Narcos” producers, why not take a look?