20070920 mexican drug cartel 18
Juan Carlos de La Cruz Reyna after his arrest in Mexico City on August 29. De Las Cruz Reyna is an alleged member of the Gulf drug cartel and is wanted in Texas for threatening to kill U.S. federal agents. - 


KAI RYSSDAL: If you flip through the Fortune 500 rankings of the world's largest companies, you're not going to find Mexican drug cartels. But it's not for lack of assets.

A Government Accountability Office report due out tomorrow offers this startling statistic on the drug war: Mexican drug cartels operating in the U.S. bring in $23 billion a year -- that'd put them at number 97, right between Raytheon and 3M.

By revenue, they bring in more cash than 40 percent of all Fortune 500 companies, including giants like Merck and Halliburton. From the Americas Desk at WLRN, Marketplace's Dan Grech reports.

DAN GRECH: The GAO spent 14 months looking into the "war on drugs" in Mexico. It found rampant corruption, bureaucratic bumbling and inadequate funding. The GAO's Jess Ford oversaw the investigation.

JESS FORD: It's big business, there's a lot of money involved, and there's no panacea to stop this, in my view.

In one case, the U.S. gave Mexico Vietnam-era Huey helicopters to help police the border.

FORD: They're old pieces of equipment, they require a lot of maintenance and... their readiness rates were particularly low.

Professor George Grayson is with the College of William and Mary. He says U.S. and Mexican authorities are like the Keystone Cops. Meanwhile, the cartels are going corporate.

GEORGE GRAYSON: It's no longer a gang of mustachioed, gold-chain wearing, Rolex-watch-sporting ruffians. These are often men and women in business attire taking advantage of attorneys and certified public accountants and specialists in transportation.

Grayson says the GAO report doesn't address the real reason the drug business is booming: U.S. demand. Thirty-five million Americas abuse drugs. Since 2000, the U.S. has spent $400 million fighting drugs in Mexico. It spent more than 10 times that amount in Colombia.

Mexico and the U.S. are in talks to increase funding to fight drugs, and a new initiative is expected soon. I'm Dan Grech for Marketplace.