The problem continues with Stone's statement that flows of drug money in Mexico are larger than those from tourism, oil, or remittances. Estimates for the value of the Mexican drug trade are all over the map, but the most rigorous analyses have concluded that export revenue from the drug trade is far lower than Stone suggests. Alejandro Hope, for instance, places the figure somewhere between $4.7 to $8.1 billion, while the RAND Corporation estimates that Mexican traffickers earn roughly $6.6 billion per year from sending drugs to the US.
In contrast, remittances sent by Mexicans living abroad in 2011 amounted to $22.7 billion. Mexico’s tourist trade, notwithstanding the nation’s unfortunate image in the international press, still managed to generate $11.9 billion in 2010. Stone's claim is even further from the mark with regard to oil: the revenues for Pemex, the national oil company, amounted to $125 billion in 2011.
Consequently, Stone’s statement that the Mexican economy “would die” without drug money drifts into the terrain of the indefensible. Unfortunately, Stone is not alone in this exaggerated view of drug money’s role in the Mexican economy. One story, put forward by authors like Richard Grant and Charles Bowden, holds that a 2001 study by CISEN, Mexico’s intelligence agency, found that an end to the drug trade would result in a 63 percent contraction of the Mexican economy.
The study is not public -- citing a story from El Diario de Juarez, Bowden wrote that it was leaked to the media in 2001, though InSight Crime's online search for the original study turned up nothing. It is difficult to know, therefore, if its authors were perhaps making a more nuanced point that was lost in subsequent references to it. However, the scenario posited by Grant and Bowden, and the implicit idea that the Mexican economy would “die” without drug money, is simply absurd.After the article's publication, Hope, who used to work for the agency, told me on Twitter that the CISEN study is nonexistent. Also, by way of comparison, it's worth noting that in 2011 the GDP in Libya, which suffered through a brutal civil war and the overthrow of the longstanding government, declined only by 60 percent.