Tag Archives: drug trafficking

Our Heroin: From Afghanistan or Mexico?

While speaking on the topic of heroin in America, I’m often asked how much of our supply comes from Afghanistan, as we’ve been in a war over there for many years.

My answer, from interviews with traffickers, cops and DEA agents, is that most of our heroin comes from Mexico.

That view was confirmed this morning by William Brownfield, the U.S. State Department’s assistant secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

In a conference call with reporters, Brownfield estimated that 90 to 94 percent of the heroin consumed in the United States originates in Mexico, with another 2 percent or so coming from Colombia and the remainder from other countries around the globe.

That represents a massive shift in our heroin supply since roughly 1980, when a lot of our heroin came from the Far East, and had for decades.

Interestingly, Brownfield said, a lot of Afghan heroin does make it to Canada, but not to the United States, where Mexican trafficking organizations, too close by, enjoy a more advanced and efficient distribution network, and offer therefore cheaper prices.

 

Brownfield was talking about the just-issued International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), which talks a lot about the heroin/opioid problem in America. Brownfield’s message was a positive one about cooperation between Mexico and the United states on issues of drug enforcement.

A wall of law enforcement cooperation is in place, without constructing an actual wall, he said. Serious problems existed, he said, “but we have a far better architecture to address them today than we did in years past.”

Nevertheless, his answer on heroin’s origin stunned even me. I would not have guessed the estimate would be that high.

I’ve written elsewhere about my belief that it’s unlikely that more border walls between the two countries will do much to staunch the flow of heroin into the United States. What’s really necessary is even deeper cooperation, frank discussion with Mexico that a wall and the emotion it provokes would do much to corrode.

Yet Brownfield’s response highlights two things worth mentioning.

One is that Mexico must truly step up to this challenge. Its unconscionable that such a high percentage of illegal highly addictive dope come from one country to another. China had a similar issue in the 1800s, when the British forced opium into that country, resulting in the massive addiction of Chinese people for decades after.

If border walls are insulting to Mexico, it must understand that they are proposed because of Mexico’s own failings – both with regard to law enforcement and criminal justice, and in channeling the desires of its most hardworking citizens, who then feel the need to migrate illegally to the United States.

Second is that U.S. demand for heroin grows organically out of doctors’ massive prescribing over the last 20 years of pharmaceutical narcotic painkillers – the subject of my book DREAMLAND — something that no border wall will stop, of course. Also, if we get into discussions with Mexico about this topic, soon that discussion will also turn to our very accessible market for guns, many of which then go south through a variety of channels and end up being weapons in that country’s bloody drugs wars. So if we ask a neighbor to behave with maturity, we better be willing to do the same.

We have almost 700 miles of walls along the border that separate the two countries. Drugs aren’t much trafficked through those areas that have no walls, most of which are in forbidding terrain. Our drugs, instead, are trafficked through ports of entry where walls already exist. They are trafficked in cars, trucks, and by pedestrians. With heroin, the problem is exacerbated, as I’ve written elsewhere, by the fact that is the most condensable drug, thus the most easily and profitably trafficked,and one that we now have a huge demand for.

All in all, the issue begs a binational, cooperative solution, seems to me.

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Filed under Border, Drugs, Mexico, The Heroin Heartland

That NY Heroin

I was interested in knowing more about that huge heroin bust in New York City last week.
The seizure totaled 154 pounds  (and $2 million in cash), the largest ever in that city – larger even than the legendary French Connection bust of the 1970s (100+ pounds). Which is saying something, as New York was the U.S. heroin hub for most of the last century.heroin20n-1-web

I was surprised to see the traffickers were from Mexico.  Virtually all the heroin coming into NYC and New England has been, since the 1980s, from Colombia – that’s what I understood.

So I reached out to a law enforcement source in the NYC metro region who works heroin. The source said that while the traffickers were Mexicans, the heroin was from Colombia: “Colombians have almost totally removed themselves from the distribution directly in the US.”

This is because:

“1. Colombian communities have matured and the criminal elements have for the large part been killed, jailed or been deported.
2. The Colombian drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs) can make money still selling it to other DTO’s in Colombia and/or in Mexico and parts nearby without the fear of the long arms of US authorities. Example: If they sell to Mex DTO they make $5,000 with minimal exposure. If they sell in US directly they make $10,000, but with possible major problems.
3. For Colombians, they can make major profits if they can get it to Western Africa and/or Europe with less exposure.
4. In today’s world, post 09/11, the Achilles Heel entry point into the US is over the southwest border. That area is within the realm of the Mex DTO’s. The Colombians feel they have more control if they conduct business in their area of operation and have less problems.”
All of which is to say that what happened to cocaine in the late 1980s – Mexican DTOs took over the trade from Colombians and, fueled by those profits, began the growth into the organizations they are today – is now happening with heroin as well.
If that’s so, it’s likely there’ll be more busts like this one, given the nationwide demand nowadays for the drug generated by widespread addiction to opiate painkillers.
LINKS:                                                    #Dreamland
Photo: DEA

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Filed under Border, Drugs, The Heroin Heartland, Uncategorized

DREAMLAND – At Last!

Been a very long time, and lots of hard work, but finally my third book of narrative nonfiction is out.Dreamland-HCBig

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic was released this week by Bloomsbury Press.

When neck-deep in writing a book, I’m never sure if it’s any good. Too much time spent laboring over every phrase, whether one clause should be separated by a comma or a semicolon, which adjective best describes a person’s mood – on top of all the facts that, like cats, need to be corralled and herded in one direction or another.

And new facts you learn every day that may change everything.

Then there’s the rewriting – which is what writing is all about.

So I’m thrilled to hear reaction to the book – that people couldn’t put it down. Love hearing that, I have to say.

I’ve had great appearances at the LA Times Bookfest and at Vroman’s, with more to come at Powell’s Books in Portland, Elliott Bay Town Hall in Seattle and Bookstore West Portal in San Francisco, not to mention the Arkansas Literary Festival in Little Rock, where I’m heading as I write.

Amazon.com chose Dreamland one of its Best Books of the month, alongside books by Toni Morrison, TC Boyle and others. That was nice of them.

The NY Times ran a column of mine on the front page of its Sunday Review opinion page. Nice of them, as well.

Salon.com wrote this terrific review of the book. Kirkus Review ran a long story on it. Willamette Week published a review, and an article on Dreamland. Mother Jones, where I was once an intern (1984), reviewed it as well. Thanks, you guys.

KPCC in LA aired an interview i did on their show, Take Two, and CSPAN did the same with an interview at the Bookfest, then covered the LA Times Bookfest panel I was on with some terrific nonfiction crime authors  – Ruben Castaneda, Barry Siegel, and Deanne Stillman, and Tom Zoellner doing a bang-up job moderating.

All in all, an exhausting but fulfilling first few days to a book’s life.

Thanks to all who’ve bought the book, and especially to those who’ve written me about it with such feeling.

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Filed under Books, Drugs, Storytelling, The Heroin Heartland, Writing

Mennonite Mob on Destination America tonight

Some of you may remember that I had a scary run-in with drug trafficking Mennonites years ago when I went down to their colonies in Chihuahua, south of Juarez, to write a story about the Narco-Menonita phenomenon.

To recap: humble Old World, German-Speaking Mennonite peasants have become major drug traffickers of marijuana and cocaine. They took unkindly to my presence and I had to leave with police escort.

Anyway, tonight on Destination America channel airs a documentary I was interviewed for about the drug trafficking ways of these folks. cover2big

It’s called The Mennonite Mob.

Airs 10 p.m. To find this smoking hot station in your area, click here.

You can read about my run-in with these folks in the last chapter of my second book, ANTONIO’S GUN AND DELFINO’S DREAM: True Tales of Mexican Migration.

Mostly, the Old Colony Mennonites are known around Mexico for their overalls, their one-room schoolhouses, their dairy farming, milk and cheese, and their supposedly simple way of life, close to God and earth. Not long ago they were all driving horses and buggies.

But there’s a whole other side to that community that I discovered when I went down there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs it happens, I don’t know how much of what I told the filmmakers they ended up using. HOWEVER. I did do a reenactment of my tense standoff with the narco-Mennonites. (Reenactment may be another word for `big fat idiot American reporter’).

Destination America’s website provides me with little encouragement. It features links like:

10 Fried Recipes That Will Make You Forget Vegetables Even Exist

and

Which State Has the Most Terrifying Monster?

so I’m not sure what to expect from tonight’s show and happy that I don’t have cable.network-default-still-v4

They even had me do a “hero shot,” which is me looking slowly into the camera as if I was the toughest stud in the desert that day.

Highly ironic, if you’d have seen me crumbling into the fetal position during the trying time while the Mennonites were pursuing me.

As I don’t have cable, I’m relying on you all to tell if this show’s any good, and if this reenactment is the most embarrassing moment on television, please try to find a way not to tell me. 🙂

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Cartel leader dies free and of natural causes

Juan Esparragoza, known as El Azul (Blue) because his skin was deemed so dark it looked blue, has died of a heart attack, the intrepid Rio Doce newspaper, of Culiacan Sinaloa, is reporting.https://i0.wp.com/riodoce.mx/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/el-azul.jpg?resize=362%2C250

Esparragoza,   65, was within the very highest eschelon of the Sinaloa Cartel, though he assiduously avoided the spotlight.

His death is notable for that reason, but also because, as so rarely happens in the drug world, he died free and of natural causes.

The Cartel was already rocked a while back by the capture of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

Esparragoza apparently died attempting rise from a bed a couple weeks after an auto accident in which he injured his spinal column. So sources tell Rio Doce.

He was from the now-legendary county (municipio) of Badiraguato in Sinaloa, a place that has spawned many of the top Mexican drug cartel leaders, including Guzman. For a while he was the FBI’s second most wanted man, after Osama bin-Laden.

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The first Chapo Guzman corrido, post capture, with lyrics

This appears to be the first corrido written about the capture of El Chapo. Pretty quick. Pretty rough. Reminds me of some old blues song from Mississippi.

As I write, it’s been up about 20 hours, from what I can tell.

Here are a few parts roughly translated:

“When I heard the news that they’d grabbed Chapo Guzman …

I said it can’t be that the rooster is asleep.

He was the most wanted of the baddest guys in the world,

Captured in Mazatlan, by a corrupt government.

On the news we saw he wasn’t that concerned.

With the capture of Chapo, things won’t change.

Let’s see if he doesn’t surprise them, and he takes off again. …

Although I’ll be behind bars, he says, I’ll remain the king. …

Only he knows what he’s thinking.

But I assure you all that he has a lot of intelligence. …

I don’t know him, but it’s my opinion.

They say he helps people and has a big heart.

Although people may say something different, they know I’m right.

Many people are on his side and they won’t forget him.

The chain is long and this won’t be the end.

Arriba my Sinaloa and arriba Chapo Guzman.

____

Read more True Tales blogposts:

Barefoot Triqui indian basketball players come to Pico-Union

El Super workers are demanding better working conditions; reduced immigration the cause?

Cal Worthington, legendary car dealer is now dead. Se Habla Espanol!

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Filed under Drugs, Mexico

DRUGS: Narco Mennonites arrested again

Years ago, I had a run-in with drug-smuggling Mennonites in the area around Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua in Mexico, and wrote about it, and the decay of traditional Mennonite communities there, in my second book, Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream.

A recent narcotics arrest in Canada is about that as well. The Mexican Old Colony Mennonites have been working with drug cartels, and been major importers of marijuana and cocaine to Canada and the U.S. themselves, for years.

They began in the late 1970s, early 1980s, and were able to use their ingenuity as mechanics and welders to fashion new hiding places for drugs in trucks and cars.

For my book, I found that the largest drug bust in the history of the state of Oklahoma up to that time was a Mennonite ring run out Cuauhtemoc. The main informant, now presumed dead, was himself Mennonite.

Used to be a Mennonite family crossing into El Paso would be waved through Customs. Now they get the full treatment — drug dogs, mirrors under the car, etc.

One man I spoke with said a common way to smuggle drugs was to strap them around a senile grandmother, wearing a long dress and a traditional bonnet and looking for all the world like a peasant for the 1800s.

This photo here is from an AA meeting I attended for Mennonites in the communities near Cuauhtemoc.

 

 

 

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LOS ANGELES: R.I.P. Chalino Sanchez

Perhaps the most influential musical figure to emerge out of Los Angeles in a generation was Chalino Sanchez, who was found shot to death 20 years ago today outside Culiacan, the capital city of his native state of Sinaloa, Mexico.

An unlettered immigrant who spoke no English, he virtually singlehandedly created the narcocorrido genre of music, with songs he composed himself that act today as an oral history of the lawless ranchos — villages — of Sinaloa, Durango, Chihuahua and other northwest Mexican states, where impunity and drug trafficking were rife.

On May 15, 1992, he’d given a show in Culiacan and gone out afterwards with friends. A group of men dressed as policemen stopped the caravan of cars and took Chalino. His body was found in a field the next day with two bullets in his head.

Sanchez was already an underground star in LA by then. His death confirmed his street cred and he became a phenomenon. He is today a legend and well known to kids who weren’t even born when he was alive.

Chalino also did the impossible by making tubas, accordions and clarinets hip and cool instruments, so much so that young Latino kids would blast tuba- and accordion-based polkas from their trucks as they drove down the streets of towns in southeast LA County. Still do.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of LA-born kids followed him, becoming narcocorrido singers and sounding and looking just like the master.

I’ve always felt, though, that they imitated the wrong part of Chalino — his dress, his raw style of singing. Instead, the point of Chalino’s life, I’ve always thought, was to follow your own vision, your own way of doing things. People would tell him to shut up, that he couldn’t sing. “I don’t sing; I bark,” he said, fully aware of his own musical shortcomings. But he kept on, trusting his own experience and ability. he wrote corridos from the people he met in LA; recorded them in small studios, then sold the cassettes of these songs at Mexican bakeries, butcher shops and at swap meets.

DIY — that’s how great things are accomplished.

The narcocorrido scene he fathered in LA was one of the great DIY musical movements to come out of LA. First was punk, in Hollywood. Then gangster rap out of Compton. Then narcocorridos out of Huntington Park, Paramount, and other southeast LA County cities.

You can read more about him in my first book, True Tales From Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino and the Bronx.

There’s a concert in his honor on Friday at the Gibson Amphitheater, which should be great, and a tour coming out of that later this year.

A great punkrock spirit. RIP Chalino Sanchez.

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Filed under Culture, Los Angeles, Mexico