The result of three years of investigation, thousands of kilometers logged, and interviews with hundreds of sources in Mexico's poorest state
CIUDAD HIDALGO, CHIAPAS; MAY 11, 1998: The Suchiate River barely flows today. The río is reduced to a trickle, rising only to the knees of the two Guatemalan women who wade across this border stream into Mexico.
The sun generates more heat than light; a faint orange ball, floating, obscured by a sky of soot and dust. It hasn't rained for months. The forests of much of Central America have been consumed by fires, many of which still rage outside of anybody's control. The infernal cloud covers all of Mexico and the state of Texas, nine degrees of the earth's latitude to the North.
But to those who live on both sides of the Guatemala-Mexico frontier, the long dry season heralds a more personal disaster: hunger. Sixty percent of the livestock have died, most of the corn and bean plants have dried up before producing a single taco. The coffee trees, the region's cash crop, have withered. Those that survive won't be producing beans this year.
Maybe Florencia Aguilar Bamaca, 65, didn't want to die yet. Not of hunger. She was apprehended today after crossing the river with two kilograms of cocaine under her skirt. Her companion, Elida María Mérida, 35, was arrested with an equal load.
They were novices: An experienced smuggler, once having crossed the river safely, does not jump and run at the mere sight of Mexican Federal Judicial Police officers, as Florencia and Elida fled this afternoon from the central park of Ciudad Hidalgo, thus provoking the police to give chase.
The two women told their police captors that a man, unknown to them, offered them 100 pesos (about $12 US dollars) for each brick of cocaine they carried. They were to bring these tightly-wrapped packages, wound in elastic tape, to the Parque Central, where they had been instructed to wait for the "owner of the merchandise." In sum, to ward off the coming hunger, Florencia and Elida recieved about $25 bucks apiece to carry $32,000 worth of cocaine.
Ciudad Hidalgo: One of three border checkpoints between Guatemala and Chiapas
Small seizures and arrests like that of Florencia and Elida contribute to Mexico's staggering statistics in the drug war. Police and military forces seize mountains of cocaine, racking up what US drug czar General Barry McCaffrey labels "record" numbers in the drug-seizure business.
Between the coca plant of South America and its users in the United States lies Mexico -- the straw through which millions of cocaine-sniffing North Americans suck up their illicit pleasure. El diablo está entrando por el naríz de los gringos: The devil enters through the gringo's nose.
Small-time smugglers like Florencia and Elida, almost always unarmed, are the easiest of prey for Mexico's 275,000 police officers and 300,000 military soldiers, who, not at conflict with any other country's army, are utilized instead for internal wars.
The FEADS -- the special prosecutor's office on drugs -- has 2,800 elements, anti-drug specialists akin to the 7,000 US DEA agents employed in the United States. They are flanked by more than half-a-million police and military agents working within the Mexican republic.
Passing through Mexico, for business or pleasure, one directly encounters so many police and soldiers that he wonders: Is there a ratio of police to citizens that adds up to define a Police State? For Mexico's population of 96 million, there's a cop or soldier for every 165 Mexicans. Along the smuggler's path there are FEADS agents, Federal Judicial Police, the Federal Highway Patrol, Immigration checkpoints at the borders and in the bowels the country. The Public Security police of 32 Mexican states, the local cops in every city and town, and the soldiers and sailors of the military all of want a piece of the drug trafficker's action.
Mexico's ruling party -- the PRI, or Institutional Revolutionary Party -- has achieved an incredible accomplishment in Statecraft. In power since 1929, it has in recent decades succeeded in creating a Narco-Police-State, and yet it has done so with the support, funding, armament and tacit endorsement of the United States government, which continues to praise Mexico as global leader in the war on drugs.
The result: Anybody who wants to smuggle cocaine through Mexico had better include the police and military in their plans. Whether for the gigantic profits pursued by the great drug cartels and corrupt officials who protect them, or for an individual's struggle to ward off hunger, like that which motivated Florencia and Elida, it's a jungle out there on the cocaine trail. And the jungle is... on fire.
This series will demonstrate with facts and direct testimony that all these problems are tangled up together: Poverty, hunger, drug abuse, environmental disaster, state corruption, electoral fraud, violence, torture, systematic injustice and the causes of civil conflict. The glue that holds these tragedies together, that blocks Mexico's yearning to emerge as a true democracy in the 21st century, is the US-imposed drug policy. And nowhere is this more evident than in the poorest Mexican State of Chiapas, where the Narco has already seized control.
Tapachula: Gateway to the Cocaine Trail
Preview from Part II:
"These men want transportation for their product, police that can be bought, and some even have little airplanes that go up and down the coast. Once you pass through Tapachula it's very easy. The problem is getting the product over the border into Tapachula. For this you need official help."
--"Jorge," former Conecte for the Juárez Cartel
So that the facts on the failure of US-imposed drug policy can now cross the borders as easily as the contraband
read the Narco News opening statement