On April 23 of this year. Mexico’s Minister of the Interior, Fernando Gomez Mont, commented during a press conference “We need America to assume responsibility for the traffic in weapons that are killing Mexicans in this country. We need for America to face the truth that it is your money, your consumer market for drugs, that encourages and drives the violence in Mexico.”
To explore this view Borderland Beat presents to you a glimpse into the mechanisms of the illegal drug market in the United States. The person interviewed is an active participant in a criminal enterprise.
“Coke is everywhere. In every neighborhood, in every city. It’s crazy here. In some parts of town somebody’s selling every 4 or 5 houses. It’s almost in the open. In cities further north it might be more hidden and not as easy to buy but it’s still there. You don’t sell it as much as it sells itself.”
He was plain spoken with a confidence bordering on arrogance. His appearance designed to not attract attention. A skill acquired through experience, he said. He blended in but the power he spoke of was very evident.
How long have you been doing this?
“I’ve been at it for 12 years now. I started with a plan to earn enough for college. To pay for a 4 year degree with all the expenses covered but I got side tracked by the lifestyle. There are 2 kinds of addiction with drugs. You can be addicted to drugs but you can also be addicted to the rush, to the lifestyle”
He was visibly excited as he spoke, it was quite evident he loves what he does.
“You live like everyday is your last because it might be. It makes you enjoy the moment. That’s the rush. It brings more meaning to my relationships., my family, my wife and kid. I’ve made sure they’re taken care of in case I die or go to jail. All the people under me are family. You can’t trust anyone else”
“My key to surviving is saving my money, being disciplined. I’ve tried to bring other people up, family members, but they can’t make it. They spend every penny they make. They get very sloppy.
What are the dangers you live with?
“Any day could be your last. You try not to bring attention to yourself. All that bling shit. If you get sloppy the cops might bust you. Robbers might kill you for your product and your money. You might get robbed by crooked cops. You have to be alert every minute of every day”
“If someone screws up at the top of the food chain well the whole thing comes tumbling down, like what happened in Wall Street.”
“Everywhere down the chain a lot of care is taken with who you’re dealing. There is a lot of anonymity involved for obvious reasons. People can get cut out of the chain for any suspicion. Everyone above you is always watching you. Making sure you’re not getting sloppy. And they get watched by those above them. And you watch those under you. Always.”
“I’m lucky to be alive. I made some mistakes when I first started and most people don’t survive those first mistakes. They die. You avoid dealings with bad characters, like the Eme (Mexican Mafia-a Hispanic Texas prison gang ), things like that. You learn and never repeat them. You never get a second chance.”
The only hint of anger is when he speaks of anyone trying to tax him.
“The Eme sell protection and collect their 10% tax. They have the city divided up into different sections and the tax is collected by different chapters. They are very disorganized and lazy. They don’t distribute anything but only collect their tax.”
“They’re full of broken promises. They promise protection but they can’t even protect themselves. They rob and kill dealers that don’t have muscle and don’t pay the tax. They’re basically cowards. Any ex con out to tax or harass dealers claims he’s an Eme”
“There is a rumor coming out of the prisons that another gang is moving in on the Eme. I’m not sure who they are.”
“I don’t have to pay their tax. I have my own muscle and powerful friends so as long as I stay outside of the neighborhoods where they’re strong I’m alright.”
“I know some bikers, Bandidos (an outlaw motorcycle gang), and those are very good friends to have. They are also distributors. Bikers don’t follow anybody’s rules. They are very organized, very lethal. They’ll do time like it’s nothing. You just show them some love and they’ll give it back."
"Just share a little of what you make with them and no problems, they’ll even send you customers and help you if your connection is dry.”
“You have to keep your distance from the bikers even if they’re your friends. If you enter that world you’re gone forever”
“It’s a lot more dangerous on the border than here. There’s people I know over there. You’re closer to the cartels, to really bad people. You can disappear very easily, be taken to Mexico and be buried on a ranch somewhere. You’re gone, that’s it, nobody will ever find you.”
Could you stop if you wanted to?
“Yes I can but why would I? I’m respected. I have power. If I stop I’ll be a nobody, have to worry about money all the time. Worry about trivial things, have to work and never get ahead. If I stop I’ll lose muscle and some people might come after me. It’s like a gangster movie but its real life”.
“If I were legit I would be a great businessman. I understand strategies, costs, profits. I’m good at it. If someone comes into my area and takes customers away, I don’t threaten them, I just charge less and take a loss and keep my customers. They can’t sell their product and they leave. No problems. That’s the same thing you do if you have a legit business and competition opens next door.”
There is a saying in Mexico, that a kilo of cocaine is worth more than a life. Your thoughts?
“No, I don’t feel responsible at all for what’s happening in Mexico. I wish it wouldn’t happen but it doesn’t bother me. It’s a business. I have goals and expenses to worry about. I don’t have time to think about that”
“I have expenses and the recession has hurt me too. I’ve even had to lay off a lookout. The customers demand the same price for the same amount of product. And my costs increase. So I just process (cut or dilute) my product a little more and everyone’s happy, at least here”
“If I’m part of a network I probably wouldn’t even know it. It’s more of a distribution thing. Sometimes we all get moved around to a different connection and we’re not told why. If you don’t need muscle like me then you can be somewhat independent. If you need muscle then you’re controlled,”
Describe the distribution chain and your level in it:
“We have our own rules and laws just like Wall Street. First are the cartel people that are moving their product up north. They tend to use legitimate businesses, using their distribution networks, warehouses and trailers. As it leaves the state and goes up north portions get dropped off. The cartels handle that level of the distribution chain.”
“Now at every stop some gets unloaded and distributed locally. This next level is where the product leaves the cartels and that’s where the big money is at. Rich businessmen, lawyers, ranchers or people financed by them, biker gangs and even people hidden in the circus world. The circus world is perfect, always on the move. It must be the clowns”
“At this level you can get an instant return on your investment with no taxes and minimal risk. This first level controls the flow of product going out. They make decisions on how much goes out. They limit oversupply and control the price. They study the flow. Like If the flow increases a lot for no reason it could be a narc making buys.”
“The next level is the finder. He finds and maintains his group of buyers. That’s all he does, just keeps the flow going. He is also known as the connect”
“The next level is where I operate, the dealer. At this level the product hasn’t been processed (diluted) yet. I buy and distribute a half bird (1/2 kilo or 1 pound) every 3 to 4 weeks. I pay $18,000 for that amount. I process it with inositol into 1 and ½ birds (1 and ½ kilos or 3 pounds).”
“My net profit is now only $5,000 for each processed half bird. That’s $15,000 net profit every 3 to 4 weeks. Right now I have 5 people under me who then supply 5 to 10street dealers selling small amounts on the street, 8’s ,16’s, 40’s even 20’s . I have to watch everyone under me. Keep everybody straight.”
“Some of my product is sold in the poorer neighborhoods of the city or in public housing that sort of place. Some of it is sold to doctors, professionals, educated people.”
“It’s hard to tell how many people are involved up the chain or horizontally at your level. There is a lot of secrecy so that if you get busted you don’t take the whole chain with you. I know of at least 5 people buying the same amount of product as I am from the same connect.”
“People higher up in the chain are smart too. They spy and track the DEA and narcs just like they do to us. People high up might know if a bust is going to happen but if you become a liability, if you lose trust you’re not warned about it and allowed to get caught. Everyone else gets away. You’ve got to stay sharp always.”
Has the supply of cocaine decreased? Is law enforcement in the US or Mexico having any effect?
“When I first started buying these amounts the price was $10,000 for a half bird and I was making $10,000 profit for each processed half bird. The price has gone up like everything else and there’s more competition from other dealers.”
“Dry spells, almost never, there is always product going north. It’s never hard for me to get. In 12 years the only dry spells have been after a presidential election when a new president takes over like when Bush and Obama took office. Both times it was dry for about 3 months. At that point, it seems like people in the government are really doing their jobs, every thing gets strict. After a few weeks things go back to normal and their slacking returns.”
“There’s too much money in the business for it to be stopped. They would have to open and check every single trailer coming through the border or open every single container from ships. The economy would be paralyzed.”
“There must be at least one hundred dealers like me in this city”
To get an idea of the scale of his operation let’s expand the numbers based on the acquisition of 1 pound of unadulterated cocaine per month at the $18,000 cost. His annual acquisition cost is $216,000. If he processes this into 3 pounds of cocaine for sale per month (36 pounds annually) the annual street value using a formula of $60 per gram is $979,740
To get a baseline number for a hypothetical ratio of 100 dealers with the above volume per 1 million inhabitants the acquisition cost rises to $21.6 million. The annual street value rises to $98 million.
If we us an approximate population of 19,000,000 inhabitants for the top 5 cities in the United States based on 2008 figures and use the above formulas we get the following figures. The annual acquisition cost rises to $410 million. The annual street value rises to $1.86 billion.
The approximate population of the United States in 2009 was 307 million inhabitants. The annual acquisition cost rises to $6.63 billion.The annual street value rises to $30 billion.
Of course, these figures are an unscientific extrapolation of data acquired from the sales numbers given by one dealer. The actual realistic numbers may be slightly lower or significantly higher.
No data was given for the sales of other illegal drugs such as marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine, ecstasy and others.
What these numbers are intended to do is to give us some insight for reflection on the statement of Minister of the Interior Fernando Gomez Mont.