Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Saturday, June 30, 2012

4 more dead found in Durango state

By Chris Covert

A total of four bodies were exhumed from two mass graves in far eastern Durango state Thursday, according to Mexican news reports.

The find was made in Lerdo municipality which is in the western part of the region colloquially known as La Laguna, which includes Ciudad Lerdo and Gomez Palacio, Durango and Torreon  Coahuila.  A Mexican Army unit had been dispatched to the area based on an anonymous tip, which found the graves.

According to a report in El Siglo de Durango news daily, two graves were found three kilometers away from each other, the first was a  grave in Las Noas canyon area which contained the remains of two women in advanced state of decomposition.

The second pit was located in an area dubbed Los Compadres, which contained the remains of two men, also in a state of decomposition.

The report said the new find raises the death toll in Durango to 335, but plenty of doubt exists to that claim.

More than two weeks ago a Mexican Army unit began to excavate a site in Cristobal Colon colony in Durango city, where the last 50 dead were found last January. That report said the remains of at least one individual had been uncovered, and more were expected.

To date no further news has been released as to the new death toll by the Durango state Fiscalia General del Estado (FGE) or attorney general from the latest excavation in Durnago city.  The Durango FGE has been maintaining the count to date..

Last January when the last of the Cristobal Colon bodies were exhumed, confusion reigned as to the final death toll.  Local press had the total at 300, while Proceso news weekly counted 321.  This writer had the death toll at 330.

The great bulk of the dead found in Durango were killed in Durango city itself, more than 90 percent, while ten total were found in Lerdo municipality.  It had been determined by Durango state legal officials that nearly all the dead were killed between 2007 and 2011, and in the course of normal organized crime business.

While cumulatively the Durango mass graves are the worst in modern Mexican history, the honor of the worst mass murder goes to the San Fernando, Tamaulipas mass graves were 193 individuals were killed and buried between August 2010 and March 2011.  Those murders were all apparently done by the same criminal group.

Chris Covert writes Mexican Drug War and national political news for

Mexican security forces detain 9 in counternarcotics raids in Veracruz

By Chris Covert

A joint force consisting of Mexican Naval Infantry troops and police agents with the Veracruz state Secretaria de Seguridad Publica (SSP) raided two locations in Xalapa, Veracruz early Saturday morning, detaining nine  suspects and killing one, according to a news release posted on the website of the Secretaria de Marina (SEMAR), the controlling agency for the Mexican Navy.

A news report posted on the website of El Diario de Coahuila news daily said that a Mexican Marine unit came under small arms fire near the hotel as the joint patrol attempted to stop a group of armed suspects.  The report also said that hand grenades were used in the counterfire by the armed suspects.

The El Diario de Coahuila report also said that the fighting spread throughout the city ending at the safe house.

At the safe house were recovered weapons and vehicles, but the news release did not detail any quantities.  A total of nine detainees were taken into custody in the aftermath of the raids.  El Diario de Coahuila reported six of the detainees were from Guatemala.
The raid was conducted by a joint force as part of the Seguro Veracruz, a security program which is intended to concentrated federal and state forces at transportation choke points to make the cost of contraband such as drugs guns and migrants much higher.  Similar operations are under way in Tamaulipas state and in the La Laguna region which is astride the borders of Coahuila and Durango states.

Chris Covert writes Mexican Drug War and national political news for

Bomb Explodes in Nuevo Laredo Days Before Election

From Borderland Beat Forum by jlopez, Athena and Milo

Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz and Ioan Grillo; Editing by Sandra Maler

An explosive device blew up inside a truck parked outside the town hall of Mexico's northern city of Nuevo Laredo on Friday, injuring seven people but causing no casualties, officials said.

The blast comes two days before Mexico votes for a new president to replace Felipe Calderon, who has waged a 5-1/2-year battle against drug traffickers.

Police did not immediately confirm whether the attack was drug-related but Mexican cartels have been increasingly using improvised explosive devices in cars. Most are relatively small compared to the car bombs used in conflict zones such as Iraq.

The explosion went off mid-morning, tearing apart the vehicle and damaging 11 other cars as well as a wall of the town hall, the Tamaulipas state attorney general's office said in a statement.

Soldiers, marines and police sealed off the scene and were taking evidence to determine the type of explosive material used, the release said.

Staff from the town hall immediately evacuated the building and the emergency services were on alert for other blasts.

Nuevo Laredo, across the Rio Grande from Laredo Texas, has been a hotpot for drug related violence as the Zetas cartel battles rivals for control of billion dollar narcotics trafficking routes to the United States.

More than 55,000 people have died in drug-related violence since Calderon took office in late 2006.

Mexican presidents are barred by the constitution from running for a second term, but the candidate from Calderon's ruling National Action Party (PAN) is in third place, according to most polls.

Enrique Pena Nieto, of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), is expected to win the election by a wide margin according to the polls.

Drug Cartel Rivals Behead Zetas on Camera

NOTE: This fist apeared in the Borderland Beat Forum posted by Milo, thanks to ©ĤİVǾ ›▬╦╤−י ּּּּ for direction on video. The video can be seen at the end of the post and as usual with these type of videos, it is extremely graphic, discretion is advised.

By Raisa Bruner
ABC News

In the latest example of Mexico's warring drug cartels taunting each other with gruesome on-line videos, footage posted on a popular cartel-tracking blog shows members of the Gulf cartel interrogating and then beheading at least three members of the Zetas cartel.

The grainy three-minute video, which appeared on Wednesday, depicts five shirtless men on their knees, their chests painted with large black "Z"s, surrounded by masked members of the Gulf cartel wielding machetes.

Each Zeta prisoner states his name for the camera, at the prompting of an unidentified voice behind the camera. When asked who sent them, each responds "Z-40." "40," as he is known within the Zetas organization, is Miguel Angel Treviño Morales -- the cartel's second-in-command.

The U.S. has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture of "40," and he and his two brothers are also under federal indictment in Texas for alleged laundering of cocaine profits through a U.S. horseracing venture.

"You find yourselves here because you came to f*** us," says the narrator of the video, after the hostages have finished speaking. "Pay attention, men."

Men with the letter Z on their chests, allegedly associated with the Mexican Zetas drug cartel, are prepped for beheading in this video still.

Then the slow and bloody process of hacking off their heads begins. "This is how all your filthy people are going to end," says the narrator as the victims plead for mercy.
Over a minute later, the video ends with masked Gulf members holding up three severed heads for the camera. "Very good, very good," says the narrator. The two other Zetas prisoners are not shown.

According to, the video was shot in Río Bravo, Mexico, on the U.S. border just south of McAllen, Texas in the state of Tamaulipas. Río Bravo is six miles from the Donna International Bridge border crossing. No date is given for the creation of the video.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Mexico City Airport Shooting: Photos of The Traitors

Chivis Martinez for Borderland Beat

For details please refer to Vato's comprehensive coverage found below this post


Luis Cardenas, chief of regional security division of the federal police of Mexico, walks behind a poster showing pictures of wanted federal police officers Daniel Cruz Garcia, right, and Zeferino Morales Franco, center, who are accused of allegedly murdering three other officers at Mexico City's international airport, and a third alleged accomplice, federal police officer Bogard Felipe Lugo de Leon, left, at a press conference in Mexico City, Thursday, June 28, 2012. The two federal police officers are suspected of working for drug traffickers and opening fire and killing three policemen in a crowded food court on Monday, June, 25, 2012. All three remain at large. Photo: Esteban Felix / AP
Facebook Photos of Lugo de Leon

                                      Video Reconstruction of the shootout

At the onset of the shooting and resulting panic

Some of the photos are found on Borderland Beat Forum by JLopez and Chivo

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Four Mexican sailors confirmed dead in helo crash

By Chris Covert

The four sailors reportedly on last Friday's helicopter flight from Colima state to Veracruz state were confirmed dead by the Mexican Secretaria de Marina (SEMAR), the controlling agency for the Mexican navy, according to a news release by SEMAR.

The four dead were unidentified, but it is known one was a pilot and two others were naval officers.  The bird went down in a remote area of Jalisco state Friday afternoon only minutes after commencing a return flight to its base in Veracruz.  The helo left International Airport Playa de Oro in Manzanillo, Colima at about 1135 hour but lost contact before it was to reach Urupan Michoacan at around 1210 hrs.

Later it was determined the Eurocopter Panther AS565 helicopter had crashed atop a mountain at a remote location about 18 kilometers south of Pihuamo municipality in Jalisco state .  That area has long been known as a haven for drug traffickers.

SEMAR has yet to release a determination of the cause of the crash.

Meanwhile, a Mexican Naval Infantry unit dismantled a synthetic drug laboratory in the same municipality as the crash, Pihuamo municipality in Jalisco state.

According to a second news release by SEMAR, the unit found a total of 875 kilograms of caustic soda, 198 kilograms of sodium acetate, 25 containers of various capacities, some with unidentified chemicals, 10 burners, two cook chimneys and 10 pewter steamers.

The lab was found about 30 kilomters northwest of Pihuamo municipality on 26 June.

Chris Covert writes Mexican Drug War and national political news for

Airport security cameras were turned in another direction during the murder.

Luis Cardenas Palomino, Chief of the Regional Security Division of the SSP, states that there is a reward of 5 million pesos for the "traitors."   

El Universal. 6-28-2012. Luis Cardenas Palomino, Chief of the Regional Security Division of the SSP (Federal Police) said that the Security cameras in the Mexico City International Airport (AICM) were directed elsewhere during the murder of three Federal Police oficers by two fellow agents.

Using images from the security cameras in other businesses in Terminal 2, the "traitors" Zeferino Morales Franco, Daniel Garcia and Felipe Lugo were identified. The first two fled from the scene in a taxicab.

Cardenas made it clear that AICM has exclusive control of the cameras and that the Federal Police plays no part in that. He stated that there is a 5 million peso reward for any person that provides information on the location of the officers. He stated they will continue to investigate whether airport authorities were complicit or whether it was an act of negligence.

The web of corruption discovered in the AICM; the hub Colombia, Mexico and Spain

Felix Fuentes

El Universal. 6-28-2012. Three federal officers shot to death and information from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), obtained by El Universal reporter, Doris Gomora, uncovered the drug drainage system in the Mexico City International Airport (AICM). El Gran Diario de Mexico  (newspaper) revealed the presumed responsibility of Hector Velasquez Corona, director of the AICM, in the trafficking of drugs on behalf of the Sinaloa Cartel and the Zetas, human trafficking, piracy in the loading areas and black market of jet fuel.

Vasquez Corona has managed the capital's airport terminal since Jaunuary, 2005. In other words, he was appointed during the Fox administration and has stayed in place because of a close friendship with President Felipe Calderon. According to U.S. DOJ reports the general manager of AICM has links with several drug cartel employees and has only taken part arrests of "independents drug traffickers" or when shipments were destined for adversarial groups. As a result, he has received threats for raising the costs of "rights of way."

Reporter Doris Gomora pointed out that DEA agents and other U.S. agencies identify Velasquez as the principal suspect in AICM drug trafficking , but the Mexican government "lacks any intention" of investigating him. Information obtained from the U.S., reveals that, according to protected witnesses, Velasquez has collected right of way fees for transshipment of drugs beteen Colombia and Mexico, and between here and the Caribbean, the U.S. and Europe. This would explain why some shipments reached Spain, shipped out of AICM, and information media could not understand how that could happen without "anybody noticing anything." Now we know who authorized the shipments, but the PGR denied having any information that Velasquez had ties to the narcos.

In short, the PGR knows nothing. In the case of the three Army generals under arraignment (custody), [the PGR] tells us that Angeles Dauahare has been under investigation since 2010 and the PGR has just extended his arraignment (custody) due to its inability to substantiate the current charges.  

When Felipe Calderon convened PAN congressional representatives in San Lazaro, Velasquez was Secretary of Administrative Services and, together with Patricia Flores, awarded themselves bonuses of 200,000 pesos each. In Banobras (organization), this individual negotiated a 3,000,000 peso loan for the president to buy a house. In Washington, Velasquez Corona is listed as a "member of the Felipe Calderon inner circle."  This tells you why this person has been considered untouchable for more than seven years and why he has been kept at the AICM.

Perhaps Velasquez's actions will be made clear after the murders of three federal officers by fellow agents in Terminal 2 of the metropolitan airport.  There has been a deep silence over the motives for the murders and they're trying to give the matter a money laundering slant, because they are conducting audits of the Podrira currency exchange business in the DF and two of its branches. According to official reports, the suspects have been identified, but their names have not been released, and it is expected that this case will be cleared properly, that it will be disclosed if drugs are involved and whether Mr. Velasquez is involved. The day of the murders, President Calderon declared that "we have advanced to a trustworthy Federal Police that likewise looks for trustworthiness in all of its members."  

Day before yesterday, the president continued on the same theme. He asked that the next administration not throw overboard everything that has been done against crime and demanded that it "truly commit itself to fighting (crime)!"     

Federal Police "traitor" identified

The Federal Police reveals the way the crime was committed by three Federal Police agents during an anti-trafficking enforcement opertion in the airport. Federal agents involved in drug trafficking shot their fellow officers in the back. 

El Universal. 6-28-2012. The Chief of Regional Security Division of the Federal Police (SSP) , Luis Cardenas Palomino, revealed that Mexico City International Airport (AICM) authorities and several other local and federal agencies are being investigated for participating in a drug trafficking network that began in Peru and ended in the airport terminal. He also disclosed the names and photographs of the three federal police agents that took part in the murder of three fedeal police agents that took place last Monday in the AICM Terminal 2 corridor, who are part of a drug trafficking network.

Cardenas Palomino called the oficers who murdered their fellow officers "traitors." He identified them as Zeferino Morales Franco, Felipe Lugo and Daniel Cruz Garcia, this last was the one who shot his companions in the back.

Cardenas Palomino states that the Federal Police is not currently investigating AICM director Hector Velasquez y Corona, although he said he did not know whether the PGR was investigating him.

Last Monday, Federal Police officers implicated in a drug trafficking network, which involved several public employees from various federal and local agencies that work in the AICM, started the shootout in which three of their companions investigating their acts of corruption were killed. Security cameras that allowed the identification of the suspects were key in investigating the case, which is being handled by the Subprocuraduria de Investigacion Especializada en Delincuencia Organizada (SIEDO- Specialized organized crime investigations unit).

The SSP revealed that after several drug seizures over the past 18 months at the AICM (around 300 kilos of narcotics), a cell was detected composed of public employees working for drug traffickers, presumably for a group with the Sinaloa cartel, whereupon federal police agents were assigned to locate the members (of the cell).

House Holds Holder in Contempt

By Alan Silverleib,
CNN Congressional Producer

The House of Representatives voted Thursday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for refusing to turn over documents tied to the botched Fast and Furious gun-running sting -- a discredited operation that has become a sharp point of contention between Democrats and Republicans in Washington.

The House approved a pair of criminal and civil measures against the attorney general, marking the first time in American history that the head of the Justice Department has been held in contempt by Congress.

House members approved the criminal contempt measure in a 255-67 vote. Almost every House Republican backed the measure, along with 17 Democrats. Shortly thereafter, the civil measure passed in a sharply polarized 258-95 vote.

A large number of Democrats -- including members of the Congressional Black Caucus and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi -- walked off the House floor in protest and refused to participate in the criminal contempt vote. A slightly smaller number of Democrats appeared to boycott the vote on the civil measure as well.

Speaking in New Orleans, Holder dismissed the House action as "the regrettable culmination of what became a misguided -- and politically motivated -- investigation during an election year." In a written statement, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer blasted congressional Republicans for pushing "political theater rather than legitimate congressional oversight."

The criminal contempt charge refers the dispute to District of Columbia U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen, who will decide whether to file charges against Holder. Most legal analysts do not expect Machen -- an Obama appointee who ultimately answers to Holder -- to take any action.

The civil measure allows the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to file a lawsuit asking the courts to examine the Justice Department's failure to produce certain subpoenaed documents, as well as the validity of the administration's recent assertion of executive privilege over the documents in question.

Legal experts contacted by CNN have said, based on recent precedent, that it could take years for the courts to reach any final decision in the civil case.

Fast and Furious, a so-called "gun-walking" operation, allowed roughly 2,000 guns into Mexico with the goal of tracking them to Mexican drug cartels. Two guns found at the scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry's fatal shooting were linked to the operation. Guns from the operation have also been linked to an unknown number of Mexican civilians' deaths.

GOP leaders say the documents they seek are needed to get to the circumstances surrounding Terry's death. Democrats insist the Republican-led probe is all about politics. Thursday's vote came two days after House Republicans rejected the latest offer by the White House and Justice Department to turn over some of the documents sought by congressional investigators in exchange for dropping the contempt measures.

A senior House Republican aide told CNN the offer was insufficient.

In the hours leading up to the criminal contempt vote, Republicans repeatedly insisted that they were exercising proper legislative oversight of the executive branch and seeking answers for Terry's family.

"In the real world Americans are expected to comply with subpoenas. Is the attorney general any different? No he is not," said Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Florida. "The attorney general can stonewall all he wants. The attorney general can misremember all he wants. But whether he likes it or not, today responsibility will land on his desk."

Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, warned that "even the attorney general cannot evade the law. (It's) time for America to find out the truth. ... (It's) time for a little transparency. Today is judgment day. That's just the way it is."

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

No survivors found at Mexican Navy helo crash site

By Chris Covert

The Mexican Navy helicopter reported missing since last Friday as found Wednesday afternoon , but it is unclear if any survivors were found, according to a news release by the Mexican Secretaria de Marina (SEMAR) the controlling agency for the Mexican Navy.

The Eurocopter Panther AS565 helicopter was enroute from the port city of Manzanillo, Colima to its base in Minatitlan in Veracruz state Friday when it was reported missing after failing to make contact with air traffic control in nearby Michoacan state.  According the the SEMAR news release the ship captain, two officers and one other navy personnel were aboard.  The news release does not mention casualties.

The bird was found 18 kilometers south of Pihuamo municipality in Jalisco state at the top of a mountain.  Navy personnel are making preparations to arrive at the crash site.

The area around Pihuamo municipality was the location last May 2011 of several major counternarcotics sweeps by Mexican security forces which yielded quantities of drugs and weapons.   Because of the Article 41 clamp on drug war news it is impossible to learn if the area is still a counternarcotics area of operation for Mexico's security forces.

Chris Covert writes Mexican Drug War and national political news for

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mexican Navy bird missing since Friday

By Chris Covert

A Mexican Navy helicopter reported missing last June 22nd is presumed crashed, according to Mexican news accounts.
Foto: El Universal

According to a news item posted on the website of El Universal news daily the Panther AS565 helicopter had been dispatched last Friday from a navy base in Manzanillo, Colima and was bound for a base in Minatitlan, Veracruz on the east coast of Mexico border. 

The aircraft was carrying four unidentified Mexican navy personnel.

According to news reports, the bird departed International Airport Playa de Oro in Colima at about 1135 hrs and was expected to make contact with air traffic control in Urupan, Michoancan by 1210 hrs.  Contact was never made.

According to news reports, the bird had undergone maintenance prior to its return to its base in Veracruz state.

According to information provided by a representative of the Mexican Sixth Naval Region search operations by air and ground have been underway since.

According to the El Universal report residents of La Barranca del Muerto in Tecalitlan municipality in Michoancan reported hearing a crash near their area.  Navy officials have said that search operations have been underway since receiving those reports.

A separate report in El Universal said that air traffic personnel had received communications from the bird at around 1710 hrs.  That report probably fuels Mexican navy officials' hope that at least some of the crew may be alive.

That area in Michoacan is very remote and rugged, difficult to access by road since it is marked by ravines and mountains.

According to Wikipedia the Eurocopter Panther is actually built in Brazil.  Only four birds total are in the Mexican Navy inventory.

Chris Covert writes Mexican Drug War and national political news for

Under Fox and Calderon heroin production increases by 340%

Mexico, D.F. (apro). 6-26-2012.  During the PAN administrations of Fox and Calderon, heroin production increased 340%, and so did the number of HIV-infected persons, according to the Global Commission on Drug Policy, of which (Mexican) ex-president Ernesto Zedillo is a member. 

According to the study, "The War Against Drugs and HIV/AIDS: How criminalization of drug use feeds the global pandemic," all of the world's governments have failed in their battle against illegal drugs and their actions have triggered an HIV pandemic among drug addicts. This evaluation was made by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which has as members six former presidents, among them Ernesto Zedillo, from Mexico, Ricardo Lagos, from Chile, Fernando Enrique Cardoso, from Brazil, and Cesar Gaviria, from Colombia, in addition to the former Spanish minister and high ranking European Union official, Javier Solana, and the Spanish-Peruvian writer Mario Vargas-Llosa.

In its report, the commission points out that the global war on drugs has been a "failure" because nonviolent drug addicts are imprisoned and steered away from public health systems, causing an increase in HIV infections due to syringe sharing. They make specific reference to opiates like heroin, for which demand has increased 380% between 1980 and 2010, while its price shows a tendency to drop, according to the commission's own findings, which declares that there is "a notable failure of the policies (used) in the war against drugs." Specifically, the commission criticizes the United States, China, Russia and Thailand for "ignoring scientific evidence and the recommendations from the World Health Organization, and resisting the implementation of HIV prevention programs," which has had "devastating consequences."

Experts say that a fourth of U.S. residents infected with HIV have been imprisoned at least once in their life.

In contrast, (the commission) praises the work of countries such as Australia, Portugal and Switzerland, where addiction "is treated as a health problem" and, as a result, HIV infection among drug addicts has almost been eliminated.

With respect to Mexico, where for the past six years the government has been engaged in an open war with drug cartels, the study asserts that President Calderon's strategy has only spurred organized crime and has taken the lives of more than 50,000 people and caused the disappearance of 10,000 more.

The authors emphazise that the war against drugs has not slowed down the production of Mexican heroin, which has increased 340% in the last decade. Because of that, they propose reforms that will "break the taboo" of drug addiction and instead of putting addicts in jail provide them health services and detoxification programs. Other measures they propose are to decriminalize cannabis, provide access to sterile syringes, provide hygienic (drug) injection locations and (doctors') prescriptions for heroin. 

Publication of this study takes place in the context of the International Day Against Improper Use and Illegal Trafficking of Drugs, and a month before the World Conference on AIDS, which will bring together the greatest number of experts on that subject from July 22 to 27, 2012, in Washington (DC).          

What Do Mexicans Think? About The Violence, Calderon, U.S. Drugwar Etc.

Borderland Beat
What Do Mexicans Think?
22% Blame the US for the Drugwar while 14% blame Mexico
 Support Military Campaign
  Despite Doubts About Success, Human Rights Costs

As Felipe Calderón’s term as Mexico’s president draws to a close, Mexicans continue to strongly back his policy of deploying the military to combat the country’s powerful drug cartels. Eight-in-ten say this is the right course, a level of support that has remained remarkably constant since the Pew Global Attitudes Project first asked the question in 2009.
At the same time, the public is uneasy about the moral cost of the drug war: 74% say human rights violations by the military and police are a very big problem. But concern about rights abuses coexist with continued worries about drug-related violence and crime – both of which strong majorities describe as pressing issues in Mexico.
President Calderón himself remains popular. A 58%-majority has a favorable opinion of Mexico’s current leader. Although down from a high of 68% in 2009, this rating nonetheless puts him on par with the 56% who have a positive view of the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (PRI’s) Enrique Peña Nieto, whose ratings clearly topped those of his opponents when the poll was conducted between March 20 and April 2 of this year.
Support for Calderón’s strategy continues despite limited confidence that the government is winning the drug war, and widespread concerns about its costs.
Just 47% believe progress is being made against drug traffickers, virtually identical to the 45% who held this opinion in 2011. Three-in-ten today say the government is actually losing ground against the cartels, while 19% see no change in the stand-off between the authorities and crime syndicates.
Whether Peña Nieto or any of the other presidential candidates have a solution to Mexico’s drug problems is an open question for the Mexican public. When asked which political party could do a better job of dealing with organized crime and drug traffickers, about equal numbers name Calderón’s National Action Party (PAN) (28%) and Peña Nieto’s PRI (25%), while only 13% point to the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Fully 23% volunteer that none of the parties is particularly capable of dealing with this critical issue.

These are the principal findings from the latest survey in Mexico by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project. Conducted face-to-face with 1,200 adults from across the country, the poll also finds that most Mexicans (61%) blame both the United States and their own country for the continued drug violence within their borders.

 While solid majorities would welcome U.S. assistance in combating the cartels if the aid came in the form of training, equipment or intelligence support, only a third would approve deploying U.S. troops on Mexican soil.
Overall, a majority (56%) of Mexicans have a favorable opinion of the United States, with about the same number (53%) convinced that Mexicans who migrate to the U.S. have a better life. Despite this perception, most Mexicans have no interest in migrating north across the border, although the percentage who say they would move to the U.S. if they had the means and opportunity has remained fairly steady since 2009.
Army Backed in Drug War
More than five years after President Calderón first ordered troops to take part in controlling drug-related violence, the public remains firmly behind the use of military units to combat drug cartels. Fully eight-in-ten say they support the use of the Mexican army in the drug war, little changed from opinion over the past several years.
Supporters of both the PAN (88%) and the PRI (84%) strongly endorse Calderón’s use of the military. Backers of the PRD are more skeptical, yet 66% still approve of the approach.
Support for Calderón’s anti-cartel strategy is widespread even though only 47% of Mexicans believe the government is making progress against the drug traffickers. Three-in-ten actually think the authorities are losing ground, while 19% essentially see a stalemate, with neither side gaining. This assessment of the drug war is virtually identical to views expressed last year.
Perhaps not surprisingly, backers of the ruling PAN are more enthusiastic about the government’s campaign against drug traffickers: 62% of them believe the authorities are making progress, compared with just 45% of PRI and 34% of PRD supporters.
When asked who is to blame for the drug violence in their country – Mexico or the United States – a majority of Mexicans (61%) say both countries bear responsibility. About one-in-five (22%) says the U.S. is mostly to blame, while 14% point to Mexico. The number of Mexicans blaming both countries is up 10 percentage points compared with 2009, when the question was first asked.
In order to combat the drug cartels, three-quarters of Mexicans would support the U.S. training Mexican police and military personnel. About six-in-ten (61%) would also approve of the U.S. providing money and weapons to the country’s police and military. However, there is much less enthusiasm for deploying U.S. troops within Mexico’s borders. Only a third would welcome such a move, while a 59% majority would oppose it.

Overall, attitudes toward U.S. assistance in the drug war are little changed from last year, although the percentage who would back the deployment of U.S. troops has fallen slightly, from 38% in 2011 to 33% today
Support for U.S. assistance in the drug war tends to be higher among those who see the government succeeding, rather than failing, in its fight against the cartels. For example, 85% of Mexicans who see progress in the drug war back U.S. training of police and military personnel, compared with 68% among those who think the government is losing ground or stymied. Similarly, those who see success in the drug war are more like than those who do not to approve of the U.S. providing money and weapons (71% vs. 54%). Even on the issue of deploying U.S. troops, Mexicans who see progress against the cartels are much more supportive of such a measure than those who believe the government is not succeeding in the drug war (47% vs. 22%).
Negative Ratings for Country and Economy

Issues related to the ongoing drug war top the Mexican public’s list of concerns. Three-in-four say cartel-related violence is a very big problem for the country, while a roughly equal number say the same about human rights violations by the military and police. And 73% name crime as a very big problem.
Slightly smaller majorities point to corrupt political leaders, illegal drugs, and the economy as very big problems.
Roughly six-in-ten believe terrorism (62%) and pollution (58%) are very big problems, while only about half think people leaving Mexico for jobs or the poor quality of schools are top concerns.
Despite being relatively content with the overall situation in the country, Mexicans with higher incomes are more likely than others to see their country beset by problems. Specifically, wealthier Mexicans are at least 10 percentage points more likely than those with lower incomes to rate schools (+20), economic problems (+14), cartel-related violence (+10), illegal drugs (+10), human rights violations (+10) and crime (+10) as very big problems.
Given broad public concern about crime, it is perhaps unsurprising that more than half (56%) of Mexicans say they are afraid to walk alone at night within a kilometer of their home. This sentiment has increased slightly since 2007 (50%). Women (61%) are more likely to be afraid, though a sizeable percentage of men (51%) also express unease.
Calderón and Government Get Positive Marks

Felipe Calderón remains popular as he concludes his final months as president, with majorities expressing a favorable view of him personally and describing his influence on the country as positive. Ratings for the national government are also high, with roughly two-thirds (65%) saying it is having a good influence on the country’s direction.

Assessments of the national government’s impact have improved 11 percentage points since last spring, when 54% said it was having a good influence. Views of the government have particularly improved among middle-income Mexicans (+25 percentage points) and those living in the Mexico City area (+22).
Meanwhile, opinion of Calderón has slipped compared with the high marks he received in 2009. At that time, roughly two-thirds viewed him favorably (68%) compared to 58% in the latest survey, and three-quarters in 2009 thought he was having a good influence on the country compared to 57% now.
Calderón is especially trusted among people who say the Mexican government is making progress in the drug war (72% rate him a good influence) but less so among those who say the government is not making progress or losing ground (46%). Meanwhile, two-thirds of Mexicans living in the North and South regions say he is a good influence, but only about half from the Central and Mexico City areas say the same (53% and 47%, respectively).
Military, Media Viewed Favorably

In addition to the national government, the military is also seen in a favorable light, with nearly three-in-four (73%) saying it is having a good influence on the way things are going in the country. This represents a rebound from 2011, when 62% said the military was having a positive impact.
The media is also well-regarded: six-in-ten say television, radio, newspapers, and magazines are having a good influence on the country’s direction. Opinions of the media are unchanged from last year.
Views of the court system and police are not as positive. Less than half of Mexicans see the courts (44%) and the police (38%) as having a good influence on the way things are going in the country. A year ago, opinions of the courts and police were even more negative, with only about three-in-ten giving either institution a positive rating.

Gordo-Gate: DEA Asked Detainees To Pretend Being Relatives of El Chapo, Until The Election Concludes

Borderland Beat

Inside the offices of Specialized Investigation of Organized Crime (SIEDO) Personnel of the Drug Enforcement Administration Agency (DEA) offered the brothers Felix and Kevin Beltran,  to accept the role of a relationship with Joaquin El Chapo Guzman  Loera, leader of Sinaloa Cartel, and they would set them free after the elections, according to the lawyer Juan Heriberto Rangel Mendez, defense counselor of the two young men arrested by Marine/Army Secretariat (SEMAR) last Thursday in Zapopan, Jalisco.
The litigant said “the offering happened during Thursday night before the detainees gave their ministerial declaration. DEA approached them when we were not there to defend them.”
“First, they tell Felix to accept being son of El Chapo and that his situation could be resolved  after the elections. They wanted him to sign the statements given by SIEDO. Then he told them that he was not going to sign anything, and fortunately he didn’t.”
Beltran Brothers
“The DEA insisted: ‘Accept this, sign your statement and the we make the clarification that you are not the son’; then after he convinced them that he was not going to do it, they told him ‘we want you to blame the people that we tell you to and you are free right now”, but he didn’t agreed either, so says the attorney.
“Obviously, they couldn’t convinced him of anything, and Felix refers that another DEA agent appeared, a bald one, and asked him to turn around and to take his shirt off and then the agent added: ‘no he’s not it, Gordo, has a scare”.  (Chapo’s son bears a scar)  
How did you know it was a DEA agent?
Because they said that both agents were blonde, tall and they spoke English. Felix said that the words in Spanish were mispronounced and when Felix didn’t agreed they spoke between them in English.
When did the detainees tell you these things?
Midnight, almost at 1:00 o’clock of Saturday, which was the time when I was allowed to meet them. I saw that they were not beaten or abused, and then they told me that the DEA agents were with them and proposed the role playing.
Meanwhile, SIEDO will keep the brothers Kevin and Felix Beltran under arrest during the following 40 hours, although it is confirmed  that Felix is not the son of Joaquin El Chapo Guzman.

PGR will continue with the integration of the preliminary investigation PGR/SIEDO/UEIARV/051/2012, for the probable responsibility in the offenses of organized crime, possession of a fire arm, exclusive of the Army and Air Force, and operations with illicit resources.
The above due to the authorization of arrest given to the PGR by a federal judge, in order for the Federal Public Ministry determine the origin of four fire guns, four grenades, 135 thousand dollars and 295 thousand pesos.
The officials of the Secretariat of Marines that detained the suspects last Thursday in Zapopan, Jalisco, then transferred the men to SIEDO.

Source: Jornada

Kidnapping: Through the Eyes of the Taken

By ACI for Borderland Beat
What you are about to read is a true account of a kidnapping, as with most stories in Mexico, the victim wishes to remain anonymous, out of fear for himself and his families safety.

He awoke; the sun was blistering, dust devils spun down the street.  He could hear the stray dogs fighting over scraps of trash in the alley behind his home.  Dry and hot, the unmistakable smell of death filled the air, as he walked out his front door he could see what was creating the stench; a body was strewn on the side of the road; carelessly thrown into a ditch.  Dried blood stained the dirt, flies danced around the corpse.  He could see that part of the man’s skull was missing, a sure sign of an execution.  He pondered if the police had been called; perhaps this was the work of the police, hard to tell these days.  He thought he should feel something, fear, anger, sadness, something; but there was nothing there, he was numb.  He had seen so much already.

Since he was a little child he could remember watching the men in their trucks; the fancy cloths, snake skinned boots, ostentatious belt buckles, pistols gilded in gems and gold.  Women pinned for their attention, for their power, and from his front porch, it seemed to him that these men had everything.  But he knew that all these trappings came with a price.  He saw many lured into the world of the cartels, only to have their lives cut short.  He saw a better opportunity crossing into the United States. 

He had family in the states and steady work, but as with all who make the journey, he longed for his home.  Every so often he would make the trip back to his small suburb outside the city.  This last trip back was different however, the scenery had changed, and so had many of his friends and family.  Many had been sucked up into ensuing war which had broken out in the region.

On the outside everything appeared the same, perhaps more rundown, but more or less the same.  People still went through their daily routines, work, church and family dinners, but there was a quiet silence when he asked questions about what exactly was going on.  Perhaps they didn’t know, or were afraid to tell him, whatever it was it left an unsettling feeling in his gut.  One he should have perhaps heeded.

It was late in the afternoon and the sun had baked the dusty town.  He and a group of friends were hanging outside his friend’s house enjoying some cold beers.  There was much laughter and jokes; they all wanted to hear of his adventures in America.  Then they began telling him stories, and the jovial nature slowly turned eerie and silent.  His friends told him of the disappeared, the roaming bands of gun totting lunatics and the war.  He wasn’t shocked, it wasn’t like he hadn’t heard these stories before, but the difference was the sheer depth of the conflict, it seemed to have touched everyone. 

As they were telling stories a police vehicle pulled up beside them and four officers got out.  A short fat cop started questioning the young men, asking them for their names and ID’s.  Something was amiss, they were all put in handcuffs, tape placed over their mouths and bags placed over there heads and all faded to black.

The three received what felt like several blows to their bodies then tossed into the back of the vehicle.  There they drove to some place unknown.  Some dimly lit room, in some part of town he was unfamiliar with.  It smelled of shit and piss, the light flickered on and off, bobbing back and forth.  For all he knew it might have been part of a police department or someones home. 

They interrogated him and his two friends for what seemed like hours.  He wasn’t sure what they were after, what answers they could possibly want.  Something about who they worked for and what they did.  The beatings continued; he felt like he was being hit with a two by four for a while.  He could hear his friends moaning in agony.  The sweat poured out of his skin, he had heard too many stories like this to be naive.  He thought this was his end.

Dazed and confused he and his friends were then once again tossed into another vehicle.  This time they were thrown into the bed of a pickup truck.  He wondered how they were going to die.  He had heard of so many terrible ways to die in Mexico.  He shuttered at the thought blocking it out as much as he could.  He thought of all the things he was going to miss, dinner with his family, chasing girls with his friends, cold beer and tamales on summer days.  The memories came flooding back as the truck lumbered on.   He could feel the road underneath him, every pothole, twist and turn.  His mouth was dry, his eyes watered, was this how it was going to end for him he wondered?

The truck veered to a stop, kicking up dust and rock, as the tires fought the earth.  They halted on the side of a dirt road.  The men forced the three out of the truck pushing them forcefully over a small gulley next to the road.  They tripped, unable to navigate the terrain with their eyes covered.  One fell and was kicked by one of the gunmen.  The three were told to get on their knees.

He heard the first shot; then the awful thump of dead weight falling to the ground.  He felt his hands shake; there was a terrible pit in his stomach; that was his friend.  He heard the bullet casing wedge itself in the dirt, he heard footsteps and another click as another round loaded into the chamber.  Each sound echoing in his head, the seconds felt as if eternity was toying with him.  Then the second shot came, followed by that same dreadful thud.  He was next; then he heard feedback from a two way radio.  One of the gunmen answered, in a hushed tone he walked away.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mexico: Family of 20 Crosses into Texas Seeking Asylum after Drug Cartel Murders

Borderland Beat

PGR Building where the Porras family is staying
by Joseph Kolb for Fox News Latino

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mex. –  One of the largest families to cross the U.S.-Mexico border together into Texas in recent years with the hope of securing asylum arrived in El Paso on Saturday.
After languishing for five days in a hot government office here surviving on soup, beans, and water, 20 family members crossed the Bridge of the Americas into El Paso, seeking asylum after two of their relatives were killed the previous week and death threats against others increased.

Héctor Porras, 45, said he and his family fled Villa Ahumada Tuesday to Juárez, after his 49-year-old brother, Rudolpho was killed June 16, and his 18-year-old nephew, Jaime, was killed two days later while visiting his father's new grave.

In a phone interview from the Attorney General’s office in Juárez Saturday, Porras said the family, which owns small food stands in the area was being extorted by La Línea, the street enforcement arm of the Vicente Carillo Fuentes/Juárez Cartel.

"They – the police – are supposed to be here to protect us,” Porras said. “But while the store was being robbed and my brother shot, they were sitting outside and did nothing."

Since 2008, Villa Ahumada has been the scene of numerous killings that included the chief of police, kidnappings and allegations of police corruption and links to the Juárez Cartel.
"We received threats that they were going to kill more of us, so we grabbed what we could and left," Porras said.

The family quickly fled en masse to Juárez with an escort from the state police. Once in the city the family told officials at the Attorney General’s office, where they thought they would be safe, they were afraid for their lives and wanted to seek asylum in the United States, but needed protection for the 10-minute drive to the border, where they could surrender themselves to Customs and Border Protection officials to make their request.
"First they wanted to see about helping us, but then they began changing their mind where as of today (Saturday) they said we can just leave if we wanted but they wouldn’t protect us," Porras said. "We are afraid."
In a rapid series of events that Porras believes was precipitated by increasing media coverage, the officials at the Attorney General’s office, known by its Spanish initials as PGR, agreed to provide security on the perimeter of the route to the bridge but not an official escort. By around 5 p.m. the family crossed the bridge and was being processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Crystal Massey, a human rights advocate with the law office of Carlos Spector in El Paso, Texas, who has been retained to represent the Porras family through the asylum process said the family has legitimate concerns. She said families may come here, “but usually in smaller groups of threes and fours.”
“We have seen it many times in Chihuahua where families have been killed,” she said. “This is the largest single family group we have ever seen cross the border at the same time.”
Massey said last August they saw a group of 14 family members seek asylum.
Officials at both the PGR and U.S. Customs and Border Protection were unavailable for comment.
Massey said it is not uncommon for asylum seekers to receive escorts to the El Paso sector bridges from Mexican officials.
“We’ve had several families escorted to the bridge by the military for protection,” Massey said.
Porras said he doesn't feel the family, which includes his 67-year-old mother and children as young as three years old, was being held against their will by the PGR office in Juárez, but without protection the uncertainty of walking outside was daunting enough to keep them in the government building until authorities reached a decision.
He said at one point an official from Mexico City was supposed to arrive and persuade the family to relocate within Mexico, an option Porras had no interest in discussing.
The family had been languishing in a single room in the drab PGR office building in downtown Juárez without air conditioning to cool the 104 degree temperature. They slept on the floor, had no showers, and only could use one bathroom.
"The PGR is essentially washing their hands of this family by saying that if they want to leave they can but without any security," said Ruben Garcia, the director of Annunciation House, an immigrant shelter and advocacy group in El Paso, Texas. "Héctor told me he was not going to risk any more of his family without protection."
Porras said as the week wore on not only had there been no further support from the PGR, the family actually began to fear the very people they turned to for help.
"We can't trust anyone," Porras said.
Garcia said he believes the Porras family has relatives already in El Paso they will be staying with.
Though the Porras family was accepted at the border, they still face an uphill battle to acquire asylum. Most of them will file defensive applications because they do not possess a valid border crossing card – a process can take up to four years before an immigration judge makes a decision.

Drug trafficking enforcement action in Mexico city's international airport leaves three dead

The shootout that took place in Terminal 2 of the Mexico City International Airport (AICM) was triggered when suspected drug traffickers were about to be apprehended by Federal Police officers; a third officer dies in hospital.

Universal. 6-25-2012.

The shootout that took place in Terminal 2 of the Mexico City international airport (AICM) was triggered when Federal Police agents tried to detain suspected drug traffickers, according to the an official report on the incident issued by the Federal Department of Public Safety (SSP).

In the report, they indicated that Federal agents were performing investigative duties and "proceeded to take into custody suspects linked with drug trafficking."

The suspects (number unknown) were in Terminal 2 of the Mexico City International Airport and, "when the saw themselves surrounded by Federal Police, began shooting their firearms at the federal agents."

Authorities within the agency indicated to El Universal that apparently the suspects were also Federal Police officers, which is why they were carrying weapons inside the terminal area, and they managed to fire their weapons to prevent being apprehended, although the investigation will continue to try to determine the aggressors' identities.

The SSP confirmed that two Federal Police officers lost their lives in the incident and another was transferred to a hospital, where he later died.

The (SSP) also reports that in anti-drug trafficking actions they have conducted in the AICM, in 2011 Federal Police seized a total of 90 kilos of cocaine and more than 200 kilos in 2012.   


Mexico’s Tarahumara Are The World’s Greatest Ultrarunners—And The Latest Victims of The Drug War

Borderland Beat

The Sierras Tarahumara Indians: Mexico’s Unwilling Drug Runners
In drugwar reporting, articles of those living on the fringes of Mexican society is a rare occurrance.  The forgotten people, before the war, during, and in all probability after.  Proud citizens such as the  people of the Sierras ,and  the Mayans of the highlands of Chiapas and Mexican rain forest are largely ignored in and out of "war".  Most likely few of you have ever even heard of the indigenous peoples such as the Tarahumara Indians, or Black Seminoles, or the Mayan Zapatistas.  Not enough has been explored with respect to the drugwar, and how or if, the indigenous peoples have been affected.  I was pleased to see this article and wanted to share it with the good people of BB.
Paz, Chivis 
The Tarahumara’s native Copper Canyons have been invaded by narcotraficantes. (Jason Florio for Newsweek)
by Aram Roston for Newsweek Magazine
Camilo Villegas-Cruz is wistful when he talks about happier times, running in the shadowy depths of Sinforosa Canyon, in Mexico’s lawless Sierra Madre. A member of the Tarahumara Indian tribe, renowned for their agility and running endurance, Villegas-Cruz grew up competing in traditional rarajipari races, in which contestants kick a wooden ball along a rocky trail. But by the time he was 18 years old, he was running an entirely different kind of race—hauling a 50-pound backpack of marijuana across the border into the New Mexico desert.
Today, Villegas-Cruz is 21 and languishing in a U.S. federal prison near the Mojave Desert in Adelanto, Calif.
Villegas-Cruz’s unlikely journey from young athlete to drug mule shows how a little-known tribe, having been catapulted into the limelight by a runaway bestseller, is being ground down by forces out of its control, including Mexico’s all-consuming drug war, a disastrous economy, and an unrelenting drought.
In their native language, Villegas-Cruz’s people call themselves the Rarámuri—the light-footed ones. Their unique physical abilities were largely unknown to the outside world until 2009, when the book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen made them famous. “When it comes to ultradistances,” author Christopher McDougall wrote, “nothing can beat a Tarahumara runner—not a racehorse, not a cheetah, not an Olympic marathoner.” Among the characters in the book was a Tarahumara champion who once ran 435 miles, and another who won a 100-mile ultramarathon in Leadville, Colo., with almost casual ease. McDougall described the reclusive Tarahumara as “the kindest, happiest people on the planet,” and “benign as Bodhisattvas.”
Sinforosa Canyon (Photo:Richard Fischer)
The central message—that nature intended human beings to run—struck a chord in the United States, where Born to Run had a staggering impact on the amateur-running world (and on the $2.3 billion per year running-shoe business). The book triggered the barefoot running rage, including popular “foot gloves” that are as close as you can get to not wearing shoes at all.
But there’s a painful twist to this otherwise uplifting tale. According to defense lawyers, law-enforcement sources, and some Tarahumara Indians, drug traffickers are now exploiting the very Tarahumara trait—endurance—that has been crucial to their survival. Cartel operatives enlist impoverished Tarahumara Indians to make a grueling odyssey running drugs by foot across the border to the U.S.
Tarahumara Indians: Mexico’s Unwilling Drug Runners
 American defense lawyers on the southwest border say Tarahumara drug runners are a growing segment of their court-assigned clientele. Ken Del Valle, a defense attorney in El Paso, Texas, says he’s represented more than a dozen of the Indians since 2007, all in similar “backpacking” cases. Statistics are impossible to come by since law enforcement agencies don’t differentiate between Indians and other Mexicans, but Del Valle says it is precisely the Tarahumaras’ aptitude for endurance running that makes them so heavily recruited: the cartels “can put them in the desert and just say, ‘Go!’”
Del Valle says when the cases first starting appearing, U.S. courts were ill-equipped to handle the defendants. In one early case, he recalls, a Taruhamara was released when the court couldn’t find an interpreter. Now, lawyers and judges have a translator on call.
Don Morrison, an assistant federal public defender, first represented a Tarahumara in 2010. “I had no idea that right across the border there was a tribe of people who lived like this,” he told me. Many Tarahumara men still wear handmade sandals, skirt-like loin cloths, and brightly colored tunics. “If the drug war can start involving the Tarahumara,” he says, “then no one is immune.”
Until recently, the Tarahumara have been partially protected by the fearsome geography of the region they inhabit— the Sierra Madre mountains. The terrain here is psychedelic: plinths and boulders and impossible overhangs. The canyons stretch down more than a mile, though the Tarahumara navigate the cliffs as easily as staircases. But in the past decades, ranchers, miners, loggers, and narcos have moved ever closer into traditional Tarahumara enclaves. One of the last travel books to chronicle the region was the acclaimed God’s Middle Finger, published in 2008 by British writer Richard Grant. It describes a run-in with armed thugs, then closes with this thought: “I never wanted to set foot in the Sierra Madre again.”
Exacerbating the situation is what -locals say is the worst drought in 70 years. Even in the best of times, many Tarahumara live on the edge, tilling just enough to survive. Now farmers can’t get most food crops to grow, and last winter an unusual cold spell killed off much of what they did plant. That’s left the Indians desperate—and easy prey for wealthy drug barons looking for mules to take their product north.
“You get a guy who can go 50 miles with almost no water ... they’ve been indirectly training for [cross-border smuggling] for 10,000 years,” says McDougall, author of Born to Run. “It’s just tragic and disgraceful. This is a culture that has tried its best to stay out of this mess, all of these -messes—the messes of the world—and now the messes have come and found them.”
“I can’t even weigh the cultural impact of what the drug industry is doing to the Tarahumara,” says Randy Gingrich, an American based in the city of Chihuahua for 20 years. He spends much of his time in the Sierra Madre and his NGO, Tierra Nativa, battles threats to the Tarahumara and other Indian tribes from miners, loggers, drug dealers, and the occasional tourist scheme. He says one former drug baron once forcibly evicted Tarahumara from their ancestral homes so he could build a giant Astroturf ski slope overlooking the 6,000-foot Sinforosa Canyon. The project fell through when the trafficker died in a plane crash.
The Tarahumara are legendary for their endurance—and their reclusiveness. (Jason Florio for Newsweek)
In the town of Guachochi, a Tarahumara woman named Ana Cela Palma says she knows four Indians who have become “burros” and made the trek up to the U.S. for the cartels. None was paid what they were promised, she says. “They make it back, but in really bad condition,” she says. They were broken down physically, impoverished, and angry, she says.
Palma took me from a little settlement called Norigachi, along a ridge road cut by loggers, and into a small and tranquil valley. On the east side of the valley, past a shallow rise, we found a Tarahumara shaman, known as an owiruame, sitting on a pile of rocks. Jose Manuel Palma is 82 years old and a distant relative of Ana -Cela’s. The old man’s face lit up when I asked about running. He used to be a long-distance runner, he said, and was proud of it, though there aren’t a lot of races in the community anymore. His job now is healing the sick, mostly through dreams. The Tarahumara believe that people possess several souls, and that illness is the result of souls losing their balance. “This is the highest level of shamanism in the Sierra,” explains Gingrich. “They are called sonaderos—people who dream for others.”
Click to enlarge
Palma said “the traffickers have not approached the traditional leaders of the Tarahumara,” recruiting instead the younger people, who then recruit their friends. That’s how his nephew, Alfredo Palma, got involved. He was approached by a Tarahumara friend, who apparently was planning to carry a load for the traffickers and wanted company.
Court records in the U.S. show that Alfredo Palma, 29 years old, was offered up to $800 to make the dangerous trek across the border—more than a typical Tarahumara Indian might see in a year. As Palma and seven other backpackers trekked through the cold desert night, over the border into New Mexico, an infrared radar picked them up. Four men slipped away, but the border patrol found Alfredo and two others trying to hide behind some shrubs. Nearby, in their backpacks, was 260 pounds of Mexican pot.
Thirty yards away from where Jose Palma sat, a man used a horse to pull a plow through some dry fields, and the old Tarahumara said that the man was one of his sons. The old man said they were praying for rain, but in the meantime, his other son had moved to Chihuahua City to look for work.
It was the drought that also drove Camilo Villegas-Cruz to look for work elsewhere. His father couldn’t manage to grow enough beans, peas, and corn to survive on their little rancheria. So when Villegas-Cruz and one of his brothers were approached in early January 2009 by a stranger offering to pay them each $1,500 to be burros, they quickly accepted.
Late one evening, they shouldered their 50-pound backbacks and set out from a small farmhouse near the border. It was just a half-hour walk to a remote unguarded section of the barren border-crossing into the U.S. They carried smaller packs on their chests with food and water. Marching all night in the desert, they would stop when the sun rose every day, and would stash the huge marijuana packs and sleep. It was a tedious and grueling trek, and on the third day they woke up to the sound of a U.S. Border Patrol helicopter overhead.
They were arrested and charged with conspiracy with intent to distribute, and could have faced 20-year sentences. The American judge in Los Cruces, New Mexico, let them off easy, sending them back to Mexico, each with a sentence of three years of unsupervised release.
With the region suffering a terrible drought, families are struggling. (Jason Florio for Newsweek)
When Villegas-Cruz returned home, his parents were furious, he says. His mother sobbed. But soon enough, life went back to normal. He met a Tarahumara girl and fell in love. He went to traditional corn-beer festivals. He volunteered during a 50-mile Tarahuma race, holding a torch through the night to light the way for runners kicking a ball before them in the old way of the tribe. (The race had been organized by a legendary ultramarathoner, Micah True. True, an American nicknamed “Caballo Blanco,” spent years working on behalf of the Tarahumara, and was a central character in Born to Run. He died in March of heart disease, while running.)
But Villegas-Cruz’s family was still struggling. So once again, he set off to find work. First, he planted chilis for a farmer, earning $10 a day for backbreaking work in the searing summer heat. Then a more lucrative offer came. “I’ve got a job for you,” said a man nicknamed Cholo, recalls Villegas-Cruz. “It’s only going to be three days.”
He knew the risks but he says the money was too good to turn down. He says the traffickers took him to a store in town and bought him clothes, new shoes, and a coat to keep him warm while trekking during cold desert nights. There was a catch, however: the cost for the clothes, the cartel operatives told him, would come out of his $1,500 in pay. At least until he completed his mission, Villegas-Cruz was in debt to the smugglers, and couldn’t back out.
He was driven in the bed of a pickup truck to a little ranch near the U.S. border, where the backpacks were already prepared—heavy burlap sacks taped tight, full of compressed packages of marijuana. Villegas-Cruz shouldered the heavy load, and with a handful of other men, walked at night in his new shoes, behind the guide. They crossed the border within a half hour, and soon were walking through a desert in New Mexico. In unfamiliar territory, Villegas-Cruz got nervous and wanted to turn back. “I was really sad, and really scared,” he says. But without a guide, he knew he’d never find his way back to the Sinforosa Canyon.
Three days in, it began to rain, and as he trudged with his huge backpack full of marijuana, he slipped and fell. Covered in mud, he kept on walking. By now he was completely terrified, he says. On the morning of the fourth day, the Border Patrol found him and two others. The guide, who didn’t carry the same load as the “mules” he was leading, managed to slip away.
Villegas-Cruz pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and reentering the country illegally, and this time he was sentenced to 46 months. “Someday,” he says, dressed in a prison uniform and sitting in a large room usually used for court proceedings, “I’ll get home and I’ll never come here again.”