Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Before there were cartels there was a "Queen" of heroin in Juarez (and she didn't look much like Claudia Ochoa)

Booking photo of La Nacha from Juarez in 1942. (Photo illustration based on photo from the National Archives at College Park, Maryland / Courtesy of Bob Chessey)

Ruben Salazar versus La Nacha

by Bob Chessey // May 27, 2014

 In the summer of 1955, a burgeoning journalist from El Paso and a veteran drug dealer from Ciudad Juarez famously crossed paths in a dangerous game of cat and mouse.

At the time, Ruben Salazar was earning a reputation as a driven investigative reporter for the El Paso Herald Post. On the opposite side of the Rio Grande, Ignacia “La Nacha” Gonzalez was established as Juarez’s most notorious narcotics trafficker—with opiates, not marihuana, as the major drug in transit from Juarez to El Paso.

La Nacha had been dealing and trafficking opiates for just over 30 years. During World War II, her reputation was such that the mayor of Juarez in 1942, Antonio Bermudez, called for a citywide manhunt, resulting in her arrest.

Following her arrest, Harry Anslinger, the head of the U. S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics, the legacy agency of the DEA, had the U. S. government file for La Nacha’s extradition to the U. S. in order to place her on trial for trafficking.

The request to the Mexican government failed but did result in La Nacha’s imprisonment for the duration of the war, part of her sentence spent in the penal colony of the Tres Marias islands off the coast of Mexico.

Ruben Salazar was a veteran of the U. S. Military and a recent graduate of Texas Western College (now UTEP). After failing to secure a job with the El Paso Times that year, he was offered a position as a reporter at the El Paso Herald Post.

In May of 1955 one of his first major stories was having himself arrested and reporting on the wretched conditions in the drunk tank of the El Paso City jail. An issue of concern raised in the article was the access to drugs by prisoners.

The following December, Salazar would say the availability of drugs in the El Paso City jail was the seed for his decision to personally visit and purchase drugs from La Nacha.

The more likely explanation can be found in the article Salazar wrote for page 15 of the August 10, 1955 El Paso Herald-Post: “Special Officer Joe Villa Protects Southeast El Paso With 24-Hour Patrol”.

Special Officer Joe Villa owned the Alameda Merchant Patrol, a private security service not attached to the El Paso Police Department. His company provided protection for businesses in the “south-east side” of El Paso, along Alameda Avenue. Having been raised in the area, Villa was a 45-year-old ex-boxer with an affinity for the neighborhood.

While discussing crime around the Alameda business area he patrols, Villa’s conversation turns to drugs.

Salazar writes:

“Special Officer Villa is convinced that Juarez’ notorious dope queen, La Nacha, has much to do with the border dope traffic problem.

“’Dope addicts have told me that they take stolen goods to her in exchange for a much needed shot,’ Villa said. ‘I myself have been at La Nacha’s and have seen addicts squirming on the floor in a narcotic frenzy. It is a sad thing’ Villa laments.”

Villa’s theory of the misery sown by La Nacha in El Paso, along with his informing Salazar he had personally visited what sounds to be one of La Nacha’s infamous shooting galleries, or “picaderos”, is what most likely ignited the fire in Salazar’s investigative curiosity.

One week later, to the day, Ruben Salazar published a front page article above the fold in the August 11, 1955 El Paso Herald-Post titled: “La Nacha Sells Dirty Dope at $5 a ‘Papel.’”

Salazar’s La Nacha article describes his paying an American addict, he called “Hypo,” $15 to introduce him to the Border Dope Queen. La Nacha was living in a nice house in Bellavista, a rough area of Juarez. Altogether, the pair made two purchases from her in one week.

After entering her house during the first visit and meeting La Nacha’s son and daughter, they are told Salazar must meet and be personally approved by La Nacha before he can make a purchase.

He describes La Nacha as “fat, dark, cynical and around 60” (she was 55 years old).

Hypo introduces Salazar as an El Paso musician interested in a narcotic connection. When La Nacha notices there are no needle marks on Salazar’s arm, Hypo deflects the concern with the explanation that Salazar prefers to snort heroin. The ruse is successful. Their second visit to purchase heroin from La Nacha lasts only a minute.

Later, Hypo overdoses at home from the heroin purchased during their first visit.

When published, the article was accompanied by two photographs. One was a mug shot from La Nacha’s arrest at the beginning of World War II, the second photo was of the street where she lived.

Not shown was an additional photograph Salazar had wanted to include.

In a 2008 Newspaper Tree article Ken Flynn, a veteran reporter who had worked at the El Paso Herald-Post several years after Salazar moved to Los Angeles, discusses having had the opportunity to meet and become friends with Salazar. Flynn describes Ruben Salazar as a reporter of lore and legend in the newsroom from his days of beating the pavement for the Herald-Post.

One particular memory was Salazar’s enjoyment in recounting the episode of the photograph not used for the La Nacha article. Flynn writes:

“I still remember chuckling over his description of the look on Herald-Post Editor Ed Pooley’s face when Ruben presented the boss with a package of marijuana he had obtained from La Nacha, the famed Juarez drug queen who controlled the narcotics trade in Juarez in the 50s, sort of a one-woman cartel. He had wanted the Post photographer to take a picture of the weed to illustrate a story he was writing…

“Pooley, of course, became unglued, grabbed the package of marijuana and flushed it down the commode in his office.”

It appears from Salazar’s article that both purchases he made from La Nacha were heroin, not marihuana. The explanation for the confusion most likely is due to the time that passed from first hearing the stories in the late 50’s and early 60’s and the shift from heroin to marihuana as the main drug moving through El Paso and Juarez.

This episode illustrates both the drive Salazar felt to build a complete story and his naiveté as a novice reporter. It is easy to sense the horror the Herald-Post’s editor must have experienced when he saw the heroin. If the photograph had been run on the front page, with the accompanying story, federal officials would have arrested Salazar for both possession and transporting the heroin over the international boundary. Neither Salazar nor the newspaper would have fared well.

Salazar was not the first journalist to cover La Nacha and drug dealing on the El Paso-Juarez border. Numerous articles over the preceding decades had reported her trafficking, including incidences of her dealing out of her jail cell. But La Nacha had always denied to the press that she sold narcotics, instead claiming she was a legitimate business woman with a ranch and stores.

So Salazar, despite personal risk, visited and purchased directly from La Nacha. He removed the opportunity for a denial. Ruben Salazar witnessed and documented La Nacha’s sale of heroin by purchasing it directly from her hand. 

Photo of Texas Sen. Price Daniel  (L) and Harry J. Anslinger (R), Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in May of 1956. They were congratulating each other on the passage of a bill allowing juries to hand down a "Death Sentence" for a third conviction for sale and smuggling of narcotics, which was a result of the Price Daniel hearings. (Courtesy of Bob Chessey) 

 

Testifying December 1955


Mr. Avant (Agent in charge, Bureau of Customs, El Paso): Yes sir, we have shooting galleries, well known.

Senator Daniel: Well-known shooting galleries at Juarez?

Mr. Avant: Yes, sir.

Senator Daniel: What do you mean by shooting galleries?

Mr. Avant: Where you can go in for a nominal fee—get your shot of heroin.

Senator Daniel: Can you identify these places? Do you know where they are located?

Mr. Avant: Not personally but less than six weeks ago a big article appeared in the local paper where a reporter went over, made several placExchange during testimony in the Price Daniel hearings regarding Ruben Salazar’s August, 1955 El Paso Herald-Post article describing his purchases of heroin from “La Nacha.”

Senator Daniel: La Nacha, who is La Nacha?

Mr. Avant: I don’t know, I couldn’t give it to you.

Senator DanielIs she a dope peddler?

Mr. Avant: Notorious.

The year 1955 found both the U.S. House and Senate sending committees across the United States investigating narcotics and their abuse in the post-war U.S. Senator Price Daniel (D-TX) was Chairman of the Sub-Committee on Improvements in the Federal Criminal Code investigating the rise of heroin use and addiction.

A front page article in the December 13, 1955 El Paso Herald-Post boasts: “Herald-Post man called to testify on Juarez Dope: Senator Daniel asks reporter to tell how he bought narcotics from “La Nacha.”

The Herald-Post man was Ruben Salazar.

The article reports “Ruben Salazar, Herald-Post reporter, was called today to testify tomorrow before Senator Price Daniel’s Senate Judiciary Subcommittee which has scheduled a narcotics hearing in San Antonio…Salazar was called to tell how he bought narcotics from Juarez dope queen Ignacia ‘La Nacha” Jasso…Lee Speer, chief investigator for the committee, said he wants to question Salazar about how easily dope can be bought in Juarez…Chief W. E. Naylor of the State Narcotics Bureau, was in El Paso recently and conferred with Salazar.”

Early in Salazar’s testimony Senator Daniel recognized his investigative reporting, “Mr. Salazar, we had the privilege of reading an article you wrote in August of this year, concerning the narcotic traffic from Juarez into El Paso and especially some of the operators in the traffic that caused us to contact you to see what other information you could give us.”

Despite the claims of the Herald-Post and Sen. Daniel, the committee had not called on nor contacted Ruben Salazar to testify. Records for the Price Daniel committee at the National Archives in Maryland instead show the El Paso Herald-Post contacted the committee to request that Salazar testify.

Any initial reservations Lee Speer, on loan to the committee from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics to serve as chief investigator, may have seemed eroded by Dec. 9 when his report states “The newspaperman at El Paso seems to be working out very well.”

The reason for Speer’s optimism was both Salazar’s first-hand information regarding narcotics in Juarez and a document he committed to bring.

The September before the hearings Salazar began researching where heroin could be purchased in Juarez, and preparing a map with those addresses. Most of the locations were in Bellavista, La Nacha’s neighborhood. Salazar’s testimony refers to Bellavista as a “slum area” which is “very close to the river.”

In addition to La Nacha’s home, Salazar identified 14 other locations where heroin was sold. During testimony he referred to these places as picaderos, or shooting galleries, though committee transcripts identifies only four of them as actual shooting galleries. Of the other 10 locations one sold heroin, the rest sold marihuana.

To verify his information was current, Salazar returned to Juarez a week before his San Antonio testimony to discover, “I couldn’t find a shooting gallery open. It is very hard now, it seems, for an addict to go to Juarez and get a shot in a place.”

Though the price of heroin had not increased following Salazar’s article it was no longer possible to find “papers” of heroin selling for less than $10.

Responding to Sen. Daniel’s question if there are places one could still purchase heroin Salazar answered, “Oh, yes, sir,” naming a business run by La Nacha’s son and daughter, the Baños Jordan bath house. He identified her son as Natividad Jasso but did not give the daughter’s name.

Due to fears of arrest since Salazar’s article, it was now impossible to purchase heroin directly from La Nacha or her family. Addicts had to locate a “pusher” known to La Nacha’s family who would take the money, leave, make the purchase from the Jasso clan, return and then hand the heroin to the addict.

Salazar explained how being known to La Nacha’s daughter and her brother Natividad, who had been present in August when he bought heroin at their mother’s house, he was not able to make another heroin purchase himself. To circumvent this Salazar had an informant from El Paso, a woman addicted to heroin who had turned to prostitution to afford her habit, make two more purchases for him.

Twice the informant attempted to purchase heroin directly from the Baños Jordan and each time had to use the “pusher” known to the Jasso family.

Sen. Daniel steered questioning to La Nacha, asking if she still personally sold heroin.
Salazar informed the committee his informant had also gone to La Nacha’s home to make a purchase but La Nacha told her she longer sold heroin from her house; Salazar believed the claim to be accurate.

Daniels inquired if La Nacha had “any aid from the officials” in the Mexican government. Salazar explained amparos, an injunction against arrest issued by a court in the Mexican legal system. Salazar followed with, “This I cannot prove but I understand at one time she could buy this protection from federal judges.”

Salazar added he met with the then Juarez District Attorney, Humberto Poncinon Solaranzo, the day before his testimony and had been informed La Nacha had not received any amparos during the year and a half he had held office.

Solaranzo asked Salazar to deliver a message to the Daniel’s committee, Solaranzo had been ordered by the President of Mexico to “investigate the narcotic situation in Juarez.”

The committee also learned that following publication of Salazar’s article the Juarez Chief of Police, Pablo Cano Martinez, claimed “as far as he knew La Nacha did not sell dope anymore.”

Since making the statement Martinez had been fired, though Salazar did not know if the firing was due to his article or a change in government in Mexico.

Though Ruben Salazar and La Nacha had but one brief face-to-face meeting; the results of that encounter reverberated in the halls of their respective federal governments.

Neither La Nacha nor Ruben Salazar lost ground due to their sole confrontation.

La Nacha continued trafficking in Juarez for almost 20 more years, surviving by the adaptability demonstrated in the fallout of Salazar’s article.


DD. Notes on Ruben Salazar; 
 Ruben Salazar built upon his journalistic achievements to become a noted and influential reporter in both print and broadcast media in Viet Nam, Mexico City and finally the streets of Los Angeles.

Salazar was born in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico in 1928. He later moved across the river to El Paso, Texas. After high school, he served in the U.S. Army for two years. Salazar attended the Texas Western College, graduating in 1954 with a degree in journalism.
  Salazar was a news reporter and columnist for the Los Angeles Times from 1959 to 1970.[4] He served as a foreign correspondent in his early years at the Times, covering the 1965 United States occupation of the Dominican Republic, the Vietnam War, and the Tlatelolco massacre (the latter while serving as the Times' bureau chief in Mexico City).
 In January 1970, Salazar left the Times to serve as the news director for the Spanish language television station KMEX in Los Angeles.   On August 29, 1970, he was covering the National Chicano Moratorium March, organized to protest the Vietnam War, in which a disproportionate number of Chicanos served and were killed.
 The L.A. Times columnist was resting in the Silver Dollar Bar after the Vietnam War protest became violent. According to a witness, "Ruben Salazar had just sat down to sip a quiet beer at the bar, away from the madness in the street, when a deputy --ignoring the pleas of a woman outside who begged him not to shoot-- fired a tear gas projectile" at a crowd which went into the interior of the bar, hitting Salazar in the head and killing him instantly.
The sheriff’s deputy fired a 10-inch wall-piercing type of tear gas round (for use in barricaded situations) from a tear gas gun, rather than the type of tear gas round designed to be fired directly at people (which produces a plume of tear gas smoke).  A coroner's inquest ruled the shooting a homicide, but Tom Wilson, the sheriff's deputy involved, was never prosecuted. At the time, many believed the homicide was a premeditated assassination of a prominent, vocal member of the Los Angeles Chicano community.

Notes about the author of this story Bob Chessey;
 Bob Chessey was born near El Paso. He returned to the city in 2006 after 24 years of self-imposed exile and for the past several years he has been researching the history of drug use and smuggling along the U.S.-Mexico border.
His dad was a DEA agent in El Paso, and his life  is a good read in of itself.  Much of it is covered in the book "The Drug War Zone".  Chapter 42 is titled Rearcher Robert Chessey on Border Life, Law Enforcement, and La Nacha"

(Thanks to Chivis and Bjeff for some of the information on the 2 journalist)

18 comments:

  1. Cae el ingeniero! Pa todos los putines que decían que el CAF está muy pesado y que va resurgir. A la fregada con esas mamadas!

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  2. My hats go off to you BB reporters for this very informative article on the works of this distinguished journalist Rueben Salazar. I'm familiar with the Chicano(Mexican-Americans) protest in 1970 L..A. in which, Mr. Salazar was murdered and men, women, and children were violently assaulted by the L.A. County Sheriff's dept. I do believe Mr. Salazarwas prpremeditatedly murdered. After reading this article, I think he was stepping on to many toes, in more ways than one, and it convenienced some to people to shut him up. Sort of like Gary Cooper and Kike Camarena. BB keep on educating your readers.

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  3. uy calmate ke loco.. "ala fregada" pff idiota. y esta vieja si se parece a claudia ochoa de donde mea, todas las viejas se parecen de donde mean jajajaa

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  4. Deep Roots of Juaritos and Chuco Town

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    Replies
    1. Calm down wannabe with your chicas town!

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  5. El Macacos brother died in confrontation with Military and you guys post this? All northern Sinaloa is gonna be on high alert at least all police and military convoys." El Macaco" leader of sicarios for Chapo Isidro. Macaco was the one who killed that military in guasave as they tried to stop him. He was also the one who helped" el 100" ambush and kill 7 police in tetamboca

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  6. 6:02 el macaco's story will make it in, BB always posts all the worthiest news, as soon as possible, no need to be amazed by the timeliness of the posting of your personal favorites, my friend...
    --german valdez, tin-tan, went to cuba and appeared on stage with a dancer named CARMEN GUERRA, who was santito trafficante's cuban girlfriend and a beautiful woman, said to have gone to colombia after the cuban revolution...
    --which brings to mind accusations that el chavo del ocho had ties to colombia's Pable Escobar, and tin-tan's brother, don ramon, and which may explain the cozy relationship of not funny at all el loco valdez to televisa, and veronica castro's long lasting career, and her family's ties to uruguay and many other things, if properly explored...
    --

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  7. ps, see youtube, tin-tan singing piel canela en la habana, carmen guerra is the most beautiful woman dancing around him, a bit thick for today's tastes, but a beautiful cuban woman for the ages, i'm grateful for her image and beautiful face...

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  8. If you want to read about the death of 'Chichi' Higuera and the Chapito Isidro cell taken out by a military sweep, it's on the forum.

    http://borderland-beat-forum.924382.n3.nabble.com/Clash-between-Army-and-Chapito-Isidro-s-people-in-Guasave-Sinaloa-td4073069.html

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  9. If you like this read, I have some suggestions. After La Nacha, Lee and Jimmy Chagra took over with a boom. Lee was a big criminal defense attorney. They were big wholesale brokers of herion. Amarillo Slim and Doyle Brunson had a third road partner in their poker crew. Lee was a gambler and they had him as an easy mark. The third partner, I forgot his name set a junkie uo to rob Lee and he botched it and killed him. Jimmy took over and in the late 70s he was worried that "Hanging John" Federal Judge John Wood, was going to give him life so he hired Charles Herrelson to kill Judge Wood. Woody Herrleson is his estranged son, the bartender on Cheers. The next in the evolution of the juarez Cartel was Pablo Acosta Villarreal (El Padrino} who reigned in the 80s. "Drug Lord" by Terrence Poppa is a very good account and this book brings in how Amado Carrillo to over. Next, read "Down by the River" by Bowden tells the development of and prgression during Amado's time, the 90s. Another closely association read is "The Killing Fields; Harvest of Women." Thes reads will give you a true understanding of how deeply seeded the Juarez Cartel is and a better understanding of the cultures of juarez and El Paso. I am 60. I have been clean 25 year but I new players in all these decades. I even went to one of La Nacha's shooting galleries. Funny thing, all you needed to pass through the door was 10 dollars and no alcohol on your breeth. they didn't want you to OD. I have been clean 25 years and have too masters degrees now. All that was a lifetime ago but is part of who I am.

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  10. Fascinating story. Didn't she die of natural causes? Women have taken over their dead husbands drug dealing since the 1920's. And,from what I've read the didn't use violence. Unlike the the Queen of the Pacific.

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  11. Look at this La Nacha. Are tamales really a good thing?

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  12. June 24, 2014 at 6:02 PM
    Good post dude,appreciate the heads up.Is revenge on the cards over this.
    Are they trying to take Isidro,He lost many of his guys

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  13. Great god! It look like she ate her rivals lol!

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  14. the CHAGRA brothers were like international drug trafficking pioneers, but what is not mentioned is that they were arab harbanos of lebenese mofioso carlos slim helu, and that in the seventies the DFS was taking down liga comunista 23 de septiembre all over the state of chihuahua, all the while, setting up the olympic sized drug trafficking, with DFS charolas for the traffickers, among them, amado carrillo fuentes.
    --the mafia sirio-libanesa has a long tradition in mexico, they have never been mexicans except for utilitary purposes, and always about making money for themselves as a brotherhood, the harbanos "bueno, bonito y barato" has turned into cheap chafa y bien caro, parral chih. the home state of carlos slim helu's wife and her family is teeming with drug traffickers too, wonder why...

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  15. Queen of what?? Burritos??

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  16. Very interesting posts and comments!

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  17. All of a sudden, demise comes to a great many earthlings every day, ever second of the day, for an assortment of reasons. Individuals bite the dust in normal fiascos and additionally in war, we see this in the media, the daily papers, TV, radio, in all types of reporting, it comes to us every day. Rich and poor alike must face this at some point or another. In the Army I saw individuals bite the dust, and now being more seasoned, a large portion of my friends and family are dead, the more seasoned I get the more passing I witness out and about of life, yes, around me demise is jumbling. Read More...

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