[ Subject Matter: When the boom started in Sinaloa opium and heroin production
Recommendation: No prior knowledge of subject matter required]
|Modern day Mexican Gomero|
Our story starts at the time of prohibition: Although conceived to reduce alcoholism , promote family unity and curb absenteeism, Prohibition had unintended consequences. The production of Bathtub gin and the proliferation of speakeasies, clandestine watering holes, became a plague. Organized crime moved in, sensing an opportunity in the illegal but popular enterprise.
Chicagos Al Capone and his nemesis George Buggs Moran made fortunes through bootlegging at the same time as ax-waving G-Men smashed stills and invaded warehouses across the country. "When I sell liquor, its bootlegging. When my patrons serve it on a silver tray on Lakeshore Drive, its hospitality", groaned the Windy city's top scofflaw. As one American commentator noted:"When we erected an artificial barrier between alcohol producers and consumers in the 1920's, we created a bonanza more lucrative than the gold rush.
Staggering profits from illegal booze gave mobsters financial power to take over legitimate businesses and expand into casinos, loan sharking labour racketeering, and extortion. Thus we created the major crime syndicates- and the US murder rate jumped ten fold.( Otis: this one paragraph explains in a nutshell, the entire drug trafficking problem and its solution).
At around this time the USA approved the Harrison Narcotics act of 1914, aimed at controlling opium consumption, was a sort of founding reason to expand American official perceptions and laws on drugs world wide. At that time the Mexican revolution was taking place. Revolutionary leaders were more interested in Political survival than in controlling opium trafficking which was of, not an important concern for them, Prohibition on the US side of the border and legal commerce on the other side created the conditions for drug trafficking.
The sharp increase in smuggling, violent crime, and evasion spurred repeal of what President Herbert Hoover, who opposed prohibition, called "a noble experiment" in 1933, the year that he handed over the white house to Democrat Franklyn D Roosevelt amid the great depression.
In Mexico Brothels and bars abounded, especially in Ciudad Juarez, where for the first three decades of the twentieth century, the "big three" underground industries were gun running ( north to south), prostitution, North to South, and liquor smuggling, South to North.
Drug peddling dated from at least 1906 when the great San Francisco earthquake uprooted numerous Chinese immigrants and they relocated to Ciudad Juarez, with opium peddler Sam Hing becoming the first drug lord of the region.
The Chinese were succeeded by a couple, Ignacia "La Nacha" Jasso and her husband Pablo "El Pablote" Gonzalez, who headed the first local cartel, according to a city historian. In addition to selling Marijuana in Ciudad Juarez, La Nacha and her organization marketed it throughout the South West California, then a Mexican territory, not only slapped tariffs on the Chinese who shipped opium from Sinaloa via Tijuana to San Francisco, they also got rich from the promotion of gambling, prostitution and the manufacture, sale and export of alcoholic beverages.
|Ignacia Jasso Gonzalez "La Nacha"|
Operating at this time on the west coast, most of the trafficking in illicit drugs was taking place through Mexicali and Tijuana, in the territory of Baja California, governed by Colonel Esteban Cantu, suspected by the American authorities of controlling opium trafficking. He was suspected of selling on through his family in the USA what he was confiscating from drug traffickers.
Poppy culture existed in Mexico from at least 1886, in the North Western state of Sinaloa. On January 19th 1917, congressman of Coahuila Dr Jose Maria Rodriguez proposed an amendment to the fraction XVI of article 73 of the Constitution, which gave powers to the Congress to dictate laws on citizenship, naturalization, colonisation, emigration and immigration, and general health in the country.
Among the reasons for the amendment was the concern about alcoholism and "selling of substances which poison the individual and degenerate the Mexican race. He named opium, morphine, ether, cocaine, and marijuana. The purpose was to stop the abuse in the commerce of these substances so noxious to health, to interrupt their immoderate or non medical use.
According to him, immorality had increased because of the lack of official control of those drugs. In discussions about the pertinence of the amendment, disease and alcoholism were the main concern of other congressman, Rodriguez was the only one to mention drugs. The amendment was approved.
Marijuana culture and commercialisation were prohibited in Mexico in 1920, poppy growing in 1926. According to Mexican officials an argument for this was the "race degeneration" provoked by these and other drugs, such as cocaine. Drug use and abuse in Mexico was not a widespread phenomenon and the number of people concerned were far from the figures north of the border.
Marijuana use was generally related to soldiers, criminals and poor people, opium smoking to Chinese minorities, and morphine, heroin and cocaine to artists, middle class and bourgeois degenerated individuals. Drug traffickers main business was north of the border.
In the thirties, marijuana production could already be counted in tonnes in states like Puebla, Guerrero and Tlaxcala and some of the alleged owners of crops in Mexico City, such as "Lola La Chata", were suspected of being protected by high ranking members of the anti narcotics police.
|Lola La Chata|
At the same time, drug traffickers from the north western region were making fortunes out of opium smuggling, developing their routes through Nogales, Mexicali, Tijuana, and Ciudad Juarez.
In Coahuila, according to the investigation report sent by Special Agent Juan Requena to the Mexican Department of Public Health, the most important opium trafficker, the Chinese Antonio Wong Yin, was a compadre of Governor Nazario Ortiz Garza.
Sinaloa and the Gomeros
For many reasons, the state of Sinaloa has become a paradigmatic case in the study of drug trafficking in Mexico. Articulated since the end of the nineteenth century to the economy of California and Arizona in the USA, the opium produced in the state followed the same route as certain agricultural products that were exported via the Pacific railroad.
Chinese immigrants and local producers and traders, mostly but not exclusively from the mountains of Badiraguato transported their merchandise to the border cities of Nogales, Mexicali and Tijuana. Criminals by law, they were merchants, some of the from wealthy families, peasants, adventurers and middle class people, living in cities and towns where everybody knew each other who decided to get rich quick, to capitalise their legal businesses.
Those who persisted and specialised in drug trafficking, those who became professionals were mostly people from the mountains where the poppy fields bloomed. They created dynasties, transmitted their know how to successive generations and managed to succeed in founding a source of permanent drug trafficking leaders to manage the business nation wide.
In the long term, they have been leading the most important drug trafficking groups since the beginning of prohibition, the power of these groups has not followed the 6 year political cycles, and they haven't shown an interest in organizing themselves in politics, as did Carlos Lehder and Pablo Escobar in Colombia.
In rural areas with few people in the villages it was very easy to know who cultivated illegal plants.. They needed legal cultures to survive and illegal ones to lead a better life. An important and interesting reason to accept the coexistence with traffickers was the absence of drug use and abuse, specially opium and its derivatives. They produced for the market abroad, not for local consumption, except perhaps for marijuana.
Another reason was the level of violence. In small towns, it was more difficult although not impossible, to resort to violence because almost all the inhabitants were related. There was room for everyone in the drug business so it was not necessary to fight to the death to get a share of the market.
World War II
During WWII, the United States formally pressed Mexico to control illegal narcotics traffic. A dispatch from AA Berle Jr, acting on behalf of Secretary of State Cordell Hull, to the US Ambassador in Mexico City, typified this stance. "Both the Treasury Department and this Department regard the illicit production of opium poppies in Mexico and the recent trend toward increased production as a menace to the health of our people".
"It would appear that Mexico, replacing the far east, from which supplies are no longer available, is fast becoming the principal source of opium illicitly entering the United States". Nonetheless, Japan's occupation of poppy growing regions in Asia combined with Turkeys alliance with the Axis power forced Washington to informally seek an alternative source of opium, with which to produce morphine during WWII.
"We are concerned that our supply of opium or morphine would be cut off because the world was at war. So we needed a supply close by. But, that was one of the black box things. Who knows when it happened, who did it, and why", said Edward Heath, who later headed the DEA in Mexico for ten years.
"To supplant Middle East supplies, the United States reached a secret accord with Mexico to open up its uncultivated areas in the Western Sierra Madre to poppy cultivation. The Sinaloan mountains were crowded with unofficial instructors from both countries who taught the local population to grow poppy. The poppy flourished and prosperity reached the lost people of the mountains thanks to its golden brilliance.
In this period of officially tolerated opium trade, many Sinaloans made their fortunes. "Everybody was growing it, it was institutional. Some Government officials bought the harvest from the farmers to export themselves. There were even soldiers up in the hills caring for the plants," explained Dr. Ley Dominguez, a 77 year old life long resident of Mocorito, one of Sinaloa's most notorious poppy producing regions. Mexico became a source of morphine for the legal and illegal markets. The war also created a high demand for hemp fibre for rope, which led to large scale cultivation of marijuana in both Mexico and the United States.
Once the Allies won, the U.S. resumed importing superior opium for medical purposes from Asia and the Middle East. But many Mexican farmers continued to produce opium and heroin; operations became sub rosa, and smuggling networks materialized to satisfy what historian Hector Aguilar Camin termed, " the insatiable North American nose". Mexico remained a source of narcotics, with a taste for, if not full blown addiction to drugs.
Enrique Diarte dominated the opium trade in Tijuana and Mexicali until Max Cossman reportedly ordered his execution in 1944. Known as the "king of opium", Cossman forged links to Mickey Cohen of the old Al Capone gang. Fellow American Benjamin Bugsy Siegel, who launched the development of Las Vegas and was linked to Charles Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky mobs, and his girlfriend Virginia Hill, connived with local politicians to grow poppy in Mexico's North West.
After the Axis power surrendered, the U.S. no longer needed Sinaloa's opium. Washington once again began to twist the arm of Mexican Policymakers to curb the export of illegal substances.
A Political scandal of unknown proportions exploded in 1947 when General Pablo Macias Valenzuela, ex Secretary of war and Navy and Governor of the State of Sinaloa, was suspected of leading a drug trafficking ring or protecting the opium traffickers. The information was published by National newspapers such as Excelsior and El Universal.
|General Pablo Macias Valenzuela|
According to Jesus Lazcano Ochoa, Attorney General of Sinaloa in Valenzuelas Government, the governor had never seen opium in life until he showed him some samples seized from traffickers. The Attorney General added that the accusations were inventions of his political enemies who also suspected him of having masterminded the assassination of his predecessor, Colonel Rodolfo T Loaiza, from the Lazaro Cardenas group.
The scandal cooled off after a private meeting with president Miguel Aleman, the governor finished his term and became Commander of the 1st Military Zone, it was the first time that the drug trafficking issue was used publicly and politically by one power elite group over another.
On one hand the drug business grew very quickly during the war years and did not stop in its aftermath.
Lola La Chata "Snub-nose Lola"(Maria Dolores Estevez Zuelta)
By the end of the 1930's Lola la Chata's activities came to the attention of the Governments of the USA and Mexico as one of those most responsible for the growth of the drug trade in Mexico City. Her network extended from that city in the United States and even Canada, constructed from family and romantic connections, the only ones available to women at that time period.
|Boy selling marijuana bundles Mexico City 1930|
She married a former cop named Enrique Jaramillo and converted a mechanics shop in Pachuca into a distribution centre. Her marriage gave her contacts in the police and the political class, which provided her information and a means of money laundering. Another of her known accomplices was Enrique Esucdero Romano. Her relationship with him and other men allowed her to continue expanding her business beyond Mexico City.
Jamarillo was her principal point person in Mexico City and Esucdero helped her maintain her contacts and laboratories outside of the City.
Despite her widely acknowledged ties to those in power, police, and Government officials arrested and imprisoned Lola La Chata seven times from 1934 to 1945. Whether in Lecumberri, Carcel de mujeres, or Islas Marias, she endured her prison terms in style. She maintained her own servants in prison, and a woman came once a month to do her hair.
|Isla Maria Madre|
Like Colombias late century drug lord Pablo Escobar, she hosted numerous visitors to the prison, many of whom asked for favours, she offered advice, assistance, and helped those in need. As did other prisoners in the penal colony Islas Marias, La Chata received conjugal visits, and her daughters spent extended periods of time with her. Differing from her fellow prisoners, however, she was reputed to have built a hotel and an airplane runway to make her children's visits easy and comfortable.
|The prison modern day on Islas Marias|
"This, I must tell you for your own satisfaction, has not diminished my admiration for you. I consider you to be a perfect product of our time. For you, a drug addict is merely a good customer and nothing more. For me, he is an unhappy person dragged in the dust by civilisation".
"As it is, you as a drug dealer have had better luck than those of us entrusted with incorporating the addicts into active, social, and living people. You have accomplished a marvel, and this is a real compliment to your talent and ability, of knowing how to maintain position and gaining always the goodwill of the whole police force".
"You are a dispenser of graft, a national emblem. No one every resists your bribes which, according to what I am told is very grand indeed. One thing is surely clear, you, old in the custom know how the business can produce even if sometimes the demands are heavy and excessive, with a little more bicarbonate in the heroin and a little more pressure on the client, you are able to make ends meet".
In addition to your business ability, you have a very acute sense of psychology, you know the "when", the "how' and the "how much" of the bribe to be given; you know how to tell if the person involved has his teeth sharpened."
In 1957 Lola la Chata was arrested for the last time, she was arrested at home processing Heroin, she had eluded Police capture since 1955 and was arrested with her cohort Luis Oaxaca Jaramillo and ten servants described as her agents.
In an interview with the press while in Jail, she made one statement:
"Yes, I'll talk, but first question all the Police agencies......
All they wanted to do was arrest me and get me out of the way. However don't implicate any more innocent people. I am the only responsible one for the narcotics traffic and business that I established."
Accepting the responsibility, she made a strategic, if not honourable, move, disassociating her deputies and agents from the crime and thus protecting the men who's responsibility it was to protect her. In this way La Chata challenged bourgeois concepts of the Patriachal family, in which men dominated and protected the women.
Found guilty and sent back to Carcel de Mujeres, she died in September of 1959 of coronary failure. Despite her criminal record, an estimated 500 people attended her funeral, over one third of them Police officers.
The headlines in the edition of La Prensa states " the end of drug trafficking in Mexico", such was the importance she was deemed to hold in the business.
|Headline" the end of drug trafficking in Mexico", about the arrest of Lola La Chata|
Article written with material from George Grayson RIP, Luis Astorga, and Elaine Carey and images from google.