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

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Cartels Next Door (fifth in a 6 part series): Despite cartel ban on local sales, Juárez meth use surges

Posted by DD republished from Albuquerque Journal
Thanks to BB reader Judeg99 for the heads-up on this story

Previous in 6 part series;
Part One: Cartels' Roots Run Deep in N.M.
Part Two;  Far from dead, Juárez Cartel flexes its muscles
Part Three:  ‘Mayor of Mexico’ ran a slick operation
Part Four;   Mexican drug lords corner meth market

By Lauren Villagran** / Journal Staff Writer - Las Cruces Bureau

A recovering meth addict, 26-year-old Alfredo, lights a marijuana pipe during an interview in Ciudad Juárez. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)
  One addict says it’s 100 times better than heroin or cocaine. He’s talking about the methamphetamine that Mexican cartels provide to U.S. users in huge quantities but have tried to ban in Juárez. Dealers were even warned recently that anyone trafficking in meth locally would be killed in a “cleansing.” Even so, meth use has surged in Juárez, wreaking the same destruction on users there that it does in the U.S.

Fifth In A Series

CIUDAD JUÁREZ – For the longest time, meth was “forbidden” on the streets of this gritty metropolis.

Two recovering addicts walk back to their sleeping quarters at the Volver a Vivir recovery center in Ciudad Juárez. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)
When people say “forbidden,” they don’t mean by law, although methamphetamine is as illegal in Mexico as it is in the U.S. What they mean is forbidden by the cartels

But there is so much meth now flooding this border region that the drug has begun leaking into the local market, hooking addicts from poor barrios to well-off neighborhoods and sparking friction between the Sinaloa Cartel – a major meth producer – and the Juárez Cartel, which preferred until recently to push heroin, cocaine and marijuana.

An adult recovering methamphetamine addict fixes his bed in the crowded sleeping quarters at the Volver a Vivir recovery center. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)
Both cartels use Ciudad Juárez as a gateway to the lucrative U.S. drug market, and the city has fallen victim to a trend as old as the existence of borders between nations.

“If you look back in history, anytime there is contraband transited through an area, eventually people along the route start using the product,” said Will Glaspy, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s El Paso field office, which covers New Mexico. “It also goes to show if there is methamphetamine on the street in CJ, it’s coming through here in pound quantities.”

Drug seizure statistics show it’s coming by the hundreds of pounds locally and tens of thousands of pounds borderwide.

Meth busts in New Mexico and West Texas by the DEA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection have surged.

DEA’s El Paso field office saw methamphetamine seizures rise more than 500 percent in five years to 1,389 pounds in fiscal 2016 from 227 pounds in fiscal 2015. CBP reported a similar exponential increase in meth seizures at ports of entry over three years, to 1,358 pounds in fiscal 2016 from 271 pounds in fiscal 2014.

Borderwide, methamphetamine seizures by law enforcement at all levels have more than doubled in five years, to more than 38,000 pounds in fiscal 2015, the latest year for which data is available from the National Seizure System.

A highly addictive poison in liquid or crystal form, meth fueled a spike in violence in 2016 in Juárez like the city hadn’t seen since the end of a bloody drug war four years ago.

‘Better than coke’

A 26-year-old man wearing a puffy Denver Broncos jacket, sweat pants and fuzzy slippers shuffled to open the door to a design business that he runs with two young women in a tidy, middle-class neighborhood. He asks to be quoted as “Alfredo,” his middle name, to protect him from the secrets he is about to share.

A counseling session at a substance abuse recovery center in Ciudad Juárez. The majority of the teens living in the center were using methamphetamine. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)
Alfredo is a former hard-core meth addict, still an occasional user – one of the city’s early addicts to a drug that took hold locally only in the past few years. He began using in 2009 when the drug war was raging and the Sinaloa Cartel was fighting for control of drug routes into the U.S.

“Crystal meth back then wasn’t very well-known, when the narcotrafficking war was at its worst,” he said. “It was extremely dangerous to use because it wasn’t a drug that the cartels permitted here.

“Meth is forbidden again,” he says, using the word prohibido, prohibited or forbidden. “Prohibido means that the cartels in Juárez don’t permit it to be sold. Meth hooks people; it’s cheap; there is a lot of it.”

The Sinaloa Cartel is said to have control over drug routes through the southeast side of Juárez and the generally lawless area that is the Valle de Juárez south of the border, east of El Paso. That is where meth sales are the strongest locally, where addiction is at its worst, but it appears to be growing across the city.

The Juárez Cartel, and its enforcement arm, La Línea, are said to control the heart of the metropolitan area, from the middle-class neighborhoods around a private golf course and high-end shopping malls, through the city’s main thoroughfares to the border, to the slums of Anapra on the city’s western outskirts that lie south of the New Mexico border.

Mexican authorities attribute the rise in violence last year – murders topped 500 for the first time since 2012 in a city of 1.3 million – to the Juárez Cartel’s fight to keep meth out of its market. Murders at the height of the drug war surpassed 3,000 in a single year, 2010.

“The spike in homicides has to do with local drug trafficking,” said Jorge Nava López, the Chihuahua state government’s top prosecutor in Ciudad Juárez. “The people who normally sell marijuana and cocaine are against any synthetic drugs coming into the market, so that is why there is a fight among the people who control retail drug sales in Ciudad Juárez.”

Mexico’s major meth labs are in Mexico City and the states of Sinaloa and Sonora, Nava López said.

There is more evidence of how “forbidden” meth was in Juárez until recently, how tightly the Juárez Cartel and La Línea controlled the heart of the local market, and how lucrative drug sales are in this border town:

“Intelligence sources tell us that, given the difficulty of getting the product into Chihuahua, (the Sinaloa Cartel) was producing meth in Sonora, crossing it into the U.S., taking I-10 and crossing it back into Ciudad Juárez from El Paso because of the organized crime groups working in Ciudad Juárez,” Nava López said.

That’s more or less what Alfredo knows to be true, from his street-level view.

“That’s why there has been violence,” he said. “Because if crystal meth comes in, it will beat all the other drugs. It’s 100 times better than coke. It’s 100 times better than crack. It’s 100 times better than heroin. And it cuts your expenses.”

“With a 50-peso dose,” about $2, he said, “you are good for two or three days. So it’s not convenient for La Línea, which manages heroin sales here. If they lose a heroin client to meth, that client is lost to them.”

But what is also clear is that some criminal factions within or associated with the Juárez Cartel and La Línea had another idea: If you can’t beat them, join them. They began to sell meth in the heart of the city, intensifying the conflict.

Dire warning

A couple of months ago, a text message arrived to an unknown number of cellphones in the city with the typical elements of a cartel threat. A lanky small-time drug dealer in his 30s was one of the ones who received it.

“It said that that day, after 11 p.m., there was going to be a limpia” – a cleansing, said the man, who gave only his first name, Saxon. “That whatever car, motorcycle, person walking on the street, all the meth heads and meth dealers were going to be killed. All of us involved in this, drug dealing, we’re all connected. From the moment I buy from one guy and sell to someone else, we’ve made a link. That’s how the messages get to us. It was a warning.”

Saxon cut a dark figure, wearing all black, as he rolled a joint at a friend’s house.

He grew up in Ciudad Juárez, he said, and used to work as a mechanic making about 1,200 pesos a week, or about $56. He had been using marijuana and cocaine since his early 20s and discovered he could make up to 3,000 pesos a day – $140 – delivering drug orders on his motorcycle.

He sold pot, pills, acid, mushrooms – but not meth. He and the dealer he worked for knew it was “prohibited to sell crystal unless you are part of the cartel.” Which cartel, he wasn’t sure, but he knew he was too low-level to play in that dangerous market.

“It’s hitting all social classes, from fresas” – well-off people are known as “strawberries” in Mexican slang – “down to the very poor. People with prestige – doctors, government ministers – consume crystal.”

Toughest clients

Down a dirt road in the middle of a busy neighborhood is a white building, framed with barbed wire and barred windows, emblazoned with the words “Volver a Vivir” in gold. The “Live Again” residential rehabilitation center treats addicts with the means to pay $28 a week – roughly the salary of a maquila factory worker – plus a $70 inscription fee for a six-week treatment.

Eighty percent of the 35 or so men interned in mid-December were struggling with meth abuse, according to Miguel Angel Miranda Reyes, the center’s director. Behind his desk, framed certificates covered the wall and a crown of thorns hung on a nail.

“About 10 years ago, the drug with the biggest impact was cocaine,” he said. “Today it’s crystal meth. Crystal meth is the drug that is taking off here, especially among young people 16, 17, 18 years old.”

Miranda Reyes gave a tour: humble dormitories crowded with bunk beds, a courtyard for recreation, a small kitchen and dining hall. On a cold, gray afternoon, men were gathered in a wood-paneled room to recite the Serenity Prayer typical of Narcotics Anonymous groups.

Meth addicts are his toughest clients, Miranda Reyes said.

“We can control a heroin user’s withdrawal symptoms in three or four days,” he said. “But a user of crystal meth, we’re talking about a month or two months to control their withdrawal. Why? Because crystal meth upsets all of the senses. It damages the central nervous system. Meaning, I have to bring their biological clock back under control first, because the meth has kept them awake for days. I have to help recover their digestive system,” – because users tend not to eat – “and to do that it takes at least two to three weeks. In addition, the paranoia, tremors, nausea, convulsions.”

For several years, the Mexican government funded a program that paid residential rehab costs for some criminal addicts. According to the city’s daily newspaper, El Diario de Juárez, that money dried up last year.

Methamphetamine is one of the most addictive street drugs that are out there,” said the DEA’s Glaspy. “If rehab is just starting to see it, it’s probably just the beginning.”

Lauren Villagran provides additional background and insights about the local drug trade in Juárez. 

**About the reporter of today’s investigation

Lauren Villagran is an award-winning journalist who has covered the borderlands and the U.S.-Mexican relationship for more than a decade. She joined the Journal in 2013.

A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, she has covered the financial markets in New York, the drug war in Mexico and Latin America and immigration and border security in New Mexico.

NEXT AND FINAL PART OF THE SIX PART SERIES;  Can we stem the drug trade?


  1. Herds of African immigrants are being housed in shelters in the Mexican border town of Tijuana while they await entry into the United States under what appears to be a secret accord between the Obama administration, Mexico and the Central American countries the Africans transited on their journey north.
    Details about this disturbing program come from Mexico’s immigration agency, Instituto Nacional de Migracion (INM), and appear this week in an article published by the country’s largest newspaper. “Mexico is living through a wave of undocumented Africans,  that has saturated shelters in Tapachula, Chiapas, and generated pressure on shelters in Tijuana, Baja California,” the news article states. The African migrants’ journey begins in Brazil under a South American policy that allows the “free transit” of immigrants throughout the continent. Ecuador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama facilitate the process by transferring the concentration of foreigners towards Mexico based on an agreement that Mexico will help them gain entry into the U.S. so they can solicit asylum. More than 30,000 illegal African immigrants have entered Mexico in the past two months seeking to eventually get into the United States, Excelsior reports Thursday.
    Mexico’s National Migration Institute has extended 12,500 permits to these African migrants that allow them to travel freely. Excelsior reports the amount of Africans entering Mexico is set to exceed the usual 800,000 Guatemalans, Salvadorans, and Hondurans who enter the country seeking to reach America’s border.
    Mexico is not only being inundated with African migrants but also with Haitians. In the border town of Tijuana, 500 Haitians arrived on Sunday alone.
    There have been almost 30,000 foreigners in the border town of Tijuana in the past five months, and activists project this could reach 46,000. There has been violence due to this influx in foreigners and police have had to intervene.
    Maria del Rosario Lozada Romero, director of migrant care in the area, told Excelsior, “They themselves cause this disorder, they don’t cooperate, and they hit women.”

    1. So your purpose for your rant is?

    2. This is going to become a problem soon for both Mexico and the US. No one is talking about it but I know for a fact its true. They dont want to obey any laws. Lets hope it stops soon. I have fam in TJ.

    3. Interesting this whole new flood of people that aren't Mexicans or even Latin America.Recently the Canadian border is 3 fold in the last 2 months although not in the same #'s at TJ.They are almost all Africans[Sudan,Somalia,Brunali] to claim refugee status crossing snowy fields at night in subzero weather wearing only hoodies and runners in snow 2 feet deep.The farmer's are afraid of what they are going to find in their fields [like dead bodies] when the snow melts and they tend their fields in April.I will bet a lot of these Africans especially from any of those 7 countries won't get in to US,then what happens?Are they stuck in Mexico and who looks after them.Perfect recruitment for the cartels and they have travelled so very far to get away from the violence.

    4. Haitian and African migrants have been flooding into Mexico at record rates, and the National Action Party (PAN) in Mexico’s Senate sent a letter to the nation’s interior minister Sunday urging him to address this “humanitarian crisis.”

      Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong acknowledged this issue, calling it a “grave problem,” and will address it in a speech Tuesday in Baja California.

      The Haitian and African migrants are huddled along Mexico’s northern border hoping to either receive asylum in the United States, or enter through other means. The number of border asylum claims has increased 10 fold since 2009, according to federal statistics.

      In the first seven months, Mexico captured more African migrants than they had in the past four years combined. From March 2016 to October 2016, an estimated eight thousand Caribbean migrants entered Tijuana.

    5. SMH, your last part to your story its not right but it happens in every race and every country. People can be so foolish folks need to do their research and stop being so blind to pigmentation and others belief your be surprise you can learn alot from others I have friends from every.

    6. yea you can see them filling the corners on the streets leading up to the garita in tj. at first i thought they were touring mexico playing soccer,then realized no way.

    7. mex only sells tramadol which is the least potent and addictive pain killer. good luck finding some other over the counter pills. those on corners who say the are selling vicodin are bs ing.

  2. Most people in Juarez and elsewhere in the state of Chihuahua are poor hence therefore cannot afford drugs like coke and much less heroin without actually working for the cartels. That is why meth is gaining popularity in the state. It is the cheapest to buy period.
    Fuckin stupid people for buying it though. This or any drug!

  3. In Aqua Prieta and Naco and also in Cananea Sonora it is also prohibited by the Sinaloa cartel selling of meth heroin and pills or using these drugs

    1. What are you talking about it's the Sinaloa cartel the one that is Distributing meth in Mexico. Chapo did it in sonora with pcp. You dont know anything about sonora

  4. Pinche gente que usa crystal vale verga. Tambien las otras drogas pero los que usan crystal son por pinche baratos y corrientes. Comprense unas pinche cervesas nomas y dejen de creeece los pinche chingones nomas porke con unos 50 pesos te pones como pendejo. No me impresionan pinche ignorantes.

  5. Wow DD have you ever been busy with stories,that's 3 today plus your moderating.Good informative 6 part story.Each 1 is different.

  6. 7:59 very true. One of my moms friend along with his nephew I believe were killed because they were consuming meth and giving/selling to their friends in AP. Meth is a shit drug. Glad its banned but feel bad for my moms friend. After killing the nephew the uncle fled for a few months to cumpas but when he came back they were still waiting to get him. Poor guy, supposedly heard they beat him to death w a hammer and cut the nephew up.. I actually knew the nephew briefly from Douglas.

  7. "They don't obey any laws" first of all the ones not obeying the laws in Mexico are mostly Mexicans. Most of the the blacks that are in tj are haitians. Most of them are not allowed to enter the US. But when I see them walking, they don't even look you in the eyes because they try to avoid problems and keep to themselves. I live right in colonia centro where someone is always trying to snatched a ladies phone or someone trying to steal your car batteries at night. And the one's doing these are not the haitians. It's the same thing "white america" is saying about Mexicans that mostly are criminals and seeking welfare. So start with Mexicans first and don't scapegoat these blacks.

    C Blanco

    1. See how long that lasts!

    2. Gov here is doing an experiment.I think it's the 1st of it's kind.They are allowing a certain percentage of refugees to be privately sponserd.I think the gov vets them 1st and private individuals make an agreement to provide a rented house,food,utilities,etc. for 1 year.Thousands have stepped up to the plate.Most are business owners and provide them with jobs in their businesses.

    3. You must be a poor Mexican and these blacks are taking your jobs. Sounds familiar!

    4. Just wait until the Haitians start working for the cartels...nah that will never happen.

  8. Thanks Albuquerque Journal for the well-researched articles & video presentations.
    You put your safety on the line to report this horrific drug problem.
    Thank you to Borderland Beat..a lot of work goes into this site. It's the best

  9. Its true all the killings in Juarez are related to these local drug dealers workin for Sinaloa cartel selling meth and are being killed by la linea. But it is true valle of juarez belongs to sinaloa and the city of juarez belongs to la linea


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