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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Why billionaire drug warlords in Latin America owe their power to white-collar crooks from the US

Posted by DD Republished from Independent

Written by Ioan Grillo

 This is no longer a problem that politicians can afford to ignore. The gangster economy affects people now: from the petrol in your car, to the gold in your jewellery, to your tax pounds (or euros, or dollars) financing the war on drugs

Mexican police stand beside a skull discovered with other remains Getty

A chain of crime wars is currently strangling Latin America and the Caribbean, drenching it in blood. And the first link in the chain is found in the US. Specifically, in a Barnes and Noble bookshop in a mall in El Paso, Texas.

I am sitting in the bookshop café, nursing my third cup of coffee and flicking through a pile of new books. As you do with new books, I am eyeing the photos, skimming the intros, just feeling and smelling the paper. I am also waiting for a drug trafficker who has spent four decades delivering the products of Mexican gangsters to all corners of the US.

The man I am waiting for is no criminal warlord controlling a fiefdom in Latin America; he's a white New Yorker with a university education. That is why I want to start the story here. Latin American journalists complain that the US side of the equation is never examined. Who are the partners of the cartels wreaking havoc south of the Rio Grande, they ask? Where is the American narco? Here, I found one.

 A curious twist of fate led me to this meeting. A fellow Brit was cycling through the south-west US on an extended holiday. Texas was nice, but he fancied something edgier, so he slipped over the border to Chihuahua, Mexico.

 Unwittingly, he entered one of the most violent spheres in the Mexican drug war, venturing into small towns to the west of Ciudad Juárez, at the time the world's most murderous city. He didn't do too badly, hanging out in cantinas and raising glasses with shady locals – until some gangsters held him in a house, threatened to cut his head off and got him to call his wife in England and plead for a ransom payment.

 Attacks on wealthy foreigners in Mexico are actually very rare, but there have been sporadic cases, some of them deadly. In this case, the thugs had jumped at an opportunity that fell in their laps. 

Thankfully, they released the Brit on receipt of the cash, and he made it home unscathed. He kept in contact with one of the people he had met on the border, an older man called Robert. While Robert knew the kidnappers, he apparently wasn't involved. He is the man I am going to meet now, one of the gangsters' US connections.
Although within sight of Juarez, El Paso is one of the safest cities in the US (Alamy)
The British cyclist put us in touch, and I talked to Robert by email and then phone to arrange the get-together. He lives on the Mexican side of the border. But I told him I didn't want to go there after the kidnapping, and suggested we meet in El Paso, a stone's throw from Juárez, but one of the safest cities in the US. In a Barnes and Noble bookshop. Who would hold you up in a Barnes and Noble?

As I finish my drink, I spy Robert strolling toward me. He is in his sixties, in jeans and a baseball cap, with sun-worn skin and a raspy voice. I get yet more coffee, and we chat. He's good company. 

Soon we decide we want something stronger and move on to a cowboy-themed bar in the mall where they serve local brews in ridiculous-size glasses. I hear Robert's tale as we sip from the flagons.

It goes back to 1968, when the US was in the midst of the hippie movement and fighting its hottest Cold War battle in Vietnam; when dictatorships ruled most of Latin America, and a recently martyred Che Guevara inspired guerrillas across the continent. Robert is from upstate New York, but in 1968 he went to university in New Mexico. There he had the fate of landing a roommate from El Paso with a cousin in Ciudad Juárez. His roommate told him he could buy marijuana for $40 a kilo from his cousin. This lit a fuse in Robert's mind: he knew that, back home in New York, this amount sold for $300.

The basic business of importing is buying for a dollar and selling for two. But with drugs, Robert realised, he could buy for a dollar and sell for more than seven. And he didn't even need to advertise. This was after the summer of love, and American youngsters were desperate for ganja from wherever they could get it.

It is hard for most of us to fathom a business with a mark-up of 650 per cent. You put in 1,500 bucks and you get back more than 10 grand. You put in 10 and get back 75. And in two more deals you can be a multi-millionaire. Narco finances turn economics inside out. Robert bought houses and nightclubs with suitcases of cash.

However, his drug-dealing dream hit a wall in the late 1970s when he was nabbed by agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration. This is the flip side of narco-economics. Robert splurged on lawyers, got his assets seized and served close to a decade in prison. Yet after he got out, he went back into the trade, moving ganja and a little cocaine with a new generation of Mexican traffickers. 

He carried on past middle-age, through marriages and divorces, booms and busts, through the end of the Cold War and the opening of democracy across the Americas. By the time he hit his sixties, he suffered from chronic asthma and heart disease. And he was still smuggling weed.
At a roadblock, an identity card is checked against a missing list of 43 students abducted in 2014 (AFP/Getty)
 When Robert started trafficking drugs, his Mexican colleagues were a handful of growers and smugglers earning chump change. They needed Americans like him to get into the market. But over the decades, the narco networks grew into an industry that is worth tens of billions of dollars and stretches from Mexico into the Caribbean to Colombia to Brazil. 

South of the border, the cartels spent their billions building armies of assassins who carry out massacres comparable to those in war zones and outgun police. They have diversified from drugs to a portfolio of crimes including extortion, kidnapping, theft of crude oil and even wildcat mining. And they have grown so much that they control the governments of entire cities in Latin America.

“Back in the old days, it was nothing like this,” Robert says. “They were just smugglers. Now they prey on their communities. They have become too powerful. And many of the young guys working for them are crazy killers who are high on crystal meth. You can't deal with these people.”

I ask Robert if he feels guilty about pumping these organisations with cash year after year. They could never have grown so big without working with Americans. He looks into his glass for a while and sighs. “It is just business,” he says. “They should have legalised many of these drugs a long time ago.”

Flip from El Paso over the Rio Grande and 1,400 miles south onto a hillside in southern Mexico. I am in the mountains where traffickers grow marijuana and produce heroin. The fate of these hills is locked with that of smugglers in Texas and drug-users across America by the pretty green and pink plants here. The hill is beautiful, thick with pine trees and bright orange flowers. 
Crime scene: a corpse is removed from the Juarez mass grave (AFP/Getty)
 The smell of death is overwhelming. It's like walking into a butcher's shop stuffed with decaying meat: putrid, yet somehow a little sweet. While I would describe the smell as sickening, it's not noxious. It's a movie cliché that people throw up when they see or smell corpses. That doesn't happen in real life. Corpses don't make you physically nauseous. The sickness is deep down, more an emotional repulsion. It's the smell and sight of our own mortality. 

The stench of rotting human flesh is all over this hill from a series of pits where police and soldiers are pulling out corpses. They are dank, maggot-ridden holes that the victims probably dug themselves. The corpses are charred, mutilated, decomposed.

In Mexico, they call this a narcofosa, or drug-trafficking grave. But many of the victims here are neither drug traffickers nor in any way connected to the world of narcotics. They are shopkeepers, labourers, students who somehow ran afoul of a local cartel called the Guerreros Unidos, or Warriors United, and the corrupt police officers on their payroll. The troops dig up 30 corpses on this site, near the town of Iguala. And it's just one of a series of narcofosas dotting these hills.

Some of the corpses have been here for months, but no one came searching – until an atrocity that made world headlines. On 26 September 2014, Iguala's police and their colleagues, the Warrior gunmen, attacked student teachers, killing three and abducting 43. The global media finally learned where Iguala was. How could 43 students disappear off the face of the earth? It sounded like Boko Haram in Nigeria kidnapping schoolchildren, but this was right next to the US. 

Thousands of troops poured in, uncovering graves like the one I am standing in. They followed the trail to a dump 10 miles away. Mexico's attorney general said the Warriors murdered the 43 there, burning their corpses on a huge bonfire and throwing the remains into a passing river. But family members refused to believe the government, which has a history of cover-ups to protect corrupt officials. A panel of independent experts also criticised the findings and urged a renewed investigation. 

Mexico seemed to have become numb to murder. Between 2007 and 2014, drug cartels and the security forces fighting them killed more than 83,000 people, according to a government count. Some claim it was many more. As a reporter, I covered massacres where nearby residents seemed eerily detached. When an individual goes through a traumatic experience, the gut reaction is to block it out. Communities do the same. People became weary of killers, cartels and carnage. Victims become statistics.

Iguala changed that. The fact that the victims were students, the blatant police involvement, the inept government response – all shook Mexican society. People took to the streets in hundreds of thousands to protest against narco corruption and violence. The faces of the disappeared students filled posters on Mexico City walls and were held up in solidarity from Argentina to Austria to Australia. They were humans, not numbers.

The bloodshed in Mexico has grabbed the world's attention as it runs right up to the Rio Grande (and sometimes into the US). But fighting between shady criminal gunmen and trigger-happy troops rages in many corners of the Americas. In the favelas of Brazil, the crime “commandos” are in close urban combat with police and rivals, a conflict that has killed even more than in Mexico – and where US Navy Seals go to train. Honduras became the most murderous country outside a declared war zone as Mara gangs displace thousands, some who flee to the US as refugees. The ghettos of Kingston, Jamaica, are the killing fields of posses, along with one of the most homicidal police forces in the world.  

 Why are the Americas awash in blood at the dawn of the 21st century? How, after the US declared Cold War victories in the region, did it unravel so fast? And why are US politicians so quiet about these battles that have killed more than many traditional war zones?

In this landscape, a new generation of kingpins has emerged along with their own cult followings and guerrilla hit squads. These super-villains, from Mexico to Jamaica to Brazil to Colombia, are no longer just drug traffickers, but a weird hybrid of criminal CEO, gangster rock star and paramilitary general. They fill the popular imagination as demonic anti-heroes. Not only do they feature in underground songs in the drug world; they are also recreated in movies and even video games.

Between 2000 and 2010, murder rates rose 11 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean, while they fell in most of the world. Eight of the 10 countries with the highest homicide rates are now in the region, as are 43 of the world's 50 most violent cities. When you tally up the total body count, the numbers are staggering. Between the dawn of the new millennium and 2010, more than a million people across Latin America and the Caribbean were murdered. It's a cocaine-fuelled holocaust.

Politicians are confounded about how to handle this gangster power and bloodshed. Governments from Mexico City to Brasília send out troops with shoot-to-kill policies while denying they are fighting low-intensity wars. After shocking attacks on police in São Paulo, officers went on a revenge killing spree and are alleged to have murdered almost as many people in 10 days as Brazil's military dictatorship did in two decades. In some cases, politicians are in league with the gangsters and are part of the problem. But politicians aren't the sole cause of this mess. Others may not be allied with narco kingpins but genuinely struggle to find a policy that works. 

Washington has no coherent strategy. The US continues to spend billions on a global war on drugs, while there is little enthusiasm at home for the fight. It bankrolls armies across Latin America – and US courts give asylum to refugees fleeing those same soldiers. Diplomats cosy up to their Latin American counterparts by saying they face only generic gang problems, but then Pentagon officials rock the boat by screaming that Mexico is losing control to cartels. Faced with such contradictions, politicians often take refuge in the default option: ignoring it.

But this is no longer a problem that politicians can afford to ignore. The gangster economy affects people now: from the petrol in your car, to the gold in your jewellery, to your tax pounds (or euros, or dollars) financing the war on drugs. The web of the crime families stretches across the hemisphere, leading to all kinds of unlikely places. It spins off to lime prices in New York bars, British secret agents, World Cup soccer stars, bids to hold the Olympic Games and questions over the start of the London riots. 

In the summer of 2014, it was linked to 67,000 unaccompanied children arriving at the US southern border, causing what President Barack Obama called a humanitarian crisis. While not all had run from bullets, some showed clear evidence that they would be murdered if they went home. Less publicised was that tens of thousands of adults from the region were arriving on the southern border asking for political asylum. Some people ask why it matters if neighbouring countries fall to pieces. This is one of the reasons.


  1. If anyone thinks cutting mexico from the usa market is the best way to kill the drug organizations agree to the usa building that wall.

    1. I have bridge to sell you.

    2. No wall will stop the flow of drugs coming into the United States. The only thing it will stop are those looking for a better future with better pay.
      Definitely an ignorant comment!

    3. Im sure there's tunnels for sale too

    4. It'll probably stop some of the drug flow going north through land, but then there is tunnels, bridges... & then there is seaports, airports. & then there is europe, asia, etc. & then there is all those corrupted authority officials. Who has the upper hand there clearly? Who is going stop those billion dollar drug runners with militia?

    5. & then there is all those crazy chimps, gorillas, orangutans with suits&ties looking like politicians... Latin America has many of those clowns

    6. I have an entire country to sell you... Said some x politician..

    7. Then 'it' got replaced... 🕸🕷🦂🕸

    8. Oye pero si eso pasa en todo lugar existen perros que hacen tranzas, tratos con otros perros, regional, nacional, internacional, eso pasa en todo el mundo.

      Muchas veces los que tienen mas billete son los que tienen la ultima palabra. Casi siempre a sido asi, y la cosa es mas peor todavia si se trata de paises pobres con faltas de oportunidades y con altos niveles de corrupcion.

      En esos tipos de lugares llegan changos y hacen lo que se les pega la gana nomas porque andan bien engorilados y con las carteras bien cargadas. Nada mas y nada menos que criminales nivel internacional.

  2. the mexican youth in so cal cares very little of this report.. they are actually dancing to the newest narco corrido as we speak. Us mexicans love to see blood, but nobody dare point that out... we have sensitve feelings

    1. 1:30 I ain' ever seen nobody smoking a "narco-corrido" but I see people's asses get obviously steamed up and letting go.
      This report for once in a very rare once accuses billionaire mexican drug lords AND WHITE COLLAR CROOKS FROM THE US, and you want to take the "war" to young mariguanos in So Cal?
      --Dios mio porque haces tanto pendejo?
      Don't blame me, they make themselves pemdejos.
      Atentamente GOD.

    2. 9:57 i hope chicharito makes more goals so i can fly the tri flag like a loony

    3. 2:12 me too, you can wrap the foot ball in the tri.
      and shove it where the sun don't shine to the ritm of a wisky jug band.

  3. How how how how can 80 dlls Mota Mexicano be snubbed in favor of 80 dlls gram "legal pot?". It can't and it won't. "Guerrero Type O" could care less about pot being legalized in the EUA. Go to a shopping center in the EUA and see the Auschwitz lookalikes begging money for cristal. Wotta hoot "legalize drugs". It fixes NOTHING down here.

  4. There is only one solution: legalization! Legalization of ALL drugs!

    BUT BUT BUT: sale AND consumption on licensed shops only!

    Sale and consumption outside of licensed shops shall remain illegal. We dont want the drugs anymore in the streets, homes, cars, schools, parks, dorms etc.

    Licensed shops will sell clean and 'safe' drugs. Heavy drugs require a prescription from an MD.

    BUT MD's may write prescriptions to those with an EXISTING addiction problem only!

    Existing addicts will thus choose the to get the clean, safe and cheap drugs.
    MD prescriptions cannot be the gateway into addiction (which is the problem with Oxy today).
    Drug dealers have not incentive to get people to try (get hooked) since every addict will choose the legal option.

    Also legalization will be MUCH cheaper than the current mayhem where the prison industry, gun industry and law enforcement benefit and the taxpayer comes up withthe dole.

    1. Cash for producers only, no licenses, no money charges, or. Ery minimal, why ensure profit for the hypocrites and the money changers?
      Those motherfackers can't undercut prices and beat the government, I am sure no profit would put them out of business.
      Taxes only feed dirty politicians greed and their patrons, and the pushers surely will keep finding new customers.
      --Drug addicts should have the RIGHT TO SUE THEIR PUSHERS and those that got them initiated and get compensation.
      problem solved for much less than the yearly cost of the WoD

    2. Ignorant wishful thinking! Do you really think that curious youth of future generations will not want to try all the things they read about in books and online? The only path is legalization PERIOD, with no conditions imposed by "do gooders" like you.

  5. Here we go again DD... You'll try anything to get people to pay attention to the cancer that is Mexico. Your just pushing the only country that, can or would help, away even further. FIX UR OWN PROBLEMS!!!

    1. " poor Mexico so far from god; and yet so close to the US" haha truely is a shame . If you think the US is the only country willing to help Mexico your an idiot Mexico has many allies Canada ,Russia ect .Look what happened to trump when he threaten to stop the agreement that they had exporting importing between mexico US and Canada no one believed him and he ended up looking like an idiot. Its funny how Mexicos problem is directly related to the absurd number of drug addicts who have no self control and get a weekly/ monthly check just so they can keep on buying drugs. So Mexicos problem is also US problem and the US problem is also mexicos problem weird.

  6. Americans have been buying narcotics from people all over the world. From the French connection to the Vietnamese, the Chinese & Columbians. Only Mexico seems drunk on the wealth generated from the narco. From politicians to cartel leaders, to the common folk who idolize them, they are outta control. Pablo Escobar killed and maimed fighting the gov that was trying to bring him down. Los Pepes was formed by citizens who had had enough. Where's mexicos Los Pepes DD??????

    1. They are called autodefensas but just like Los Pepes they are composed by rival cartels "Cali cartel"and people with there own personal agenda

    2. 4:08 - WRONG but too much to address so here's main points; Los Pepes were funded by DEA and US miltary (I was doing missions with USAF and Los Pepe's - I know this to be fact). Los Pepes was not created under the guise of Columbians tired of wealth generated from USA's cocaine spending, but under the "guise" of Escobar's terrorism. He blew up a civilian commercial jet killing a plane full of citizens in his quest to kill one man, he also attacked, invaded, took hostage of elected congress, assasinated numerous elected officials(in addition there is much else).

      Mexico and its citizens share the same human natures as every country you listed in your post; and most common folk of Mexico DO NOT IDOLIZE the narcos and that's just ridiculous to day. Do most Americans, or even rap music fans, or even rap music fans of Rick Ross IDOLIZE drug dealers?

      Please make an attempt at accuracy when using examples, stating history, and especially when making a ridiculous statement as though it's fact, and that is offensive to all but a very tiny population here in Mexico, and only relevant to a portion of culture that listens to narco themed music.

  7. When enough from over-there come over-here, then over-there becomes over-there here!

  8. Very good article. I'd like to see more stuff like this on BB. The US will never do anymore than they are to combat the flow of drugs over their border. They know their banking system would collapse if they shutdown all of the cartels. Jobs would be lost. There wouldn't be the need for so much law enforcement. Administrative jobs associated with law enforcement would be cut as well. The US would rather just try to contain it and let it continue than to put a stop to it.

    1. 7:21; Good point. How many fewer Fed Ex drivers and HSBC bankers would there be without the gigantic retail delivery and revenue of the USA drug trade? How many stock owners of GEO (I have loved that one!), LLL, UTX, RTN, etc that have been enjoying Plan Columbia and Mérida Initiative for 20+ years would vote their políticos out if the USA actually rehabilitated addicts? The rich and the politicos of the USA love the drug trade as much as Mexican narcos do.

  9. Like it or not,drugs move the economy.create jobs also

    1. So why not legalize it?
      That way it's under government/ corporation control. Apparently the fire that's fueling Mexicos violence is cartels and gangs. Eliminating the illegal activities should stem the drug violence. Unfortunately it won't stop those bad hombres who are just plain stupid from engaging in kidnappings and armed robberies.
      E 42

  10. Ehhhh nothing new here, it's the other guy's fault. Same tune different day.

  11. -Desde Tierra Caliente-

    Te pido que vengas aquí a Michoacán. Experimentar el miedo. No tener seguridad. Para preocuparse, su familia puede ser secuestrada. ¿Una economía mejor? Es mi miedo. Esto es una ventaja para basta ya. Luego la llegada de un líder como Duterte de Filipinas porque prometen seguridad. No creer esto es decir que no entiendes a México oa la gente.

  12. Another example, like the deleted Wash Post article DD posted a couple weeks ago, where the substance of the article is OK; but the editors felt they needed a "blame the US" headline for their readers. This problem is caused by corruption and impunity in Mexico and the rest of Latin America. Without US drug funds they prey on local citizens.

    1. 9:58 why don't you roll your WaPo and stick it up your ass?
      We don't care, there are other sources of BS all over the world, but ours is so special you can't do withoit,
      --I don't blame you...

    2. 2:08 BAM! I agree, that was a good comment,
      --yeah, sure, I wrote it.
      Thanks for posting

    3. Oops, I think I incriminated myself at @7:50 somehow,
      --do I need to stop tuiting?

  13. Mexican cartels getting richer with dollars and euro's while the body count gets higher and higher in Mexico just as people from the U.S cities keep getting higher and higher..

  14. Another fine example of billions of dollars wastefully spent. A conspiracy of greasing the machine. That's all it is.
    If drugs were really a priority it would have ceased. Unfortunately too many elite players are involved. Money is KING and will always be.
    No matter how it's obtained.

  15. Florea twins wives coming out with a tell all book on june 20th

    1. Are you referring to the Flores twins from Chicago?
      If so curious as to what is being said.

    2. The book is called "Cartel Wives".

    3. Yeah from chicago, im gonna buy it. Probably just more stories that havent been told yet

    4. 5:50 Just piling up the legal money,
      a lot more work laundering left to do...

  16. Not only does violence in Latin America contribute to the massive migration to the United States, but awful events like the United Fruit Companies role in Central America contributes to this as well. Its cause and effect by the greed of the United States that fuels all of this. So when I hear hillbillies talk shit about illegals it pisses me off because they think people want to come here just to "Take their jobs." It's much bigger than anything they can fathom.

    1. 4:20 you scare me,
      you sound almost like me,
      I am sure you have been corrupted by the devil herself.
      Please keep posting.

  17. US companies and institutions profit off the 'war on drug' too. Suppliers of guns, bullets, tech to law enforcement. The for profit prisons, the prison unions. The courts. Municipalities. Attorneys. District attorneys. Politicians.

    Everyone that matters wins and profits. Those that lose? In jail. Criminal records. Addicted. Dead.

    This is a feature. Not a big.


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