Author’s note: Because of the length of the article, I have decided to divide into three consecutive daily sections starting today. For those that do not want to wait for the series to be published over the three days you can read the entire article using this link.
Last week I wrote about the Barrio Aztecas and the safest city in the nation lie. One of my readers made an excellent comment that I want to expand on. The reader pointed out that I had missed the underlining problem because I had neglected to point out an important factor. The part the reader was referring to was that the Barrio Aztecas have kept their minions in check in order to keep their illicit businesses making money. The reader than asked me a question, what did I expected El Paso officials to do other than to keep the safe-city lie going. The argument being that it is their job to ensure the welfare of the community by keeping the economy intact. The reader’s argument, about city officials, is valid up to a point. The important question is when does a community begin to question that the price is too high for its success at the expense of another? Does El Paso have the right to enjoy its successes at the cost of the lives of the others? The reader’s comment about how the gang keeps their minions in check is correct. I have been writing a book for some time now on the Drug War in Mexico and the geopolitics at play. As I delved deeper into the issue I began to develop the thesis that the idea that the drug plaza at play in the violence that started in 2008 was not about the Juárez plaza, but rather the El Paso/Juárez plaza. Let me explain.
At the height of the Drug War in Juárez almost every El Paso official, from business owners on up to the highest politicos wrapped up the crisis under the banner of “it’s a Mexico a problem” that does not affect El Paso at all. I understand the need for the El Paso leadership to create the illusion that all is well in the city for prosperity reasons. You cannot grow an economy when investors fear violence. The problem though is that the illusion ignores the fundamental problem of El Paso being a significant drug corridor and thus the violence suffered by the citizens of Juárez. Succinctly, regardless of the perceived incompetence of Mexican and Juárez officials the fact is that the narcotics land in El Paso on their way to their delivery points. Tying that fact in with what the reader pointed out about the gangs keeping their minions in check to maximize profits seems to make the “safest city” argument reasonable. The gangs police themselves and thus the violence and petty crime is kept in check. However, I argue that El Paso remains a lucrative arrival point for the drugs that end up elsewhere. Is it lucrative because either El Paso law enforcement is too incompetent to intercept the trafficking or because a conspiracy sealed in blood is in effect?
Narcotics and El Paso is an issue that is both local and international and has been ongoing for many generations. Historically El Paso has played a major role in both the successes and failures of Juárez and Mexico. For example, El Paso was instrumental in arming the various factions of the Mexican Revolution as well as arming Benito Juárez’ retaking of Mexico from the French invaders. Many El Pasoans benefited economically from these events, and thus the El Paso economy was sustained. The El Paso-Juárez relationship is symbiotic although many pretend it does not exist. This reality is understood by many El Paso officials but keep under wraps for fear of antagonizing the elitist electorate that blames everything on Juárez.
Ignoring the needed relationship, Juárez has come symbolize the failures of El Paso rather than El Pasoans taking ownership of their own failures by their own inaction. This normally serves El Paso well when it is convenient to have a scapegoat and is detrimental when an outsider like Greg Abbott, points out the obvious. Thus, the El Paso chest thumping begins. However lost in all of the speechmaking and chest thumping is a truth that very few are willing to acknowledge much less take steps to rectify.
Drugs are and have been a part of the El Paso economy for many generations.
There are many reasons for this, however; a major nexus can be drawn by how the United States deals with threats to its sovereignty and security. Concisely, the United States traditionally engages external threats extraterritorially by taking care of them as far away as possible from US soil. For US citizens this policy somewhat insulates them from the collateral damage that ensues from the various actions.
By extension, El Paso politicos pretend that a drug trafficking problem does not exist in the city. To do otherwise would require acknowledging an issue of accountability and thus being forced into dealing with it openly and transparently. Doing so would destroy the notion of safety and security and would bring the collateral damage close to home, not to mention further erosion of the El Paso economy.
Unfortunately, and in my opinion, the consequences of this strategy is what has created the mentality of impunity and the chaotic corruption that is whispered about and only dealt with when there is a need to make a statement or do some cleansing because of its egregiousness. However, make no mistake the cleansing is nothing more than a scraping of the froth that escapes the tightly controlled cornucopia of the façade that all is well. Many celebrate the few that are perp walked down to the jail while acknowledging deep inside themselves that many more are still yet to be caught.
Many El Pasoans pretend to be ignorant about the problem yet they experience the corruption around them, some consciously and others subconsciously. The whispers run from “how can he afford that car” to “did you see that wad of cash in his pocket?” Others notice how a cashier at their favorite restaurant rings up some orders on the cash register while other times that cash register remains silent, although money was exchanged. Likewise, some wonder how is it that a commercial development will make money in the city’s economy while banks have to deal with local tellers handling much more cash transactions in El Paso then in other larger cities. I can give you many more examples and I’m sure, if you stop and think about certain financial transactions you witness you will notice what I’m pointing out. Pay attention to how certain companies stay in business while others go out of business and you would notice a pattern start to develop.
This way of life has created the mind-set that has led to the reality that is El Paso today, scandal after scandal of corruption. El Paso politicos love to compare themselves to other cities and decry the notion that corruption in El Paso is the rule rather than the exception. Conveniently lost in their pontifications is the uncomfortable truth that over 30 current politicians are in jail for public corruption and the largest school district is still reeling from a major scandal based on unethical behavior, to the detriment of children. These are only a few of the many you are familiar with because they have been documented for various reasons. There are other recent scandals involving EPISD that have not garnered much attention because of their complexity and lack of news attention. For example, there was the E-Rate controversy involving federal funds and IBM that has received very little attention. Those are just the whispered corruption that has been documented but there are many more that have not been investigated and thus have not been documented to the delight of the politicos. I argue that the nexus for this mindset is the drug trade. Consider the following examples, only a few of many more that I have compiled over the years.
Many of you, if not all of you, know the history of the Jimmy Chagra family and the drug trade. The dots many of you may not have connected is that in the late 70’s the drug trade from Mexico was mainly marihuana. Marihuana trade can be traced all the way back to World War II. Cocaine and the other drugs came into the US through Miami directly from Columbia and not through Mexico. The Chagra family were minor marihuana drug dealers, like many in El Paso at the time until a significant change took place. In 1975, Colombian Pablo Escobar started to significantly expand his cocaine trade into the United States. By the late 1970, the Chagras were dealing in cocaine sourced directly from Colombia, trafficked through their established marihuana connections in Mexico. In the early 1970’s then President Nixon had declared the now infamous war on drugs that led to realignment of how the drugs were brought into the US. As is the established custom with US foreign policy the engagement of threats are conducted as far as possible from US soil, and thus the Columbians were the targets.
The dirty secret and unintended consequence is that the drug policy led to creation of a bureaucratic machine that needs the drug war to continue for its existence. It has also had the other unintended consequence of exasperating a drug problem into a billion-dollar market because of the economies of prohibition. In the case of Mexico, it has never been a significant producer of cocaine however the established routes for marihuana and other contraband became the alternate for Colombian cocaine once the Florida routes were effectively sealed by the US government.
The other factor at play was the bureaucracy that was created to deal with the narcotics trafficking. Many within the bureaucracy argued that the Mexican marihuana and thus Mexico rather than Columbia was a larger threat and thus Mexico was embroiled into the Drug War. The political infighting eventually led to marihuana being targeted as well as the more threatening Bolivian-Columbian narcotics. This created tensions between the US-Mexico binational relationships that heightened with the Camarena incident that set the foundation that transformed low-level marihuana operators into the drug cartels they are today.
Initially nothing more than transporters for the Colombians, the Mexican cartels established themselves once the Pablo Escobar organization and the other Colombian drug traffickers were brought under control. This unintended consequence of US foreign policy spiraled out of control for Mexico. In the case of El Paso, its place in this sordid mess is a significant one, yet one that is completely ignored or underplayed.
It all comes down to the ability to move the drugs, cocaine from Colombia and methamphetamines from Mexico and other places. Methamphetamines are another unintended consequence of the drug wars. Understanding that El Paso is a strategic point of entry then the drug war in Juárez makes perfect sense, because if US law enforcement were successful in intercepting the illicit material in El Paso, the Juárez plaza would cease to be lucrative. Some will argue that US interdiction efforts are effective in El Paso because that is the illusion that fuels the notion that drug dealers are afraid of US law enforcement that they do not cross the border. Yet, that illusion is easily dismissed when the question is asked, then why does Cd. Juárez remain such a lucrative plaza for the cartels? Is the Juárez drug market that large or is it because the drugs are getting through?
In essence, it is not the Juárez plaza but the El Paso plaza that was and to some extent is still at play. If the drugs are getting through then what does that say about US law enforcement in El Paso?
In order to answer that I would like to point out the following examples that I believe lays the foundation for my thesis that there is a conspiracy sealed in Juárez blood.