The Narc and the Smuggler in the Land of Plenty

A dying narcotics agent opens his files, and out pours Miguel, just one of a legion of Mexicans who embraced drug-running as their ticket to the American dream

And as Arturo sits there dying and talking to me, he keeps circling back this one voice in his file cabinet. In part, because he is a storyteller and he knows a good story when he hears one. And in part, because that voice, the steady, articulate voice of Miguel, who talked to him endlessly, whom he kept taping and taping and then transcribing. So as Arturo dies, he lives with this voice.

I am Miguel Villalobos. When I crossed into the United States I was not your typical Mexican who comes to this country just looking for honest work and enough money to be somebody in his ejido or hometown after he has earned enough Yankee dollars to live in reasonable comfort at home. I wanted more, I had a dream of riches and fame.

Miguel talks to Arturo Carrillo Strong because he wants some shred of fame and because he knows he may die at any moment. Not that he has become totally foolish--Miguel Villalobos is not his real name. Still, like anyone else, he wants his life noted, possibly remembered. He feels that he has been and is part of something very important, a vast folk movement of his people north, and the enormous creativity entailed in a new industry and way of living. The drug world. He does not see himself as a fallen angel. He is the man who refused to stay put and stay down.

He comes from a section of the Sierra Madre where Durango, Sonora, Sinaloa and Chihuahua meet, a broken ground called Jurassic Park by the DEA, a seed bed of dragons. He was born in 1951. I ask Don Arturo what enables Miguel to keep taking chances. He says with disgust that Miguel is crazy, that he thinks he is in God's hands.

The lack of compactness in Miguel's story is essential. He is not the Harvard boy scheming on his M.B.A. and dreaming of his wealth and retirement. He is not us, for that matter. He may be what we once were--a life without a plan but driven by desire.

His story begins in innocence, a premise all humans seem to claim for the beginnings of their journey on Earth. He talks of a beautiful place in the mountains of Mexico where the land is rich, the peasants simple. And then a man comes from the city to bring that apple off the tree of knowledge, and corruption invades Eden. The apple is opium and marijuana. Like the Bible itself, the tale is hard to believe if taken literally and hard to ignore for its insistent ring of truth.

I was born on the ranch of my father in a village located high in the Sierra Madres of Chihuahua. My father's name was Rafael, and though he too was born in the same village, we had always been sort of considered outsiders by some of the people who could trace their ancestors way back in time. You see my grandfather came to the mountain from Barcelona, Spain, to work at the nearby mine when he was a young man. To make things worse he married an American woman who worked at the mine as an interpreter. This was in 1885, just before the Tarahumara Indians went on a rampage and killed many of the miners and finally drove off the Americans. When this happened they closed the mine and it brought hard times to our area, hard times that we never really recovered from.

My grandfather still loved the mountain and long before the mine closed my grandfather and grandmother started buying land. It was cheap and totally beautiful land, so they combined their money to build their empire. Before long they had accumulated 800 acres of prime land. After the mine closed, they were out of a job and could not afford to buy enough cattle to make the ranch pay. They became land poor, barely able to eke out a living from the land. It wasn't very long after grandmother died that grandfather went to join her in heaven. Naturally he left the ranch to my father and my uncle Julian, who each lived in their own house on the ranch. Uncle Julian never married and usually took his meals with us. They raised a few cows for milk and meat; we had some pigs and chickens and raised corn and alfalfa when we could, and we raised everything for our table, like tomatoes and chile, and maize for tortillas. What was left over we took down to Chihuahua and sold.

On the mountain there are waterfalls above the lowlands that feed the river that runs down through the ranch, and there is a place on the ranch where the channel narrows and feeds into the arroyos. This water has created a forest so thick with pine, walnut and mango trees that you couldn't see the sky above when you were in it. The air was clean and the water was pure and sweet--it was the most beautiful place I have seen on this earth. The only sounds were those of nature, the birds in the trees, the clap of thunder and lightning on a cloudy day, a horse moving in the brush. . . . It was one of the few places left on this earth that was not polluted and dying.

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