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

So far it was working. I didn't drink or smoke like some of my friends did, and I was too young to go looking for girls. This way I was able to buy some nice clothes from time to time. I made it a point to buy clothes that made me look like an American teenager, not a Mexican. Across the street from the car wash there was a Samba's Restaurant that the guys said hired people without too many questions asked. I made it a point to eat there a few times and to make friends with the people who worked there. Finally I asked the manager for a part-time job. He hired me on the spot and I started working four hours a night in the kitchen, washing dishes and clearing tables. It was hard work but I didn't have anything else to do and this job solved my eating problems as well because the job came with one meal a night. Once I learned the ropes I could salvage enough untouched food to take home for breakfast and lunch.

I knew that dressing like a gringo wasn't enough, so I studied English by going to the neighborhood theater to watch American movies every chance I got. My friends only went to see the Mexican movies. Then I finally was able to move from the apartment and I splurged to buy a second-hand television set that had probably been stolen. Every moment I was not working I was watching television. I tried to memorize as many words as I could and to study the way Americans lived and behaved.

Miguel wanders to Arizona and eventually gets that job in a mine near Tucson. Here other employees introduce him to marijuana and cocaine and he starts buying some and then he thinks, why not sell it? There are many details in his passage from young working man, husband and homeowner to the world of drug dealing, but they are the same as for everyone else: the money. Finally, he makes a main connection with a man we will call Chuy.

My friends were more important to me than my marriage. It was exciting as hell and I didn't want it to ever end. Chuy Lopez was the best known of my new friends, and the one who I respected more than anyone other than my father. Chuy had big-time family connections in Culiacan, the drug capital of Mexico. Chuy had been sent to Tucson by the Culiacan cartel as a set-up man for their smuggling operation. It was his job to get the feel of the situation as it existed at that time, to find out who the big hitters were, to recruit people for the organization so that when they started sending the planeloads of cocaine they would have a crew to unload and deliver the drugs to the bigger markets in California and New York. It was Chuy's job to rent the stash houses and map out areas where planes could land and yet avoid detection. He was also supposed to evaluate the law enforcement capabilities of the local police agencies, to find out if anyone was on the take or could be induced to cooperate.

Chuy was working in the Tucson area using the credentials of another member of the cartel who had a valid work permit. It was through this friend that I first met Chuy and became friends with him. Come to think of it I hooked up with Chuy at about the same time we switched to cocaine in our car pool at the mine. Now instead of buying an ounce of weed, we were buying a gram of cocaine, and we were riding higher than ever. The going price was $120 a gram, and then all of a sudden it seemed like everyone was doing cocaine. Not just the miners and the hippies, but the professional people, doctors and lawyers and I would find out later on that there were some judges and big time business people who were doing as much if not more coke than we were.

To show you how much I liked to work, before I started using cocaine in a serious way, I had started fixing up the house, putting Mexican tile down on the floors, painting and adding rooms. Most of the work I did myself because I liked to learn to do new things. I was a quick learner when I wanted to do something around the house. I kept working at it until I had it down pat. My friends would come over to see what I was doing or to show me what to do. I was getting so good at it they would ask me if I could lay some tile for them. I seldom turned anyone down even though I was working my regular shift at the mine. I was making good money on the side, and I enjoyed what I was doing.

The reason the drug smugglers are so successful and one of the many reasons the drug war is a joke, is that there are so many people starving in Mexico. The guachos, the brown-trash of Mexico, like I was to a certain extent in the Sierra Madres, have nothing to lose. If they get killed or arrested their women and children will wail and cry and no doubt be worse off than they were. But how much worse can it get when you already have nothing? If they make it, and this is in the hands of God, they will prosper and live a good life, and this, too, is God's will.

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