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

I was determined that this time it was going to be different; these were exciting times, historical times, times that people will be writing about for years, just like they did about the hippies in the 1960s. And I was part of it. The big thing with the guys from Mexico who were selling drugs in Tucson in the 70s and 80s was to make a big splash, to show everyone how macho they were, and to see how much money they could spend doing it. When I first got into selling drugs the people I knew that were dealing like I was lived one moment at a time, nothing was too much, we did what we wanted because none of us knew what tomorrow was going to be like. We might be dead or in prison. Either way it didn't matter to me.

For many of the guachos, people like the ones from my village in the Sierra Madres, it was the first time they had been able to get off their knees and straighten up. Now they were not content to work as dishwashers or fruit pickers. Now they were men of respect with four-wheel-drive monster trucks and rolls of hundred-dollar bills in their pockets. Part of the game was showing off their new-found wealth. One way was renting a limo and doing the night-club, titty-bar scene. We dominated every bar we entered, tipped the dancers big bucks, hired them for the night, and then seldom touched them. It was like a big circus out there, and we were just the clowns.

We wore designer jeans, Rolex watches, and gold; lots of gold. Gold chains were in, so were four-wheel-drive pick-ups, and Broncos, and Blazers, and automatic weapons. Everything we did was in excess; we did too much cocaine, wasted too much money, had too many women which we spent too much money on. It wasn't anything to go to TD's, a topless joint with pretty nice looking women, and stuff fifty and a hundred dollar bills into their G-strings and bras. It wasn't nothing to tip the limo driver a hundred bucks. This wasn't just happening here, this way of life was going on everywhere where drugs were sold by Mexicans, in Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago and even in Mexico. Now, with all the big busts and all the talk about a drug war in the papers and television, the smart ones have gone low-profile. They mellow out when they get to the United States.

There is a rush in busting drug people, and Don Arturo has missed the joys of making a good collar ever since he handed in his badge. But there is also a rush in a drug deal and, through listening to Miguel, Arturo gets to relive the life from the other side of the table. It is not unusual for a drug dealer to bond with a narc. Who else can understand what they live and want to talk about?

There are several constants to the drug world whether one is a cop or a robber. Vast spells of time spent waiting. Compressed, exhilarating moments of excitement. Patterns that repeat and repeat. And constant stress. Both narcs and dealers destroy their lives with women. The marriages fall off the table, the casual affairs pile up. Finally, lust itself succumbs to the stress of the work and the lure of the streets. And both become addicts to the work. And both know in their bones it is pointless. The narc can never stop the flow of drugs. The dealer can never hope to escape prison or death.

I had not met all of the crew and probably never would because it changed constantly; new people were always coming in from Culiacan or California as they were needed. Sometimes a buyer wanted some of his people there when the plane landed, so they became part of the crew. The core unit however was always in place. In the Mexican version of a Mafia operation Chuy Lopez was the boss, or the local boss, but unlike the Italian Mafia where the boss gives all the orders, in our operation there seemed to be several people from Culiacan who were above him or at least equal in authority. They seemed to come in and out of town on a regular basis, staying a few days and then leaving for California or New York.

At the time a kilo of cocaine was selling for $40,000, and we were unloading 700 kilos or more at a time. The outfit was always searching the desert area around Tucson for remote places to land a plane, especially in the Avra Valley just north of Tucson. We looked for flat areas that were well off the highway but accessible by dirt roads. They weren't really air strips but simply places in the desert that were pretty level. When we found a good level spot we just removed the rocks, chopped down a cactus or two, and made a map of the area and marked the spot where we wanted the pilot to land.

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