The U.S. media gets flack from some Mexicans for focusing so much attention on the drug violence that happens south of the border.
“Why doesn’t anyone write about the top-level drug traffickers in your own country?” was a question posed to me once by Jesus Blancornelas, the editor of Tijuana’s muckracking weekly Zeta newspaper when I first started working as a border reporter with The San Diego Union-Tribune nine years ago. Blancornelas, who regularly wrote about the Arellanos and other drug groups operating along the Mexican border, had almost been killed in an ambush in 1997 that was later tied to the Arellano-Felix drug cartel.
To him, it didn’t make sense that so much attention was placed on drug traffickers and violence south of the border when it appeared to him those drugs had to be distributed through a centralized system north of the border that would require some degree of institutional corruption. I replied that perhaps it was a question of the scope of the problem being much larger in Mexico – a valuable transit area with weaker institutions – than in the United States: Mexico had its capos, and the U.S. had smaller-scale dealers with lower profiles.
Still, his question lingered with me over the years as I occasionally wrote about the Arellano-Felix drug group’s activities in San Diego and Chula Vista. Recently, I read a story in the Los Angeles Times that explored a connection with the Arellano-Felix drug cartel in a 101-Freeway shooting in December, 2008, that left the the driver of a $100,000 Bentley dead. According to a search warrant affidavit obtained by the paper, the victim “might have been selling drugs here for the notorious Arellano Felix cartel.” (Read the article here)
I thought that when I took a job in Los Angeles last year I had left the Arellanos behind, but I guess not. They are, in a sense, everywhere.
Photo of car dealership in Los Angeles that has no known connection to the Arellano-Felix drug group whatsoever.
I feel an odd sort of connection with Miguel Felix Gallardo, who was reputedly the precursor to the Baja California area’s Arellano Felix drug trafficking organization. A blog post I filed last year – about a web site set up by the reputed drug trafficker’s family – continues to generate a lot of traffic to my own site from people apparently curious about Felix Gallardo’s savvy use of the Internet.
Felix Gallardo, according to Mexican and U.S. reports, is an older relative of the Arellano Felix brothers (a family member says this is not true), and he was said to be a major Mexican drug trafficker in the 1980s. He has been locked up in a Mexican prison since 1989. Family members started a web site to document his health needs in prison as well as a forum for people to ask questions and send greetings to Felix Gallardo. You can check out the site here.
Here are a couple of media updates on Felix Gallardo:
McClatchy News Service wrote a story about the Felix Gallardo website and about the use of the Internet by Mexican drug traffickers in general. Reporter Marisa Taylor interviewed Felix Gallardo’s son, who started the website. You can read the story here.
In February of this year, Mexican media ran a story about Felix Gallardo writing a 32-page letter to La Jornada newspaper detailing his experiences with certain Mexican law enforcement officials, as well as other juicy details of his own arrest. You can read the La Jornada story here.
Screenshot of the Miguel Felix Gallardo web page.
I’ve been reading Alma Guillermoprieto’s stories about Latin America ever since college when I came across an article she wrote for The New Yorker about Mexico’s trash dump communities. Her literary tapestries combine historical context with human stories to explain the region’s current events.
In the Nov. 10 issue of The New Yorker, Guillermoprieto writes about Mexico’s narcocultura. The story focuses mostly on the state of Sinaloa, which is said to have been the birthplace of Mexico’s drug trade. It starts with a description of the controversial “Navajas” art exhibit that was intended to get people to confront the excesses of drug violence by jolting them from their crime-dazed stupor. (Read more about “Navajas” in this previous blog posting). It ends with a visit to Mexico City and an explanation of the Santa Muerte robed skeleton figure that has been adopted by drug traffickers. In between, she writes about recent developments in the drug trade that have led to an upswing in violence.
The challenge with writing about any huge subject matter like the drug trade is that there is too much to write about. So you either omit a lot or you dole the information out in chapter-like portions like Guillermoprieto has been able to do over her extensive career. Guillermoprieto is well-versed in another aspect of narco culture that escaped mention in this recent story: Odes to drug traffickers, or narco corridos. In recent years, attacks on members of narco corrido groups have raised questions of whether art is imitating life or vice versa. Meanwhile, I would love to read a story from Guillermoprieto – or any other journalist up for the challenge – that blends the topics of food and drug trafficking by tracing the popularity and proliferation of Sinaloan seafood restaurants. Drug-related shootings and arrests have been associated with several of these food places in Tijuana.
Image via Wikipedia and approved for public use by Not_Home