Tag Archives: drugs

More unusual drug trafficking tricks

I don’t know who thinks up of these things, but it’s amazing the level of human ingenuity when it comes to transporting drugs across the border and through the United States.

Aside from the usual human “mules” who strap drugs to their body parts, I’ve read about  drugs being transported in frozen sharks,  stuffed into Elmo dolls, and even inside (live) puppies.   I once talked to someone connected to the drug trade, when I was a reporter at The San Diego Union-Tribune, who had heard of a scheme to fill fruit juice cartons with drugs.

The Los Angeles Times recently reported on another interesting mode of transporting drugs: Stuffing marijuana inside bike wheels. According to this February blog post, an 18-year-old man (a U.S. citizen)  was crossing the pedestrian checkpoint in San Ysidro  – with his bike – when a customer decided to squeeze the bike wheels. It became clear that there wasn’t just air inside.

But that’s really kind of old school when you consider the engineering efforts involved in bringing larger quantities of drugs across land and sea. Four years ago, a submarine stuffed with cocaine was found off the coast of Costa Rica. And before I forget, an under-construction drug tunnel was discovered in February along the Otay Mesa (San Diego) border crossing area. You can read more about that in this SDUT article.

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The Los Angeles connection to Mexico’s Arellano-Felix cartel

felixThe 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.

How drug traffickers stay fit in Mexico

Picture 10The fact that another suspected Arellano Felix drug cartel member had been arrested in Tijuana wasn’t as interesting to me as where he was found. Mexican media reported that Filiberto Parra Ramos was detained June 10 either inside or just outside the Total Fitness Gym, in the city’s  Zona Rio business district.

That’s the same gym I used to go to when I lived in Tijuana, and to be honest I’m a little surprised he wasn’t going to the swankier Sports World Tijuana gym (the Arellanos’ recreation budget must have been cut). I remember visiting both gyms and deciding not to got to Sports World because the monthly membership was closer to $300 (someone correct me here, if needed…) and because it seemed to be the kind of place where people looked great but didn’t seem to be capable of sweating.

At Total Fitness the equipment area was a little more cramped but there was a lot of sweating going on. Both places had some similar details, such as rock scaling areas and lap pools. At Total Fitness, I had a membership for about $100 a month and a personal trainer who was preparing for a body building competition. At times he seemed more interested in his own physique, but he dutifully kept me from cutting corners with the weights and sneaking off the bikes too early.

Both mega-gyms opened sometime after the year 2000, providing an alternative for wealthier Tijuanenses whose exercise options had previously involved jogging at public park facilities or crossing the border to work out in Chula Vista. For me, the main impetus to work out was to stay fit in my jeans. The stakes are probably much higher for someone like Parra, who was reportedly part of the Arellanos’ killer squad. 

Screenshot from Total Fitness website. They have some gym promo going for $35.

Los Angeles event June 3: Blogging the drug wars in Mexico

Being a former border reporter, I have a lot of respect for those who continue to cover the impacts of the drug trade on Mexico. I am posting here a press release for a Wednesday forum about “blogging the narco wars” that is  sponsored by the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. I know reporters Amy Isackson and Vicente Calderon  from my time in Tijuana –  and I am personally grateful for Tijuana based human-rights activist  Victor Clark, one of the few people in that city who reporters can go to for a “tell it as it is” quote about drugs and corruption.

Join the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Los Angeles Public Library for an in-depth talk with journalists from San Diegoand Tijuana, as well as a long-time watchdog of border violence, to discuss how reporters are covering outbreaks of violence in connection to drug-smuggling in Tijuana.

The panelists will be:

 

  • Victor Clark Alfaro, Founder, Binational Human Rights Center in Tijuana
  • Vicente Calderon, Tijuana television reporter
  • Amy Isackson, reporter, KPBS San Diego


The event will be moderated by SPJ/LA board member Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, a reporter with KPCC 89.3 FM. 

WHAT: Blogging the Narco-Wars

WHO: Victor Clark Alfaro, Founder, Binational Human Rights Center in Tijuana; Vicente Calderon, Tijuana TV reporter; Amy Isackson, border reporter, KPBS San Diego. Moderated by Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, reporter, KPCC 89.3FM, SPJ/LA board member.

WHEN: 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 3, 2009

WHERE: The Los Angeles Central Library’s Mark Taper Auditorium630 W 5th St., Los Angeles, CA 90071http://www.lfla.org/aloud/visit.php

COST: Free, but reservations are highly recommended through the L.A. Public Library’s ALOUD Lecture Series.http://www.lfla.org/aloud/registration/

For more information, check out the SPJ/LA Web site athttp://spjla.wordpress.com/ or log onto the library’s site athttp://www.lfla.org/aloud/calendar/?month=06&year=2009&day=03.

 

The Society of Professional Journalists is the nation’s largest and most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to promoting high standards of ethical behavior and encouraging the free practice of journalism. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.

San Diego Magazine revisits 2006 Rosarito beheadings

 

felixSan Diego Magazine is publishing a series of stories about drug trafficking along the border. In the first installment, S.D. Liddick explores the case of the 2006 beheadings of the Rosarito Beach police officers, which was linked to the Arellano-Felix drug organization. It’s well worth the read. Liddick spent considerable time collecting information for this story. I know because at one point when I still worked at The San Diego Union-Tribune, he lost the cell phone number for the former Rosarito police chief Valente Montijo-Pompa  – and I helped him get back in touch with the chief.

The story is skillfully written with powerful insights into the corruptible forces of drug trafficking, including some fascinating quotes by realist Montijo-Pompa, who freely admits “I’m not going to fight with somebody whose circumstances are 1,000 to my one. I’m not going to be a hero—to kill my people. I’m not going to sacrifice others or convert Rosarito into a battleground or put innocents in the middle.”

With Mexican drug trafficking violence the “hot” topic over the past year or so,  many media groups are jostling for a chance to claim their stake in this story. Of course, the story has been going on for years but the degree of attention tends to correspond to body counts. It’s no surprise that San Diego Magazine would explore this issue in depth, and kudos to the magazine for investing the time and resources in doing so. I look forward to reading the upcoming installments. My only issue with the first article is that I think it takes an unwarranted and unsubstantiated swipe at the quality of border coverage by other media groups in a curious attempt to elevate the article’s authority. You can read my opinion in the story’s online comments section.

Read the first installment of “Blood of Their Brothers: The Border Trilogy”  here.

 

Photo of car dealership in Los Angeles with no apparent link to the Arellano-Felix organization whatsoever.

Mexico’s drug trafficking violence gets U.S. attention

Almost overnight, Mexico has jumped  to the top of the U.S. diplomatic agenda – at least momentarily overshadowing Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting Mexico this week, paving the way for a scheduled visit next month by President Obama. 

It appears that part of the attention comes from a heightened awareness of the cross-border threat of drug-related violence.  The rhetoric got especially charged in recent months as Spring Breakers were warned to avoid Mexico (The ATF, in an odd move for an agency whose role seems mismatched for such statements, warned students to avoid Mexico – and then later softened their stance).  The U.S. Joint Forces Command, meanwhile, identified Mexico as one of the two most critical states in danger of failing due to the havoc created by the region’s drug cartels. 

To be sure, the violence appears to have taken a particularly savage turn over the past few years. Missing in some of these assessments, however,  is that the backlash comes from the Mexican government’s own success in attacking the country’s drug cartels over the past eight years. Dismantling long-standing drug trafficking organizations, unfortunately, creates instability . Drug trafficking was a major problem during the 1990s but it may not have attracted this much attention because the drug groups operated with comparatively minimal meddling from the government. This created a false sense of order.

With so much attention on the violence in Mexico lately (I can’t seem to turn on the radio or read a news media source without hearing about it), Mexican authorities have lashed back. In recent weeks, they have pointed out that  the U.S. demand for drugs is fueling the drug trade. They have accused  the U.S. of not doing enough to curb the flow of firearms south of the border into the hands of drug traffickers. Mexican president Felipe Calderon also suggested that the U.S. do a better job of attacking drug corruption in its own agencies.

Things have gotten testy, and the visits by U.S. diplomats are clearly meant to soothe the bickering and focus on the cross-border collaboration efforts. Whether this actually translates to a reduction in the violence is unclear, especially when we consider the unabated demand for drugs in the United States. Instead, stability may be more dependent on the ability of Mexican drug groups to re-negotiate their roles in a way that gives us all the illusion that the underlying problem has been fixed. 

Read a story here in The New York Times, about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitting that the U.S. shares a responsibility in Mexico’s problems. Here’s another one by The Washington Post.

Here is an essay by Mexican scholar Enrique Krauze who argues that Mexico is not a “failed state” at risk of “imminent collapse.” 

Here is a story in The San Diego Union-Tribune about how Mexican drug trafficking groups get their guns from the U.S.

Blog essay by Anna Cearley, former border reporter

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Defying a Spring Break travel warning

 

People often ask me whether Tijuana is really dangerous. Well, the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives apparently thinks the drug violence is dangerous enough to warn university students about visiting Tijuana and Rosarito Beach during the popular Spring Break period. Some universities have also taken up the “don’t go south” mantra. I have mixed feelings about these advisories from my experience living and working in Tijuana as a reporter.  I wrote about some of the region’s most gruesome crimes – but I never got caught in the crossfire. Here is a recap of a recent, non-newsworthy Saturday evening spent in Tijuana.

 

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I arrived at Tijuana’s main cultural center, the CECUT, at 6 p.m. to attend a presentation by Mexican scholar Marco Antonio Samaniego on his new book, “Nationalism and Revolution: The events of 1911 in Baja California.” The presentation had a late start (Mexican time frames are typically looser than ours) so I wandered outside and bought some warm cooked corn, called elote or esquite. I like mine plain, but most Mexicans prefer the works: Chile, butter, cheese, lime, salt, you name it.

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Samaniego talked about the significance of the Mexican Revolution along the Baja border and how chaos basically created a volatile mix of interests that collided and intersected, and that some of this was fueled by the perceived or real threat of a U.S. invasion. More of that in a future blog posting…

samaniegoa

Afterwards, I went to the restaurant Tabule to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Tabule is located along the main entrance to the Beverly Hills of Tijuana, a neighborhood called Chapultepec. There is also a Tabule in San Diego. I munched on assorted cheese, duck tacos and a tasty mushroom appetizer. By the time we left at 11 p.m., the place was just starting to get busy (Night life starts late here).

tabule1

I think I saw some police sirens at one point during the evening – but they were way in the distance.

 

To get another glimpse of life in Tijuana during a typical weekend, check out Derrik Chinn’s blog where he recently posted an entry on what he did on a Saturday in Tijuana.

The blogger over at Tijuana Bible, Lynn DeWeese-Parkinson, recently went to a soccer game in Tijuana.

And Masa Assassin, an unidentified San Diego-based blogger, dishes about eating some birria tacos in Tijuana before heading to Ensenada this past weekend.