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Op-Ed

The drug cartel was nice

April 29, 2022

Every hour of every day for a decade, continuing today, the United States has been sending as many guns and ammunition to Mexican police forces as could feed an average Mexican family for a year. Every hour of every day for 10 years. How has that helped anyone?

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

I have a friend here in Denver who was born in Michoacán, México. He came here legally years ago and runs a landscaping business. I’ll call him Beto.

I have reason to believe everything he told me this week about what happened to his father and their family.

I lived in Mexico many moons ago as a newspaper correspondent, and everything the Cártel de Nueva Generación did to Beto’s father this year, the Federal Judicial Police tried to do to me — about once a month.

Listen: The United States should never again send dime one to Mexican police forces — any Mexican police force, including the army.

But no, the U.S. Congress has sent nearly $2 billion to these organized torturers, murderers and extortionists in the past 20 years: $100 million a year; $274,000 a day; $11,400 an hour; $190 a minute — to some of the most corrupt and violent police forces in the world — and that’s saying something.

The average annual income in Mexico is said to be about $16,000 — though that’s a gross exaggeration. More than half of Mexico’s laborers work off the books. Street sellers. The Mexican government acknowledges it.

By an honest reckoning, then, every hour in the past 20 years, the United States has sent so many guns and armaments to Mexican police and army that the cash value of these guns and ammunition — every hour of every day — could feed and house an average Mexican family for a year. That’s 8,760 hours. Or looked at it in another way: 8,760 families — Anytown, USA, pop. 30,000. Food and a roof instead of guns.

In the past seven years, Mexico has reported 283,935 homicides, virtually all of them unsolved. That’s 40,562 homicides a year, average: 111 homicides a day; 4.6 an hour; a murder every 13 minutes — around the clock every day for seven years. Continuing.

That’s nearly twice as many homicides as in 1990, when the Federal Judicial Police (FJP) tried to steal my Toyota pickup about once a month.

Here’s how it happened back then. The FJP would pull me over for nothing — big guys dressed all in black, with .45 pistols stuffed into their pants. Their chief would interrogate me while his crew walked around my pickup, checking it out.

I would apologize profusely to the chief, telling him I hoped I hadn’t done anything wrong, because “I am a guest in your country. I’m a reporter for the Arizona Republic.” I’d hand him my Get Out of Jail Free card. A little business card. The chief would back off and call off his troops, bid me a nice day and let me go.

Once a month.

Thirty-some years ago.

It’s so much worse now that the gangs have captured the police. And vice-versa. Don’t believe me? Read any book about the border by the late, great Charles Bowden.*

Now here’s what my friend told me this week. He’d called his father in Michoacán to ask if he’d received the money order my pal had just sent. The man who answered the phone said, ”Cártel Nueva Generación, buenos días.” (From now on I’ll translate the dialogues into English.)

“Is my father there?”

“Yes, just a moment.”

The gangster passed the phone to the old man.

“Papá, are you all right?”

“Yes, the cartel is nice. They just took my money and told me I have to leave the house.” The house where my pal had grown up.

“Leave the house?”

“Yes, they told me they need the house. But the cartel is nice.”

Of course, the cartel was listening. Just as the government used to listen to me.

So my friend’s father had to give his house to the New Generation Cartel, because they “needed it.”

But they were “being nice.”

But wait. That’s not all. Last summer my pal took his little kids to visit their grandpa in Michoacán. Grandpa’s little town was about 10 miles from the next town, outside of Morelia, the state capital. The two towns are under the control of rival gangs. (I know the names of the towns, and I’ve been to one of them, but I sure as shooting ain’t gonna tell you names.)

So on leaving his dad’s town, the cartel stopped them. “They were carrying AK-47s,” Beto told me. “They asked me for ID, all this, looked at my little children, and said, ‘Ahh, Colorado.’ Handed back my driver’s license and said, ‘Have a nice trip.’”

Before he could enter the next town, the other cartel stopped him. Same thing. ID check, look at the children, “OK, Sir, have a nice trip.” And handed his documents back.

The cartels just don’t want guys from the other cartel sneaking into town.

Listen. I love México, and Mexican people. I spent more than a year of my life there. But I hope never to step foot in that country again, unless and until it cleans up its police forces.

And that ain’t gonna happen unless we — you and me, the United States Congress — stop sending those career criminals more guns and bullets every week than their kids could eat — or should be asked to eat — in a year.

And their president today, who goes by AMLO, is no better than the rest of them.

*

Charles Bowden’s books about the border include:
"Killing the Hidden Waters" (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1977; updated by the author in 2003)
"Juárez: The Laboratory of Our Future" / text by Charles Bowden; preface by Noam Chomsky; afterword by Eduardo Galeano (New York: Aperture, 1998)
"Down by the River: Drugs, Money, Murder, and Family" (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002)
"Blues for Cannibals: The Notes from Underground" (New York: North Point Press, 2002)
"A Shadow in the City: Confessions of an Undercover Drug Warrior" (New York: Harcourt, 2005)
"Kill the Messenger: How the CIA's Crack-Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb" / text by Nick Schou; preface by Charles Bowden (New York: Nation Books, 2006)
"Some of the Dead are Still Breathing: Living in the Future" (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2009)
"Dreamland: The Way Out of Juárez" / text by Charles Bowden; illustrations by Alice Leora Briggs (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)
"Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields" / text by Charles Bowden; photographs by Julián Cardona (New York: Nation City, 2011)
"El Sicario: The Autobiography of a Mexican Assassin" / with Molly Molloy (North Sidney, NSW: Random House Australia, 2011)

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