State is Pipeline for Illegal Drugs 

State is Pipeline for Illegal Drugs 
Posted by FoM on January 17, 2000 at 06:44:12 PT
Part 2 in the series
Source: Arizona Central
Arizona is America's newest drug mainline. Pot, methamphetamine and heroin roll across the southern border so fast and in such large quantities that almost no part of the state is unaffected. In Nogales, storm drains provide a smuggling superhighway, with traffickers parking over sewer grates to load cars through holes in the floorboards. 
A barrio on the east side of town has begun to empty because of the violence wrought by a narco-gang whose leader lives just across the fence in Sonora, on a hill overlooking town. Thickets along the normally dry Colorado River bed south of Yuma conceal a maze of trails from Baja California. When the river flowed with runoff last spring, smugglers ferried loads across by boat. Near Douglas and Naco, agents exchange gunfire with drug "mules" and get into smash-ups with those running the border by car. In the Tohono O'odham Nation, Indian trackers pursue midnight footprints through the desert. Cities away from the border also pay a price, especially Tucson and Phoenix, which have been transformed into distribution hubs, with spokes pointing to all corners of the nation. It has gotten so bad that federal agents refer to Arizona as "America's doormat for marijuana" and Tucson as its "stash house." The numbers are staggering: U.S. Customs agents confiscated nearly 84 tons of pot in Arizona in fiscal 1999, four times what was seized at the start of the decade. Narcotics cases filed in U.S. District Court here have nearly tripled during the past five years. Total drug arrests statewide have tripled in two decades to more than 22,000 annually. Last year, Tucson police raided a home and found ledgers showing a shipment of 3,300 pounds of dope, two suspects counting $109,000 in the kitchen, and a third guy smoking a Cheech-and-Chong-size joint in the bedroom. "At any given time in Tucson, there are more than 2,000 locations where you can buy drugs or find stash houses," said Kermit Miller, a city police captain. Phoenix also has emerged as an importation center for dope and crime. Last year, the Office of National Drug Control Policy reported that more than two-thirds of the homicides in Phoenix and more than half the assaults were drug-related. Police say the narcos, frequently paranoid and heavily armed, kill snitches and competitors, leaving them by roadsides with lead in the head. Investigators pursuing one East Valley ring have been stymied by the gunshot murder of at least four prospective witnesses. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, 11 "major drug trafficking organizations" are based in Arizona, working directly with Mexican cartels. Countless smaller syndicates smuggle and distribute drugs from barrios to burbs. It doesn't stop with narcotics. The syndicates also smuggle immigrants, extort money, steal cars and launder money. They are everywhere, and no one seems able to stop them. A deputy says "Go!" as the van skids to a halt. Four SWAT team members, armed to the teeth, race into the darkness. A concussion grenade rolls under the trailer as a flak-jacketed lawman bolts up the steps to crash the front door. The ear-mangling boom gets every dog in Yuma barking. A minute or two and a lot of shouting later, two sleepy-eyed women are led outside in handcuffs. A small boy follows, weeping for his mom. Yuma County sheriff's Commander Jimmy Schroeder, an exuberant bundle of nerves, enters the stuffy rig with his warrant in hand. There's a bag of "critty" - methamphetamine - and a half-eaten burrito on the kitchen counter. Schroeder starts rifling drawers and closets. Out come several grams of foil-wrapped black-tar heroin. From the tiny bedroom, he fishes out a handgun, a couple of police scanners, assorted drug pipes and two more bags of meth, a quarter-pound in all. One of the women, he says, is the stepdaughter of a Mexican smuggling chief. Surveying the growing stack of contraband in the kitchen, Schroeder breaks into a joyous shuffle. His partners chortle at the "critty dance." Why Arizona?Until the mid-1980s, most of South America's cocaine was smuggled into the United States via Florida. But when Dade County drug rings started having gunbattles in broad daylight, federal authorities cracked down. What happened was predictable: The cartels looked for new routes, finding allies among Mexico's pot and heroin smugglers. They had decades-old inroads through Texas, Arizona and California, black-market systems that dated to Geronimo in the mid-1800s. Colombians paid their Mexican collaborators cash at first, then agreed to share the coke and the U.S. market. Mexican syndicates quickly doubled their power and exportation business. Law enforcement followed the crime, shifting its efforts from Florida to the Southwest and Mexico. But narco-democracy, government dominated by drug cartel money and intimidation, was already entrenched. And the task was huge. Along America's southern border, there are 39 crossings, 24 ports of entry and 2,000 miles of badlands. For the past six years, President Clinton has beefed up Southwest interdiction forces in a strategy to stop the smuggling of drugs and immigrants. The number of Border Patrol agents, now about 8,000, has more than doubled since 1993. Nearly a quarter of those were hired last year alone. California and Texas were targeted first as authorities tried to shut down pipelines through San Diego and El Paso. The squeeze sent more and more drug shipments through Arizona, the point of weakest resistance. Only in the past 18 months have substantial border reinforcements landed in Arizona, chiefly in and around Nogales, an import-export crossroad about 60 miles south of Tucson. Predictably, traffickers swarmed east to Cochise County - Douglas, Naco and Sierra Vista. Some have begun to move out of Arizona altogether, back to old Caribbean routes. Drug Enforcement Administration analysts say Colombian cartels supplying most of the U.S. cocaine grew weary of sharing profits and drugs with Mexican traffickers, who helped them move their supplies through Mexico and across the Southwestern border. Plenty of pot, however, is still coming into Arizona from Mexican sources. Federal agencies are betting it will eventually ebb as they put more people along the border in southeastern Arizona. Eventually, the smuggling bulge will move to rural stretches of western Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, and that suits federal agents just fine. Smugglers are easier to spot in remote places than in cities. But no one expects it to stop. There's just too much money to be made. Across the border from Douglas, at Agua Prieta's Iglesia de Guadalupe, the rectory is protected by double locks and window bars. The Rev. Cristobal Valenzuela says drugs are eating at the heart of Mexico, as well as America. But he understands why poor campesinos take jobs as smugglers. They are accustomed to making $4 a day, if they can find work. They see narco-neighbors with nice cars, building new homes. They watch TV and drive across the border on shopping sprees, seeing how Americans live. What are they to think? Valenzuela wonders. So, they agree to carry one load of cocaine or pot across the line. They come home with more money than they would earn in a month. They pay the rent. Need gives way to greed for other things - jewelry, cars and stereos. So, they carry more loads. And when they've carried enough, they move up, hiring others to be the mules. There is something desperate about Agua Prieta, a dirty clump of businesses and homes, clogged at the border. Families and furtive-eyed young men move up and down the streets, waiting. Valenzuela looks outside through wrought-iron bars, shaking his head: "How can we help these people? How can we feed them, bathe them, give them shoes?" Guerrilla warfareSmuggling across Arizona's border is nothing new. For 150 years, bandidos, Apaches, bootleggers and gunrunners have carved black-market routes along la frontera. What's novel these days is the volume, and the danger. Before retiring last July, Thomas Constantine, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, described the Arizona border from Nogales to New Mexico as one of the most hazardous law enforcement beats in America. "The traffickers in this area are bold and confident, and less hesitant to confront law enforcement officers," he told Congress. "Since 1992, there have been 23 documented assaults and threats against law enforcement officers in the border area of Cochise County." The conflict is fought across an enormous and foreboding swath of desert and mountain. U.S. agents say Mexican military units sometimes serve as armed escorts for the drug runners. In the dead of night, interdiction becomes a perilous game of cat and mouse. Agents watch through an array of night-vision scopes, hidden in tarp-draped vans on hillsides or lying in wait along trails. The outlaws use their own technology and trickery. They haul dope on their backs, hide the stuff in false truck beds and thrash across the line in four-wheel-drive trucks. A few carve underground tunnels or fly the low-level gantlet through U.S. Customs' radar net. "Every night, there's a load. Every night, people are chasing each other," said Ritchie Martinez, an intelligence analyst for southern Arizona's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. "We are shouldering a lot of the nation's problems here in terms of dope." Both sides use quasimilitary tactics. Undercover narcs set up stings. Smugglers use illegal immigrants as decoys. Customs agents call in air support. Smugglers pay bribes to inspectors. The game has created human logjams in small towns on both sides of the border, prompting public outcries over federal tactics. Southeastern Arizona ranchers have taken up rifles and formed makeshift posses to patrol their lands against the invasion of smugglers and illegal immigrants. "These people cut fences, (urinate) in their water tanks, leave trash everywhere and don't ever close a gate," complained Bill Wendt, a businessman in Douglas. "I tell you what, if you live in this part of the country and you go out in the country, you'd better have a gun!" Others, such as Raul Enriquez, owner of the T-Bone restaurant in Douglas, view the drug war as a charade that keeps border towns thriving. "Legalize?" Enriquez says with horror. "We'd have a . . . depression. Do you know how many people would lose their jobs?" The Astar chopper kicks up dust as rotor wind rips at dry scrub below. Moving to a nearby wash, the chopper hovers as all hands scan for bales. A smuggler panics, bolting from a clump of bushes. The chopper banks and chases as one man becomes three. Minutes earlier, U.S. Customs pilots scrambled from Tucson's Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. The Arizona Department of Public Safety and the U.S. Border Patrol have tailed a carload of pot to a house in Tucson. It is a "hot car" sent ahead by smugglers to grab police attention. A bigger load, it turns out, is waiting in the desert a dozen miles north of the border, near Arivaca. The chopper's blinding dust storm stops the smugglers in their tracks. Border Patrol agents round up the runners. In the wash, they find the prize: 14 bundles of marijuana, some gift-wrapped in Christmas paper. Published: January 17, 2000Copyright 2000, Arizona CentralRelated Article: A Losing Drug War - 1/16/2000
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on January 17, 2000 at 11:33:34 PT
In a nutshell
The statement made by Mr. Enriquez is perhaps the most succint - and damning - bit of truth ever told about this farcical WoSD: 'Others, such as Raul Enriquez, owner of the T-Bone restaurant in Douglas, view the drug war as a charade that keeps border towns thriving. "Legalize?" Enriquez says with horror. "We'd have a . . . depression. Do you know how many people would lose their jobs?" So, if the average Joe gets it, don't you think the high-and-mighty haven't figured it out, too?From the highest govermental levels in Washington, Mexico City and Bogata, to the average Joe Sixpack, it all boils down to the same thing. Illicit drugs are profitable only because they *are* illicit; otherwise, they would be *dirt cheap*. If the presently illegal drugs were legalized, the exhorbitant prices charged for illicit drugs would plummet so precipitously that if the narcos hadn't diversified their funds into 'respectable' businesses, their holdings would implode. All their money would be gone.Needless to say, so would the justification to spend billions on interdiction efforts. So there go all those sweet civil service jobs that the DrugWarriors count on; they'd have to find more profitable uses for their time.But too much political capital has been made by the DrugWarrior's political allies, the politicians and bureaucrats, for them to make a graceful exit and admit they were wrong. So, the whole sorry mess will continue to drag on, year after year... until enough people become politically active and tell these goofs that the gravy train is over.
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