Gone West

Category: Drug Trafficking

Between Borders (1984)

Dunn was waiting, stretched out naked on a chenille covered motel bed too short for his length, gazing at a television. Between his dangling feet Rita Hayworth and Everett Sloane were blasting away with pistols, shooting for the hearts of love, betrayal and each other in Orson Welles’ black&white funhouse mirror maze.

Finally The End glowed on the screen in slanted script across Welles’ back as he walked from the dead, toward the Pacific, past Play Land. Dunn looked away from the television and up to the ceiling–a freshly painted pale blue that deftly bore November morning light from twin windows open to the Atlantic. It was an old fashion room, probably built the year he was born, 1945. A high ceiling supported by thickly plastered masonry walls, now also newly blue.With its bulky blonde oak furniture and weary barkcloth drapes fading with anemic tropical foliage, the room was anomalous relief from the American motel mantra, a monotonous rosary of air-conditioning and air traffic along which Dunn traveled, formica cell to waiting formica cell, a numbing chain that feigned mobility, linked by airport bars and rental cars from empty morning parking lots to Interstates in heat and rain, with coffee shops and truck stops and filling stations and rest stops to some terminus of sodium vapor and neon where the deal was done and then it was back along the beads, the motels and the motels and the motels….

Dunn rolled off the bedspread he hadn’t bothered stripping down and crossed to the windows. He rested his thin hands on his knees and leaned forward until his nose pressed the corroded window screen. He smelled the rust and the sea and remembered his first sight of the ocean as a child of the landlocked plains brought down to the Gulf by a his parents and two other tipsy adults.  It was then, on that day, he felt The Outsider for the first time, thinking himself more a clever foundling curiosity than child or son.

–Just wanted to get away from Them. And flee. Down the beach, forever gone. Running alongside all that big water breaking and beating. Forever gone. And moving.–

A little thrill shivered through Dunn with the recollection as he peered through the salt-encrusted screen and aw the slate weight rising above a pale shore.  The slat blood odor cut through the oily stink of paint and the smell pulled down thirty years: Dunn stands in front of his Mom on that strand.  She’s deliriously perfumed in a blue dress of dotted yellow Swiss and it blows around her hips like a Disney summer night.

The vividness of this memory startled Dunn and he turned away from the window to stare at the imprint his body had left in the chenille.

“Where’s Mom this morning?”, he thought aloud.

Dunn glanced at the Casio on his wrist and adjusted for the one-hour time difference.  She was back in Arlington, Texas sipping her second–no, third beer and V-8, waiting for the phone to ring. Just as her little boy was now doing.

–There’s no summertime breezing dotted Swiss today, Mom–

Dunn rubbed his face with his fingers, pinched his nose and crossed to the television where Phil Donahue looked very, very concerned about something. He pushed a button and snapped Phil off to oblivion. He looked again at his watch. He had been awake since this time yesterday. In another state, in another time zone, in another room. But still, waiting.  Time zones and room weren’t reality any longer. Waiting was reality.  All the rest was just backdrop, sets, like television, like Playland.


Dunn picked up a set of keys from the top of the television and brought them to a black rubberized briefcase resting in brutal contrast against the  livid green and yellow cushions of a wornout rattan chair where he had dropped it on arrival. Taking up a key, Dunn unlocked the satchel and took from it a minicassette recorder and a small pigskin case.. He placed the case on the dresser next to the television and sat on the foot of the bed.  Behind the cigarette-scarred  blonde dresser was a mirror that was filled with the blue of the walls.  In was the bamboo-framed print of palm trees, hysteric in a storm. In it were the lampshades on either side of the bed, each covered in plastic like specimens of rare skin. In it was Dunn, the recorder clasped in his hands, his forearms resting on bare pale thighs.  A child’s cry carried from the beach on a nor’easterly gust that billowed the thin drapery at the window, rippling its fabric leaves. Dunn switched on the recorder and held it up before his face that reflected back from the mirror.

“Mirrors,” he began. “Are deceptive surfaces. Contrivances. Of fire and water and sand.  They’re where we attempt the reality we choose. No. We desire.”

The child’s cry was answered by another’s and then  gulls joined in.  Dunn turned to the windows and listened. Then returned to the mirror.

“They’re essential when we wish to hide something. Where. We make certain the reflection. Reveals no more than we wish the world. To perceive. Mirrors. Are where we perfect our. Guile.”

Dunn focused on the eyes in the mirror. Motes of light, tiny balls of fire swam in the blue background.

“But. Alice’s Looking Glass. Gazing through the surface. Seek through the scars and moles. Chipped teeth.”

The face in the mirror grimaced.

“The deepening lines. Lines. Make memory of smooth skin. And conscience. Vivid. Clear. Vivid.”

On the glass before Dunn, ingenuous features struggled to cohere like weak microwave signals from some distant satellite, and then–a young man’s face giving beads of sweat to a hot blue sky in a border town spring morning, 1964.

“There was this kid…”

The Kid leans against a black 1957 Ford Fairlane outside a cementblock farmacia on the outskirts of Ciudad Acuna across the river from Del Rio waiting for his partner to come out of the shop with the stuff. The Kid’s sweating through a blue chambray shirt with its tail hanging out over his Levis, smelling the poverty of Mexico, chewing Wrigley’s Doublemint, kicking rocks with his roughout Noconas and grinning at this hazardous world before him with all the self-absorption of New Frontier American youth and 600 milligrams of dextroamphetamine. The Kid’s rush is further propelled by his flash on the situation: like, actual felonies are taking place here!  His drug-fueled Jesuit-trained brain quickly flips this reality into service of the business at hand: like, this is not real crime like murder or robbery or rape but the acceptable kind like his friends and parents and everybody else got along with, as..well, against the law but only “bad law”like bootlegging or gambling. Little sins of mischief. Venial trespasses everyone fell to every once in a while, but shit–not really wrong.

Even as The Kid nimbly unravels the ethical knots involved on this Mexican trip, he knows full well the world of shit ready to fall upon him and his partner should they somehow get nailed on this caper. This sudden contour of calamity, along with the speed hammering through his system, gives the The Kid such a charge that  he fears his brain will skid should he think of the consequences on second more. He spits out the pellet of gum and watches it ricochet off a dead tire on a crumbling GMC pickup sinking into the pale caliche street. A scrawny white and liver pie-bald animal crawls on its belly from the shadows behind truck’s wheel. Part dog, part rodent the pathetic creature scuttles to the wad of Wrigley’s, snatches it up with narrow jaws and turns a triumphant rheumy eye up to The Kid before it quickly retreats to its rusty haven beneath the truck. The Kid feels the clammy hand of fear at his neck and is relieved to see his partner emerge from the farmacia carrying a much-abused paper sack. They get into the Ford and drive further into the country to a truck stop beneath a green Pemex sign. Having spread out their buys among  three different farmacias, the four bottles of dexedrine in the bag has brought their day’s total to twelve. Splitting the bottles between them, The Kid and his partner begin the tedious work of securing them with black electrical tape beneath the dashboard. They disconnect and reconnect the wires to the radio twice before the pills are all firmly stashed deep against the firewall. They go to this trouble because the thought of driving all night through Texas to Oklahoma without Wolfman Jack blasting out of XERF in Ciudad Acuna was simply beyond question.

Twenty minutes after crossing  into Del Rio, The Kid is doing seventy miles per hours on Highway 90, closing in on San Antonio. it is long after dark and north of Austin when The Kid and his partner take off their Ray-Bans.  Riding on a high-octane amphetamine vector with the cool wind blowing up through the Fairlane’s open windows and the even cooler sounds of The Wolfman chasing them from Del Rio, The Kid feels completely in control.  Regardless that he doesn’t know what he’s going to do with his life or where he’s going after Norman, Oklahoma. Things are breaking very fast and the speed rushing through The Kid’s veins increases his sense that other possibilities, other realities are cresting on a wave that will sweep all the old fart politicians, peckerwood racist sheriffs, warmongering generals and the great gray masses off the face of the New Frontier and into the footnotes of bad history. The Kid is holding forth on this inevitability and the best of all possibles coming as his partner puts on his dark glasses and thrusts his face through the open passenger’s window and into the onrushing wind when the lights of Dallas sputter to life on the horizon dead ahead as The Wolfman brays.

“AAAAAAAaaaaaaawwwright bay-bies! Here’s sump’n you ain’t gonna bee-LIEVE! IT’S DA ROLLIN’ STO-OOOOHHHHNES-UH! An dey got TIME! ON THEY side! What’s happenin’! baby!”

A high-pitched sing string blues guitar picks its way out of the dashboard followed by a sneering pissed-off snarl:

“Ti-i-iyime is on mah side…Yesitis!”

The band is impossibly Black for a bunch of white Brits. Not a bit like those Beatles. Angry defiant troublemakers throwing down a tough fuck-you challenge that perfectly echoes The Kid’s rant as he cruises the black Fairlane toward the night lights of Big D.


When The Kid sees Dallas, he thinks of death. Seven months ago he was sitting at the runway bar of Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club, up the steep stairs from Commerce Street. Ruby had a round of drinks sent over to The Kid and his other underage pals as they watched a mean-eyed stripper grind her ass through another long late night. The Kid still had the woman’s eyes in his head when he was at his grandmother’s wake two weeks later while playing Pitch with his father and uncles at grandma’s in Shawnee when Aunt Marge came out of the kitchen with stunned eyes  saying the President had been shot in Dallas.And when he made the drive back to Norman that evening there were two pairs of eyes in The Kid’s head and they kept getting mixed up as he cried the final fifteen miles into town.  The Kid cried until his cheeks ran wet and his nose filled with tears.  He had not tears at the funeral but he wept those miles later, sobbing down that asphalt backroad while the radio repeated the same terminal phrases like a malevolently trained parrot.  Pictures of Dallas flickered in his mind.  Dealey Plaza and the ramp onto Interstate 35 from Commerce.  The stairs to the Carousel. The red and blue showlights. The hatred in the mascara-framed eyes of the stripper as she shook her spangle-tipped tits in his drunken face. The strange little fat guy in the shiny suit. A cartoon mafioso shaking his hand with soft damp fingers.

A few days after this terrible drive, The Kid would watch the funny little man pop out of a crowd on television and pull a trigger with that same hand.  And  The Kid could feel the connection in his palm every time they replayed the film on television. His hand held the hand that pulled the trigger on the gun that killed the man whose hand held the rifle that fired the bullet….”That Jack built!, says The Kid..

He looks into the rearview mirror where a widening breach of night is spreading between the Fairlane and Dallas.  The giant ruby neon Pegasus that rode the Magnolia Hotel above the lights of the city is now shrinking in the mirror and soon, there is only the night and not long after, the Red River, across which The Kid pushes the smuggling Ford to something almost like home. In the mirror The Kid’s face can be seen fading in the dashboard light, fueled only by native conviction and speed, tooling the ’57 into another, darker, night.

Dunn turned from the mirror and spoke to the blank television screen. “Boys grow old.” A distorted Dunn swam on its surface, an aqueous fun house impersonation. “And boys get tired.”

Dunn switched off the recorder and returned the device to the rubber-clad briefcase, placing it between a Browning .45 pistol and a copy of Everything That Rises Must Converge. The title startled him and he nearly laughed.  From the dresser he took the pigskin case and touched the tiny gold button on its edge. It opened like a book and inside its cover was fitted a mirror on which rested a small plastic zip-loc bag. From the bag, Dunn onto the mirror a tiny fist of shining lamina.  The cocaine glistened slightly pink in the filmy light from the windows. He took a single-edged razor blade from the case and cut into the white lump which gave up myriad flakes, covering the glass.  Dunn saw his face through the powder as he watched the blade tap tap tap tap the mirror to a finer and still finder dust until his face disappeared.  The razor swiped the cocaine into long thin lines, crystal ques that positively sang with velocity and desire, finally revealing a face that could have once been the face of that kid back in Ciudad Acuna, 1964.

Dunn hovered over the mirror, a silver tube now between his fingers and thumb.  Everything–his face, fingernails, the blue pastry ceiling, the twenty year old memory and its cafard of emotions were now wrapped tightly in a focus compassed on this glass. Beyond its edges, nothing. All the world fell away from this mirror. Beyond its border, not even dreams. He swiftly whiffed four lines. As the cocaine tipped his brain into paroxysms of neural ecstasy, Dunn looked back to the mirror and in its milky wash saw America, the insidiously perfect commodity only the Devil or a laissez-faire chemist could have conjured.  And it was consuming itself. It was the stuff that actually goes looking for itself, endlessly. Dunn laughed.

“It just needs people to carry it around. We’re a service industry.”

Behind the metaphor, Dunn’s eyes gleamed recognition as the drug reflected itself between the glass the corneas. An immaculate decoction of illusions so seductive that it was reality itself. the thing that moved all and everyone it touched.

“You’re more verb than noun,” said the mirror.

As the verb moved Dunn to bend yet again to the mirror where no reflection signified, the telephone rang.

Text copyright, All rights reserved Joseph Michael Reynolds 1984,1989, 2012.


Dying for another high-rise in Austin..


Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,

Our work contract’s out and we have to move on;

Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,

They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

We died in your hills, we died in your deserts,

We died in your valleys and died on your plains.

We died ‘neath your trees and we died in your bushes,

Both sides of the river, we died just the same.

–‘Deportee’, Woody Guthrie and Martin Hoffman

The grisly murders of a 9-year old girl and her father in Arizona’s Pima county just north of the Mexico border grabbed headlines this weekend due to the alleged killers involvement in the extreme anti-immigration Minutemen movement. See my posting  from yesterday.  More details can be found  in a  big takeout this morning at Everett, Washington’s Herald

Much noise will be made by Minutemen and other anti-immigrant activists (including nativist airhorns like Lou Dobbs) over the murdered father reportedly dealing dope for Chapo’s Sinaloa cartel. That’s the main media frame on things Mexican these days. Working the game for the cartels in the US is a high-risk job for immigrants, but so is legit employment–and for much less money.

3 dead after construction accident in Austin


Associated Press

The three men killed when part of a scaffold collapsed and plunged them several stories down were immigrant construction workers with families in Latin America, friends and family say.

It was unclear who employed Raudel Ramirez Camacho, 27; Wilson Joel Irias Cerritos, 30; and Jesus Angel Lopez Perez, 28, the Austin American-Statesman reported Saturday.

The men died Wednesday afternoon while working on a high-rise apartment project, said Harry Evans, a battalion chief with the Austin Fire Department. Officials say two of the workers fell 11 to 13 stories while a third fell a shorter distance onto the roof of a seven-story parking garage.

Irias and Lopez were from a rural town in Honduras and had been in Austin for less than a year after a stint in Florida, said their neighbor Ruben Flores.

“They were paisanos,” Flores said. “They were very hardworking. They would leave every morning at 6 a.m.”

Ramirez had a wife, a 2-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son in Queretaro, Mexico, said his father-in-law, Arturo Miranda, who lives in Austin.

“My daughter is destroyed,” said Miranda. “I haven’t been able to stop her from crying by telephone. She keeps asking me to tell her it’s not true.”

Since 1995 the on-the-job death rate for Mexican workers here in the US  as compared to native-born laborers has almost tripled–going from 30% to 80% more likely to die.

– Deaths among Mexicans increased faster than their population in the U.S. Between 1996 and 2002, as the number of Mexican workers grew by about half, from 4 million to 6 million, the number of deaths rose by about two-thirds, from 241 to 387. Deaths peaked at 420 in 2001.

– Though their odds of dying in the Southeast and parts of the West are far greater than the U.S. average, fatalities occur everywhere: Mexicans died cutting North Carolina tobacco and Nebraska beef, felling trees in Colorado and welding a balcony in Florida, trimming grass at a Las Vegas golf course and falling from scaffolding in Georgia.

– Even compared to other immigrants — those who historically work America’s hardest jobs — what’s happening to Mexicans is exceptional in scope and scale. Mexicans are nearly twice as likely as the rest of the immigrant population to die at work.

‘Dying to Work’, an Associated Press investigative report..

Emily Timm at the Workers Defense Project in Austin today told a local TV reporter:  “That sort of story is always shocking and very upsetting, but based on what we found in our study, these abuses are widespread.”

142 construction workers died on the job in Texas in 2007.

Timm: “That’s nearly twice as many deaths as any other state in the country. And, those statistics exist because regulators are not doing their jobs, because we don’t have strict enough policies to make sure employers are doing their part to ensure the safety of their workers.”

Full story at News 8 Austin. For an in-depth report on the perils of construction work in Texas,  go to Melissa del Bosque’s  feature in this week’s Texas Observer.

And if the risks are high for immigrant workers, the pay is not. Consider the new Orlando Magic venue  construction..

City officials have accused one of the biggest contractors working on the new Orlando Magic arena of underpaying more than 100 workers — and angry union leaders say the company is also hiring undocumented workers to build the team’s home court.

Orlando officials overseeing the construction of the $480 million city-owned venue say Capform violated city policies meant to ensure that workers in the construction trades are paid a fair wage. The city requires contractors and subcontractors to pay their workers the local ”prevailing wage” for the job they are doing.

Capform was awarded a $19.8 million contract to build the concrete superstructure of the new arena. It began work in October and will be largely finished this month.

After city officials notified the company of the violations, some workers were given back pay. Jim Renaud, vice president of the Carrollton, Texas-based company, said Capform resolved all of the problems, which he called ”clerical errors” resulting from workers being transferred from other job sites with different pay scales.  —Miami Herald

As for the three dead young workers in Austin–Raudel Ramirez Camacho, Wilson Joel Irias Cerritos and Jeus Angel Lopez Perez–I wonder if the future occupants at the 21 Rio condo will know their names or how much they sacrificed for the view.

NarcoGuerra Times-Obama’s Rebranded War


On May 28, President Obama’s “drug czar” Gil Kerlikowske had an exchange with the National Journal..in which the former Seattle police chief said,

“We should stop comparing this to a war and be much smarter about how we are dealing with it–and in a much more comprehensive way. I’ve ended the war on drugs.

…Reducing the demand in the country is absolutely critical if we are not only to improve our own safety and security but also that in other countries”

Sounds promising. But it’s just rebranding. Happy horseshit for the hopeful.  The proof is in the pudding–and the pudding in Washington is always colored green.

According to the White House National Drug Control Strategy FY 2010 Budget Summary billions more  will be spent on “supply reduction” than “demand reduction.”

In 2010 nearly twice as much federal funding will go the “war” that Kelikowske says is “over” than to drug treatment and prevention programs–$9.9 billion for the cops and military, $5.167  for the demand side.

That’s a 2.7% bump for military and law enforcement, a 0.8% reduction for Obama’s  much touted prevention/treatment course.

And that’s just part of the Big Picture.

There are many many billions more heading into various counternarc0tics, counternarcoterrorist programs squirreled away within  DOD, State, Homeland Security, DOJ.  I am still wading through budgets and reports and can’t begin to pull a full expenditure together. One thread that runs steady through them all is the Pentagon.

From what I’ve seen thus far–despite the unease the Obama administration may have with the word—it’s definitely a war.

And its expanding.

More to follow.

* Map circa 1999.

NarcoGuerra Times- “Parallel State” Update

 bandera de los zetas

“I would say Mexico is a state with a parallel power in its drug cartels. It’s not a narco state yet; we still have a government. But they have true power, beginning with the right to tax (protection money).  I would say we are in great danger (of becoming a narco state.)”–Victor Clark Alfaro, narcotraficante expert at San Diego State University, June 3 2009 

Alfaro was speaking to Linda Diebel, reporter at the Toronto Star. She has a commendable piece out today–one that cuts through the bullshit bodycounting and fear-thumping generalizations the major US media coughs up on a daily basis.  Read Diebel’s piece here.  Note the happy horsehit the Mexican ambassador to Canada shovels out at the end of the article….like doing deep kneebends in the void.

Two weeks ago I posted on the parallel state model that Alfaro refers to–new readers can find that here.  For further reading I suggest venturing to  Ivan Briscoe’s The Proliferation of the Parallel State.  

Based on a close study of Pakistan and Guatemala, as well as a number of other cases ranging from Fujimori’s Peru to contemporary Guinea-Bissau, this Working Paper sets out to define the novel concept of the “parallel state”. It explains the emergence of these states in contexts where democracy and open markets have recently been installed, and analyses the ways in which political leaders and the public connect with entrenched criminal groups.

Briscoe’s  timely analysis can be downloaded as a pdf (English or Spanish) at FRIDE,  Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior 


* That’s Los Zetas bandera at top

NarcoGuerra Times: More on The Faith-Based Cartel

jesus with gun

“La Familia doesn’t kill for money, doesn’t kill women, doesn’t kill innocent people. It only kills those who deserve to die. Everyone should know this: Divine justice.”–message left with five severed heads on the dance floor of the Sol y Sombra nightclub in Uruapan, Michoacan, September 6, 2006.

A week ago today–May 27–a Mexican army squad was patrolling along the Michoacan side of the Rio Jeronimo across from the state of Guerrero. They rumbled into Riva Paldo, a little town about 300 klicks west of Mexico City, and rolled up on a black Nissan Xterra parked on a side street.

Inside the SUV, the soldiers found thirteen rifles, eleven pistols, four fragmentation grenades, 5,000 rounds of ammunition, scales and nine copies of bestselling Christian author John Eldredge’s Savaje de Corazon, (Wild at Heart). According the army report, the books were signed “El Mas Loco”–The Craziest One– AKA, Nazario Gonzalez Moreno, La Familia’s evangelizing jefe whose self-published La Familia handbook is packed with Eldredge quotes. A particular favorite is this dashing call to arms:

Todo hombre desea tener una batalla que pelar, un aventura que vivir una bella rescatar.

Every man wants a battle to fight, an adventure to live and a beautiful rescue.

La Familia’s bulk-buying and give-aways of Eldredge’s book doesn’t seem to jibe with George W. Grayson’s take on the the cartel’s religious bent. In his detailed overview published in February–La Familia: Another Deadly Mexican Syndicate–Grayson links La Familia to an decades-old apocalyptic traditionalist Catholic town in the Michoucan sierras:

La Familia’s current leaders, Bible-toting fanatics Moreno Gonzalez and Mendez Vargas, may have direct or indirect ties with devotees of the New Jerusalem movement.

Mexico Religious Cult

Grayson didn’t mention La Familia’s connection to the Muscular Christian prosyletizer Eldredge, likely because nobody had wind of that outside of Michoacan and the Mexican federal intelligence agencies until last week. Even though Moreno flogs a Protestant evangelical’s book, that doesn’t preclude La Familia from recruiting in New Jerusalem…

…a theocracy where soccer balls are illegal, John F. Kennedy is a saint, freedom of religion doesn’t exist and the end of the world is just around the corner. It is the largest and longest surviving of a string of traditionalist Catholic colonies that have sprung up around the world.

More on New Jerusalem from The Arizona Republic’s Chris Hawley.

NarcoGuerra Times: The Faith-Based Cartel

La Familia corpse

The drug cartel La Familia Michoacana is, as one Mexican intelligence analyst put it, “unique.”

From all available information so far, it appears that La Familia has developed into a faith-based right-wing populist social movement emanating from and orchestrated by an organization that happens to be a well-armed, well-financed violent criminal enterprise.

La Familia has branched out from the production and transport of drugs, diversifying into counterfeiting, extortion, kidnapping, armed robbery, prostitution and car dealerships. They’ve gone so far beyond bribery that people in Michoacan are paying mony to La Familia in lieu of taxes to the government. According to the recent Mexican federal police report on La Familia, there are 9,000 members of the La Familia “sect.”

The federales are now viewing La Familia as more of a guerrilla group than a straight-foward drug cartel. Unlike other cartels, La Familia goes beyond the production and distribution of marijuana, meth, cocaine and heroin and into the political realm. The report goes on to say that La Familia has “created  a cult-like mystique and developed pseudo-evangelical recruitment techniques that are unique in Mexico.” 

Federal intelligence officers in Mexico described La Familia leader, Nazario Gonzalez Moreno–El Mas Loco (The Crazy One)–as a “religious zealot” who totes around his self-published book of “aphorisms” based on the Bible and writings of US evangelical author and former Focus on The Family writer, John Eldredge. In the searches and arrests targeting La Familia across Michoacan, the one common denominator federal forces found, along with assault rifles, grenades and drugs, were copies of Eldredge’s Wild At Heart. (Salvaje de Corazon).

La Familia is strongly pro-family (and all that that implies) and requires its members to abstain from alcohol and drugs. There is an indoctrination program all La Familia recruits must go through that inculcates ” personal values, ethical and morlal principles consistent with the purposes of the organization.”  Last year La Familia brought in  two motivational speakers to lecture its members. The group is hierarchic and maintains a strict top-down emotional control of its members.

Think of Jim Jones’ People’s Temple, only with more money and firepower and you get the idea.

 La Familia presents serious implications for the July 5 state and elections and not just in Michoacan. The federal intelligence report warns that   La Familia “represents a serious risk to penetrate political, social and religious structures in Michoacán and increasingly in other states of the country as Guanajuato, Mexico and the State of Jalisco.”

More to follow from La Familia writings, messages and banderas.

From Focus On The Family to La Familia Michoacana

La Familia Michoacana was all over the news out of Mexico last week. In President Calderon’s home state of Michoacan,  federales carted off  ten  mayors and twenty other local officials who were allegedly under the control of La Familia, an ambitious cartel often described as a “pseudo-evangelical cult.”  (See my earlier post on them as parallel state  here.)



On Saturday an internal intelligence report on La Familia from the Mexican justice department surfaced in Milenio, bringing the news that the faith-based cartel grounds its indoctrination program on the writings of macho Christian author and veteran Focus On The Family senior fellow John Eldredge, who  now heads Ransomed Hearts Ministries in Colorado Springs.

There are four separate references to Eldredge in  the Mexican  intelligence memo on La Familia. The cartel has conducted a three-year  recruitment and PR campaign across Michoacan featuring thousands of billboards and banderas carrying their evangelical message and warnings.  La Familia is known for tagging its executions and other mayhem as “la divina  justica”–divine justice.

The report says La Familia leader, Nazario Gonzalez Moreno aka El Loco o More Chayo (“The Craziest”) has made Eldredge’s books salvaje de corazonrequired reading for La Familia and has paid rural teachers and National Development Education members to circulate the Colorado-based evangelical’s writings throughout the Michoacan countryside. 





Eldredge pic









  According to his bio:

John was a member of the staff at Focus on the Family for 12 years. Most recently he served as Senior Fellow for Christian Worldview Studies at the Focus on the Family Institute—a one-semester program for college students located at the Focus campus in Colorado Springs. There he began showing a new generation of Christians what writers like C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and George MacDonald knew so well: “Christianity is not an invitation to become a moral person. It is not a program for getting us in line or for reforming society. At its core, Christianity begins with an invitation to desire.”

At FOTF, Eldredge led Dobson’s anti-gay crusade.  Here is Rev. Mel White’s account of a May 1994 meeting in Colorado in a letter White sent to Dobson:

John Eldredge, the first, key-note speaker. “The gay agenda, ” he claimed quite falsely, has all the elements of that which is truly evil. It is deceptive at every turn…It deceives those who are drawn into it, who embrace it. It presents an extraordinary deceptive face to the public at large.”

John was one of the three delegates to that conference from Focus on the Family. …Mr. Eldredge made his goals for gays and lesbians completely clear: “..to roll back the militant gay agenda wherever it manifests itself…whether in domestic partnership ordinances…school curriculum issues…pursuit of minority status…marriage and adoption privileges, so on and so forth.”

 Eldrege has been repeatedly taken to task by Christian critics on theological grounds, including  his mixing of “neo-pagan”  philosphy with the Gospel and aggressive of ‘Muscular Christianity”. Here and here. 

This from Christian blogger Tim Challies :

John Eldredge became a major player in the evangelical world with the release of The Sacred Romance which he co-authored with Brent Curtis (who has since died). Following The Sacred Romance he wrote Wild at Heart, Waking The Dead, The Journey of Desire and more recently, Epic. I have read all of these except for Waking The Dead and The Journey of Desire. Eldredge’s books are targeted primarily at men and his writings have great appeal for men, many of whom feel that society has forced them to be like Mr. Rogers – harmless and just a little effeminate. Eldredge encourages men to be real men – to head to the wilderness and be the rugged warriors we all want to be if we look deep inside ourselves. Eldredge continually writes about William Wallace of Braveheart or Maximus, the main character in Gladiator – real manly men.”

 Handiwork left on a nightclub dance floor by Eldredge’s “real manly” Christian acolytes..it doesn’t get more Mel Gibson  than this :

 More details to follow.

Narcocorridos: Prime Time TV, plus… a Cartoon!

I share the view that AMC’s meth-framed series,  Breaking Bad is the most innovative, relevant, subversive, best directed, acted and filmed drama to hit  televison since the departure of  The Wire. If you haven’t seen it, I’m not taking the time to file a synopsis of the past two seasons–go here.

Last month Breaking Bad opened an episode with a music video featuring a narcocorrido specifically written for the show by Los Cuartes de Sinaloa that references one of the main characters, a strung-out dealer in Albuquerque who goes by the slyly apt street moniker–Heisenberg.

The title Negro y Azul refers to the blue-colored supermeth crafted by Breaking Bad’s protagonist,the beleagured Walter–a high school chemistry teacher heading for the grave via terminal cancer who decides to provide for his wife and cerebral palsy-stricken son by cooking high-quality crank and by default, a major norteno narco.

In an interview at the show’s blog, Los Cuates de Sinaloa’s Gabriel Berrelza explained the corridistas’ role: 

“We don’t encourage crime. There are a lot of corridos that have a message, warning the public about the harm that drugs can do. What we do is report the news. Drug traffickers are everywhere and we’re just giving people information about who’s on top, what they’re doing, the trouble they get into. It’s the nightly news set to music.”

It’s also sometimes a surreal goof.

Check this Ralph Bakshi-influenced cartoon set to  Jesus Palma’s “Corrido de Los Ovnis (UFOs)”  featuring a cerveza-soaked contrabandista, his pneumatically-breasted blonde moza and a pair of  little green space aliens who make a trip in their saucer to Sinaloa and go crazy for the coke.

Hilarity and  a new market ensue.

 To understand where all this is coming from, I emphatically recommend obtaining Elijah Wald’s 2001 Narcocorrido

Narcocorrido cover

An Old School roots music historian, Wald took off from Boston in the late 90s with his guitar strapped across his back and hitchiked his way across northern Meico– through Sinaloa, Michoacan, Culiacan, the Baja–interviewing the major bandas and corridistas along his hejira. It’s an outstanding piece of journalism.

Much has happened in the eight years since Wald’s book was published–especially since Calderon launched his military campaign. The narcoguerra wasn’t nearly as bloody and chaotic back then as it today.  But Wald’s book still holds up as the best English-language account of the music, the musicians and the culture that spawned them.  To learn more on the narcocorridos (and his other books) hit  his web site.


NarcoGuerra Times– Beyond Mexico

“The U.S. Mexico relationship is increasingly being designed as a security issue. The bilateral relationship is becoming militarized. The people who define this crucial relationship to both countries are increasingly in the Pentagon and the military.”  Laura Carlsen, the American Policy Programme at the Centre for International Policy.


In covering  Mexico’s drug war, it appears that most of the  US media has split its time between counting found heads around Ciudad Juarez and honking alarms about the cartel invasion of American suburbs.

But the Mexican cartels, especially the Los Zetas/Golfo consortium, have been busy beyond Mexico’s border to the south– dropping bodies and heads, building transhipment networks, buying cops and bureaucrats, recruiting from the military, from off the streets and in the countryside. 

 Mexican cartels now have their mitts in coca field production in Peru. 

Peruvian claims of Mexican cartels expanding echo those by officials in other Latin American countries, from Honduras to Argentina, where Mexican gangs have supplanted once-powerful Colombian cartels as kings of the illicit-drug underworld.

Peru’s top anti-narcotics official, General Miguel Hidalgo, said 32 suspected Mexican cartel members were arrested in Peru during the past two years, compared with “almost no one” during the previous comparable period. Four arrests occurred in September when police seized 2.5 tonnes of cocaine hidden in rubber ship bumpers that were about to be sent to Mexico from Lima’s port district.

Mexican cartels have established a criminal presence in other Peruvian ports to facilitate the transport of cocaine, said the top anti-drugs prosecutor, Sonia Medina. The northern port city of Paita near Piura is considered especially corrupt.

Several Mexicans were arrested and tried with 20 others in connection with the 2006 assassination of judge Hernan Saturno, who was bringing a drugs case against members of the Juarez drug cartel. Judge Saturno’s killing is one of 16 cases since 2006 in which Mexican sicarios, or assassins, are thought to have been involved. Ms Medina said paid Mexican killers are operating in Peru as enforcers for their bosses back home.

That Mexican drug lords are sending emissaries is no surprise to General Hidalgo. Peru and the US estimate that 80 per cent of all Peruvian cocaine – about one-third of world production – is shipped north via Mexico.

They essentially control traffic from  the ‘boutique’ cocaine outlets in Colombia. They control the shipping routes across the Gulf and along the Pacific coast from Peru, Colombia and the Venezuelan coast. Their coke and weapons truck  through Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala .DROGA-2-600

While operating in the US, they are careful to keep the violence indoors and off the streets–unlike their Colombian counterparts  in Miami  in the late Seventies. Unlikely we will see the running gun battles that took place  back in that day when Miami was referred to as Dodge City.

I’ve covered organized crime, drug smuggling, terrorists and murder for many years and haven’t seen anything quite like these Mexican cartels–especially Los Zetas. While some obvious comparisons can be made with the  Mafia/Cosa Nostra in the USA, we’re in another realm with these folks. For those who care to take some time reading, here are two interesting, and important, analyses that portend a broader war and the increased militarization of the war on drugs.  

In January 2008, Max G. Manwaring, professor of military strategy at the US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, weighed in on the security threat that these new narcos and other criminal organizations pose to an increasingly unstable Latin America, comparing  the cartels to a Fortune 500 company 

These more horizontally organized criminal entities are among those evolving from the generalized pyramid structure into a flat, transnational organization that communicates and makes decisions instantaneously via cell phone and the Internet.  In this context, gangs and their TCO (Transnational CriminalOrganization) allies in Mexico, as in other countries, share many of the characteristics of a multinational Fortune 500 company. Thus, the phenomenon is an organization striving to make money, expand its markets, and move as freely as possible in the politicaljurisdictions within and between which they work. By performing its business tasks with super efficiency and for maximum profit, the general organization employs its chief executive officers and boards of directors, councils, system of internal justice, public affairs officers, negotiators, and franchised project managers. And, of course, this company has a security division, though somewhat more ruthless than one of a bona fide Fortune 500 corporation.

The 66-page report in pdf can be downloaded at the  Strategic Studies Institute.  While there I recommend downloading Manwaring’s latest mongraph published last week : State Supported and State Associated Gangs: Credible “Midwifes of New Social Orders”  .

 Like insurgencies and other unconventional asymmetric irregular wars, there is no simple or universal model upon which to base a response to the gang phenomenon (gangs and their various possible allies or supporters). Gangs come in different types, with different motives, and with different modes of action. Examples discussed include Venezuela’s institutionalized “popular militias,” Colombia’s devolving paramilitary criminal or warrior bands (bandas criminales), and al-Qaeda’s loosely organized networks of propaganda-agitator gangs operating in Spain and elsewhere in Western Europe. The motives and actions of these diverse groups are further complicated by their evershifting alliances with insurgents, transnational criminal organizations (TCOs), drug cartels, warlords, governments that want to maintain a plausible denial of aggressive action, and any other state or nonstate actor that might require the services of a mercenary gang organization or surrogate.

Lessons derived from these cases demonstrate how gangs might fit into a holistic effort to compel radical political-social change, and illustrate how traditional political-military objectives may be achieved indirectly, rather than directly. These lessons are significant beyond their own domestic political context in that they are harbingers of many of the “wars among the people” that have emerged out of the Cold War, and are taking us kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

They may be too wonky for popular ingestion, but  are very important as guides to where this narcoguerra is likely heading.  


NarcoGuerra Times- Los Zetas Raise their Game

May hasn’t been festive for Mexican President Felipe Calderon. With a miserable economic forecast, a nationwide influenza outbreak and an increasingly abusive  military war on drug cartels, its been a bad month since he met with President Obama in Mexico City in April.

Despite weekly televised perp walks of captured cartel “kingpins” featuring pallets of confiscated cash, coke, weed and weapons–Los Zetas, the Special Forces of the narco trade, keeps bringing it.

On May 15 Los Zetas operators hit the prison in Zacatecas and, with the compliance of scores of prison guards, sprang 53 inmates–including seventeen midlevel Zetas. The smoothly executed operation was captured on surveillance cameras. I like this one from The Guardian because there’s no news reader twaddle to distract.

Note the orderly insertion by the black-clad Zeta team and the speed with which they moved the inmates down the corridors and out of the prison.

Imagine this happening at a prison in the United States.

You can’t–because the correction officers here are paid well enough. That’s not the case in Mexico–not for the prisons, not for the federal and state police, not for the army–not even for Calderon’s own cabinet.

The Zetas aren’t limiting their business to illegaladdictive substances like meth and coke–they also have oil for sale.

Last week the Mexican attorney general’s office–the Procuraduria General de la Republica–said that for the past two years Los Zetas was tapping some 80,000 gallons of diesel a week from Pemex lines in Veracruz and then selling the fuel to 70 distributors in central Mexico through a company called AutoExpress Especializados Teoloyucan (AETSA).

Interesting footnote to this:

After taking office in 2006, Calderon, an ardent privatizer in the Bush mold, had Pemex contract SY Coleman in Arlington, Virginia to provide security for the pipelines and fields in Veracruz. Since then the Zetas have been draining the lines with impunity. According to Pemex, illegal extraction of fuel tripled between 2006 and 2008, going from 136 incidents in 2006 to 396 three years later.

Coleman, a subsidiary of big dog defense contractor L3 Communications, was headed by Rumsfeld crony Jay Garner until he took a leave-of-absence in 2003 to run the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid in Iraq. The Texas-based tech provider L3 also happens to have the contract for the high-tech fence going up along the US/Mexican border.

Given L3’s track record with the pipelines in Veracruz–I don’t expect their super-surveillance barrier is causing the Zetas and other cartels to lose sleep.

[I am putting together a detailed page on Los Zetas, including their core training at Ft Bragg, Ft Benning and Ft Huachuca, their recruitment of the kaibiles, Guatemalan special forces, and their expansion south into Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica. This is drawn from work I’ve been doing over the past six months for an old friend at an intel/analysis shop in NYC. I hope to have some of it up later this week–]