The Deity of the Drug Cartels

Everybody has its own religious taste, but by any standards this is an unusual one. Many adherents of the Mexican drug cartels pay homage to Santa Muerte – Saint Death – a skeleton goddess dressed as a bride adorned with hundreds of pieces of glittering gold jewelry served up by her devoted followers. Hardly the comfortable image of a Christian saint, but suitable enough for those habituated to the violence that has consumed Mexico. Saint Death is a symbol for everyday life, which is death for so many Mexicans. Those causing it can take comfort in a saint that seems to absolve them of their crimes. She is one of them quite large.

The Holy Death by Dori Hartley

Like so much of cartel life, Saint Death is crossing the U.S. border. She is popular in prisons, and her figure stands in many front yards. Decals of her are seen on cars and pick-up trucks. Some proudly display their Saint Death tattoos. The American media have even caught up with her The Watters World on Fox tv described her rise with appropriate and repulsive video. A good start, but there could be a misleading implication. If only the cartels had a decent religion, they could change their ways.

This overlooks the fact that they do have a religion well beyond Saint Death: the worship of money. This is a bountiful deity indeed that supplies its worshippers with something close to one hundred billion dollars a year in drug sales to Americans. Who then is the true god of this religion? Unwitting Americans whose drug habit makes the cartels possible? For some reason the media avoid making this obvious connection. Saint Death is an easier target than the powerful American interests supporting an indefensible status quo.

Restricting drug demand is an uphill battle. No doubt more could be done, but a growing number of Americans will have their drugs come what may. Supply is another matter. That can be sharply curtailed by sealing the U.S.-Mexican border where most of the drugs arrive. Given the weakness of current border control, an estimated thirty thousand U.S. troops could make the difference along with another ten thousand to uproot the cartel marijuana farms in the California desert and keep others from starting with their attendant activities. That would be just a fraction of the U.S army of 480,000, and troops might prefer defending their homeland rather than remote places and questionable enemies a long distance away.

Use of the military on domestic soil is a challenge to custom and not lightly undertaken. But the cartels can be considered an enemy power – they basically run Mexico – and a clear present threat to the U.S., including increasing conflict with the Border Patrol on our side of the border. Less provocation than this has led to military action elsewhere in the world. It’s time to confront the gods of greed and violence here at home.

Victory Was Possible in the Afghan War

Tora Bora. The name isn’t engraved in U.S. history, but it should be, says Peggy Noonan in her weekly column for The Wall Street Journal. She writes that in this mountainous region full of caves on the Pakistan border Osama bin Laden, mastermind of 9/11, was making his last stand under heavy U.S. bombardment. It was just a matter of time before U.S. troops would seize or kill him, and he was drawing up his will. The war would be over in a few weeks. Mission accomplished.


Then, astonishingly, writes Noonan, U.S. troops were not supplied but were sent instead to fight the planned war in Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11. Bin Laden escaped to Pakistan, where he survived as an icon of error for another ten years until killed in a Navy Seal raid. Deprived of their target, U.S. policy makers assumed the larger task of conquering Afghanistan and turning it into a replica of American democracy.

What were U.S. policy makers thinking? asks Noonan. Incompetence and the fog of war may partially explain the blunder. But was there something else? There were those in Washington, she writes, who may have felt it was too soon to seize bin Laden since it might weaken support for the invasion of Iraq, their basic goal. Noonan doesn’t name them, but the so-called neocons, who figure prominently in U.S. foreign policy, wanted to remove Saddam Hussein as an enemy of both Israel and the US. The war gave them an opportunity at the cost of its lasting another twenty years.

Coincidentally, in the same issue of The Wall Street Journal, a leading neocon, Paul Wolfowtitz, says this longest war may not have been long enough. He writes that given low U.S casualties, a war can go on forever to help keep America safe.  He fails to mention how others may feel about endless wars destroying their homelands and peoples. Also unmentioned is his own role as U.S. deputy defense secretary in the Bush Administration in providing false information leading to the invasion of Iraq. Contrary to his assurances, Iraq had no link to 9/11 and was not building weapons of mass destruction. 

Oddly, the crisis of 9/11 did not lead to a concentration on strategic thinking that largely characterized Cold War policy. Rather impulse and emotion seemed to prevail. In his book “Bush At War,” Bob Woodward quotes a U.S. counter-intelligence chief predicting to a doubtful Russian: “We’re going to kill them.We’re going to put their heads on sticks. We’re going to rock their world.” Forever wars are not conducive to balanced judgment.

Time To Defend the U.S.

The retreat from Afghanistan is a significant U.S. loss, but the Taliban never threatened the homeland itself. Similarly, a variety of other U.S. wars – Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia – have not endangered the U.S. But one country continues to press, indeed invade the U.S. without let-up – neighboring Mexico, or rather the drug cartels that control it. The exceptional country, as we’re sometimes called, has been exceptionally forbearing.

Photo by Megan Jelinger/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

This geopolitical anomaly has been the stuff of satire. Take the Babylon Bee whose fake headline reads: “President Trump is under heavy criticism for announcing the deployment of thousands of U.S. troops to the U.S.-Mexican border with critics slamming him for using the military for the bizarre purpose of defending the country.” No one is sure where Trump got this strange idea. A soldier complains: “I signed up to occupy Afghanistan, not defend the country. When I said I’d defend American freedoms, I meant I’d defend them abroad, not defend them at home.”

The comic approaches reality when U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin assures Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that the U.S. will help defend Saudi Arabia’s borders with Yemen, a smaller neighbor it has pummeled mercilessly in a six-year war. Some borders are more deserving than others.

The problem is the U.S border has never been more vulnerable. The highly organized, unrelenting drug cartels are pushing more hard and dangerous drugs than ever into the U.S. along with migrants who are forced to pay $12,000 for the trip or more if they’re from outside Mexico and Central America. It has been a cartel bonanza. And now the cartels are making a home in the U.S. interior – more than a thousand illegal marijuana farms in the California desert and counting. Not to mention all the distribution networks throughout the country, leading to the retail gangs that battle one another over drug deals in the inner cities.

Photo by (U.S. Army/Army Spc. Ethan Valetski)

It’s clearly a national problem that needs a national solution. And that would mean engaging the U.S. military to make up for the outmanned and underfunded local law enforcement. Starting with the British soldiers quartered in colonists’ homes before the Revolution, Americans have always been wary of military involvement in domestic troubles. So, it has been used sparingly over the years, occasionally to break up riot-prone strikes or to enforce desegregation against resisting mobs in the south. There was of course the massive deployment of troops in the tumultuous Civil War.

But these were all fellow Americans. The cartel invasion is foreign for which there  are Constitutional provisions to react. This is where lessons learned from recent dubious wars can apply. While they were not won, U.S. troops were highly successful in punitive raids, in and out fast with maximum damage and minimal casualties. Writes U.S. Marine veteran Gil Barn dollar in The Wall Street Journal: “Thanks to strategic mobility, expeditionary logistics and high levels of readiness, the U.S. military is peerless when it comes to projecting combat power.”

That would readily apply to any action against the cartels. The idea is not to try to conquer Mexico and take the half that remains after the U.S. conquest of the 1840s. It’s to repel the cartels from the border and from the interior. Some thirty thousand troops could seal the border. Another ten thousand could flush out the cartel marijuana farms in California which alarm and intimidate inhabitants and keep new ones from starting.

Since the cartels have become very adventurous in crossing the border, the U.S. could pursue them if necessary, into Mexico. It’s their land, and they have forfeited it. There may be no final victory. We’re used to that. But in stalling and weakening the cartels, we can come to the rescue of both the U.S. and Mexico whose people have suffered indescribable brutality at the hands of the cartels.

The Drug Cartels Are Here (Part Two)

The U.S. border town Douglas, Arizona, has set an example of how to deal with a Mexican drug cartel. Seizing an opportunity, a cartel sent over a flamboyant youngster to run for mayor of Douglas. He won the election and promptly started to turn Douglas into a replica of a Mexican cartel town. That was too much for the citizenry who rebelled and ran an opposition candidate in the next election – a Mormon with ten children. He won, the cartel favorite scampered away, and Douglas, with some adjustments, was able to return to normal.

Photo by Creator: Chairiot – Ralph Megna 

The circumstances of Landers (pop: almost 3000) in the southern California desert are different, but the spirit could be the same. At the small post office, which comprises the center of the town, I met two elderly residents who described their plight. They are surrounded by cartel marijuana farms. They stink,” says one, meaning in a number of ways. They produce trash whch they don’t bother to clean up. They steal water needed in great volume for the marijuana plants. Their pesticides destroy wildlife, even two bears, not to mention the slow moving tortoise always threatened with extinction.

Patricia Domay, who lives in Landers, complained to a local newspaper that the name should be changed to  “Potlandia.” My postoffice companion doesn’t want her name mentioned because of the possible danger. In Mexico anyone making this kind of trouble for a cartel would be promptly killed. She says townspeople are understandably intimidated by the spreading maijuana farms. “They are nervous, frustrated and some are scared as they have every right to be.” But a recent community meeting of some 200 people considered ways to combat the ominous newcomers, including, to be sure, harsher laws against them.

The cartels would like us to leave so they can take over, says this impassioned Landers resident. No way. Let them leave. 

For better or worse in this democracy of ours, Landers can’t expect much help from U.S. higher-ups. Complacent dreamers in Washington might even consider the cartel intrusion as a kind of prank. Look at what those silly Mexicans are up to now. Besides, the people of Landers are not our kind of people. Our kind are now bringing “peace and democracy” to various parts of the world.

No dreamers, the cartels are aware of this attitude in Washington. They looked no doubt with astonishment on the tolerance of the recent burning and looting of major American cities. We don’t do this kind of thing, they would say. Surely, the indulgent U.S won’t interfere with our harmless marijuana farms.

In fact, they are much involved. While their farms are quite distant from one another in the desert, they are hardly alone. Free from border restrictions, they sell  directly to the U.S, which requires all kinds of intermediaries to make the deliveries and the sales. They tie into the inner city gangs which profit mightily from their participation and mimicking Mexico, fight among themselves for control of the traffic. How much of this is responsible for the destruction in the cities? No one bothers to look. 
Let small town America – a Douglas, a Landers – show the way out.

The Drug Cartels Are Here (Part One)

Traveling through the vast, timeless California desert, you see little sign of life. But wait! What’s that white speck in the distance? And yet another. And one more. As you get closer, you realize these are the white canopied covers of marijuana farms run by the Mexican drug cartels, who not content with pushing more drugs and migrants than ever across the porous border, have set up shop in the U.S. interior. It’s a first and by any definition an invasion, and they plan to stay. Better get used to it.

Photo by

The grim gray midsummer desert demeanor wouldn’t see to offer an attractive change of life, but people are coming, some fed up with Los Angeles to the south. Home prices are rivaling Florida’s, though there’s no sparkling water or beach. For the cartels it’s a perfect setting – hot, dry and spacious. No nosy neighbors, who like the police, tend to keep their distance. Don’t make any unnecessary contact, the locals are warned. Farm occupants are not to be seen during the day, but lights burn all night with their activity. Normally very aggressive at home, they are more cautious here. Business comes first. Violence can wait.

Frank Luchino, city manager of Twentynine Palms, a town with many cartel neighbors, says every level of government and law enforcement is doing its best to remove them. But there’s a big bump in the road. When an illegal farm is discovered, it’s only a misdemeanor with a $500 fine, not even chump change for cartels whose product, including marijuana, earns close to one hundred billion dollars a year from American consumers. A more severe penalty is needed but is slow in coming.

Too slow for the citizens of the region. “It’s outrageous that this is going on and nothing is done about it,” says Liz Shickter, a manager at the historic 29Palms Inn who lives a few miles outside the town center. There are periodic raids that destroy some farms, but they are quickly replaced by others in all the available land. “I smell it,” she says of the ever-present marijuana. She notes how a complex of farms has been provocatively located in view of a U.S. Marine base – a brazen gesture since the US. military, unlike the Mexican, doesn’t belong to the cartels. Still, the U.S military is not allowed to confront the cartels. They are more or less safe.

This doesn’t account for Marine retirees and others in the area who carry guns and are good shots. In Mexico, which has very strict gun laws, the cartels don’t have to worry about the resistance of an armed citizenry, and they of course have plenty of guns with which they have given Mexico one of the world’s highest homicide rates. In the California desert, they would have to take pause. No use losing a shootout. Supreme strategists, they will figure.

Fentanyl: Cure & Killer

Apache, China Girl, Dance Fever, Great Bear. He-man. Jackpot. Murder 8. Some of the street names for fentanyl, a drug that fires the imagination like no other. A man-made opioid, it creates a euphoria way beyond rival drugs, 50 times more potent than heroin with which it is sometimes laced. It also kills like no other if not handled with extreme care. A speck barely visible to the eye can be quickly lethal. Overdose led to a record 93, 331 deaths last year. a thirty per cent jump from the year before.

Fentanyl is the gift of Wuhan, China, which also gave us Covid-19. It seems only fair that a global disease should be followed by a drug that relieves its pain were it not equally dangerous. While skilled in invention, Wuhan is careless in regulation, thus providing a home for criminals who are as enthusiastic about fentanyl as its consumers. It’s a big money maker since it’s inexpensive to produce.

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Chinese and Mexicans have combined to market the drug. Chinese manufacturers may send precursors of fentanyl to Mexico, where it is processed in Mexican labs, some run by Chinese. The cartels then take it across the porous border for distribution in the U.S. At times, Chinese dealers directly contact customers through the “dark web“ of the internet, then mail off a few bits of fentanyl in an envelope that may be worth several thousand dollars on delivery. Afterwards, Chinese banks and businesses are adept at laundering the proceeds back to China or Mexico

It’s hard for law enforcement to keep up with this streamlined system. Not that the Chinese are all that interested. They say they want to accommodate the U.S. in cracking down on the lawbreakers, but their laws are lax and casually enforced. Many drug manufacturers, university trained, operate freely in the open. There are also suggestions that the Chinese government doesn’t mind giving a poke in the eye to another power that pokes it.

Ben Westhoff, author of “Fantanyl Inc.,” says he doesn’t know whether the ingenious chemists who create the death-dealing drugs should be locked up or awarded a Nobel Prize. It’s a case of good intentions gone spectacularly awry. Paul Janssen, a Belgian chemist, brought out eighty useful medical drugs, including fentanyl which is routinely given to patients for pain relief, a legitimate purpose. Little did he know that his dazzling drug would lead to another kind of enormous worldwide pain.

Weathoff writes that just as astronauts take voyages into outer space so do psychonauts delve into their own psyches in search of the macular high or cure. It’s an understandable human drive, but one that needs the most positive restraints.

A Madness No More

Reefer Madness. That was the title of a popular 1936 film, one of a series depicting in grim detail all the horrors of marijuana from bad dreams and hallucinations to suicide and murder. You name it, marijuana caused it. As a result, one state after another outlawed it and Harry Anslinger, commissioner of the newly created Federal Bureau of Narcotic Control, declared it responsible for “insanity, criminality and death.”

We have come a long way from that prognosis. Today marijuana is the world’s most popular drug, a dramatic change in both attitude and law. Eighteen states in the U.S. have now legalized marijuana and 38 approved its medical use. It’s considered no worse than alcohol which is freely used, maybe a little better. It’s certainly preferable to the harder drugs like Fentanyl which is fifty times more potent than marijuana. Legalization is not entire. Prohibitions remain on excessive personal use, dealing in the drug or involving minors. But for normal everyday consumers, seeking recreation and relief, it’s time to celebrate.

Not for the Mexican drug cartels. They have said all along that legalization of marijuana is more damaging to them than law enforcement. That seems to be the case. For the moment, more drugs than ever are crossing the US. border thanks to a relaxation of rules in Washington, but in general marijuana deliveries are way down along with their price. Since marijuana amounts to about half of their business, they could be in serious trouble.

They have been scrambling to compensate, switching to harder drugs like fentanyl which was largely responsible for the record 93,331 American deaths from overdose last year. They have branched out into human trafficking and are forcing migrants to pay to cross the border which they completely control on the Mexican side.

Now they have invaded the U.S., starting hundreds of marijuana farms in southern California that will let them continue to profit from the drug. How they managed to avoid U.S.authorities in this extensive enterprise on U.S. soil is a major question. Are their farms a Mexican version of the sanctuary cities popular in California? Though they don’t make the official U.S. list of terrorists, they are terrorizing Americans the way they do Mexicans. When a couple of hikers got too close to a farm, a worker appeared with a picture of a bullet-ridden truck with a dead driver inside and warned: “This what will happen to you if you come back out again.”  

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Photo: Steve Petteway/Courtesy of the Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

Since these farms are not in Mexico but in the U.S., it’s assumed that U.S. law enforcement, once galvanized, can root them out in a timely fashion. Then as soon as possible the remaining states should complete legalization and resolve contradictions with the U.S. Government. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas notes in a recent statement, it doesn’t make sense for the federal government to continue to enforce laws against marijuana that have been eliminated by the states. “The federal government’s current approach is a half-in, half-out regime that simultaneously tolerates and forbids local use of marijuana. “

Once this is accomplished, the harried cartels will face a marijuana wall of consumerism that could enfeeble them to the benefit of both the U.S. and Mexico.