Bullets Along the Beaches

Come enjoy our beautiful beaches, sparkling waters, lively bars, fabulous food, and picturesque towns, boast the tourist ads for Mexico. All too true, but one activity is conspicuous in its absence from the promotion – shootings courtesy of the drug cartels.

They are on the rise in the vacation wonderland along the Caribbean in the state of Quintana Roo. In late January shootings killed two Canadian tourists in a five-star hotel in Playa del Carmen. Close by a few days later a beachfront bar manager was murdered. In December a group of men riding ski jets opened fire on a beach at Cancun, killing a drug dealer and wounding four tourists. In November visitors in Puerto Morelos were locked in their hotel rooms as gunmen opened fire on the beach, killing two people. In October an attack in a bar in Tulum left two tourists dead, one of them a U.S. travel promoter.

Homicides have dramatically increased along the beaches as tourism has risen. Where people congregate so do drugs for use and sale. The cartels arrive to pick up some loose change along with their massive U.S. profits and violence is sure to follow. Its minor compared to the mayhem elsewhere in Mexico, but important enough for the U.S. State Department to issue a warning about travel in the region. The CDC had added its own alert to the high incidence of Covid 19 in Mexico.

Armed guard with bathers on the beach. Photo by: Business Insider

Politics have played a part in the crime wave. Elections were recently held for mayor and police chief in various towns along the coast. That meant that cartels were going to have to make new arrangements with authorities to continue to operate. It also has led to renewed violent competition among the cartels for the best location at beaches, bars, and casinos.

Foreign gangsters from Russia – where else? – and Romania have joined the action, concentrating mainly on money laundering and sex trafficking. A Romanian boss who used to enjoy a cozy relationship with top Mexican officials has been caught and imprisoned, but crime fighters caution that his operation continues to function. As in the case of the local cartels, removing the man at the top hardly matters. He is quickly replaced given the money involved.

Hardy visitors to the beaches can take comfort in the fact that the cartels don’t wish them harm. They are business and killings are bad publicity. The international media is indifferent to the endless murder of Mexicans, but foreigners are another matter. Hands off. The cartels get the picture. Accidents can happen despite their best efforts of killing only their own. Bullets can go wrong. But it also should be kept in mind that there are limits to cartel patience with intruders, however innocent, on their domain. Occasionally bullets are a warning. Don’t forget who is in charge here.

Meanwhile, adventurous travelers can enjoy the reasonable prices and spectacular setting of Quintana Roo. With a little caution like not criticizing drug cartels while drinking in a bar or harassing the armed guards who mingle with tourists on the beach, it can be a fun vacation.


Reckoning in Tijuana

Mexico is not at war, but its people can hardly tell the difference. Cartel violence is an equivalent, racking up one of the world’s highest homicide rates and killing more journalists than any other place on earth, nine last year and more the fifty since 2018. So far this year, three have been killed for their courage to report the doings of the drug cartels which virtually control Mexico and brook no opposition. The penalty is invariably death.

The question is how the journalists manage to carry on, but they know their work is vital since no other country. including the U.S., takes much interest in what they face. Mexico’s overwhelming violence is studiously ignored while media and government attention is focused on the possibility of violence half a globe away in Ukraine. It’s a close ally, we’re told. But what is neighboring Mexico?

Three years ago, Mexican President Lopez Obrador held a press conference in Tijuana, especially susceptible to violence. Reporter Lourdes Maldonado Lopez told him, “I fear for my life “, referring to a dispute she had with a former employer, the boss of a media outlet and a top regional politician – read drug cartel. The president said he would investigate. That didn’t prevent her from being shot to death in her car in Tijuana in January.

Lourdes Maldonado Lopez. Photo by: BBC News

On learning of this, the president said – not very accurately – he hadn’t been aware of any likely violence. But then his policy has been one of forbearance toward the cartels. He says he looks forward to an era of good feelings: “we must purify public life so that materialism doesn’t dominate us, so that ambition, ego and hate are set aside.” But are the cartels listening?

To pacify whatever critics may exist across the border, Mexico has established a protection program for endangered journalists, including a panic button for emergencies. None of this helped Lopez in her hour of need, but then was it meant to? The cartels decide who lives or dies in Mexico.

Earlier in January, photo newsman Margarito Martinez, who covered crime in Tijuana, was shot and killed after numerous threats on his life, and reporter Jose Luis Gamboa, who connected local authorities with organized crime, was stabbed and left dying on a street in Veracruz state. The killers are hardly ever caught, much less put on trial. After all, they’re working for the state – the drug cartels.

We can imagine the uproar if this many journalists were killed in the U.S. Yet Mexico is right next door. Perhaps the same attitude prevails as it does on the border. Drugs are allowed to pour across, in particular fentanyl which can kill by overdose or by any dose since it’s regularly laced to other drugs that can be swallowed unaware.

Someone is benefiting from this extraordinary pillage. Along with drugs, many billions in drug money spread around the U.S. If those who profit care little for the American lives lost to drugs – 100 thousand a year – why should they care about Mexicans? American eyes, currently fixated on distant Ukraine, should turn south, and focus on the genuine U.S. enemy, the drug cartels.

A Happy New Year for the Drug Cartels

Anxious and depressed, Alexandra Capelouto, 19, a student at Arizona State University, noticed an ad for the opiate oxycontin in social media on the internet. She made the purchase and swallowed the pill, not knowing it was laced with deadly fentanyl. She soon died of suffocation. Her grieving father Matt said “she was a casualty of a war not being fought.The terrorist organization which is responsible for more American deaths than any other is operating unabated just a few miles south of our border.”

Alexandra Capelouto. Photo by: https://druginducedhomicide.org/

The Mexican drug cartels, in fact, are blamed for100 thousand American deaths from overdose in a year’s time – a record probably to be surpassed this year, making it a very Happy New Year for the cartels. if for nobody else. The  2000 mile border is largely open to migrants of all countries and attitudes and to drugs. Fentanyl is the choice and the most dangerous. Yet the current U.S. Government is more preoccupied with the Ukrainian border than its own. Some elements are even urging war with Russia rather than with the immediate threat of the cartels now inside the country.

Seizing the opportunity of a seemingly complacent U.S, the cartels have moved fast. When I was in the Mojave desert of California last July, people talked of a thousand cartel farms in the region. Now the Louisville Courier Journal reports some ten thousand of varying size in Mendocino alone, a county in northern California. Local law enforcement is overwhelmed. Twenty-one police must patrol an area of 3506 square miles. “I’m fighting a dragon with a needle,” Sheriff Matt Kendall told the Courier Journal in its week long investigation, a rarity for a mostly indifferent media.

The aim of the cartels is to undercut the legitimate marijuana growers who are subject to taxes and regulations. With this advantage the cartel farms keep to themselves, well protected by guns, fences, security cameras and pit bulls. Signs warn “Keep out.” People do in a climate of fear. Dead bodies have turned up along with unexplained disappearances. Are we becoming Mexico? people ask, noting despondently the excessive trash around the farms, the poaching of water in a time of drought, the chemicals contaminating the soil and killing wildlife.

Marijuana Farms. Photo by Frank Giles

The Epoch Times reports a similar situation in Oregon, where hundreds of workers  are brought north from Mexico to work at the farms in a kind of “narco-slavery.” People living quietly in rural areas are astonished by the sudden onset of noisy  night and day operations with trucks coming in and out, guns firing, music blaring. Still, property prices have skyrocketed. Residents can’t afford to buy, but cartels can. With the legalization of marijuana in much of the U,S., the cartels must grow it here to keep its share of the market. This they do by selling it throughout the country. They are also aware that they thrive best where the state is weakest. That is how they basically took over Mexico, according to a new book by Benjamin West, “The Dope,” a history of Mexican narcotics. The cartels used to have to pay authorities to do business. Now they are the authorities who collect the pay. It may be no coincidence that the farms are sprouting in states like Oregon and California which are in disarray from crime and poor government and thus vulnerable to cartel intrusion. The question is how far will it go?

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.

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.

Photo by cnn.com

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.

In Pursuit of the Drug Cartels

The Mexican drug cartels have a key role in the current outbreak on the U. S. border. Basically controlling the entire 2000 mile border, they decide who enters and when. They divide migrants into small groups that can be sent across at any time day or night, making it difficult for the under-manned U.S. Border Patrol to keep up with them. There are long stretches where it’s possible to go leisurely back and forth over the border with no one in sight. It’s a clear invitation to death-dealing drugs headed north and desperate humans trying to escape the all-pervading violence of Mexico and Central America.

Image by David McNew/Getty Images

Among the newcomers are cartel members who are increasingly setting up shop in the US, the better to direct drug traffic and assert their power locally. An endless series of cars cross the southern U.S. daily with Mexican passengers paying as much as $20,000 for the ride. If they don’t pay the full amount at the end of the trip, they’re sold into slavery. The U.S is basically under attack and is not properly defending itself.

Remedies to date have not worked. Border restrictions, loosened under President Biden, can be restored, but inventive cartels can get around them. They lure people to the border and sometimes coerce them because it is so very profitable. Pay up or carry drugs to enjoy a pleasant life in the U.S. Refuse, you take your chances and maybe lose your life. A border wall, only patches today, can be a partial impediment, but cartels can go over, under or around it.

Given that drug-addicted Americans will continue to finance the cartels, there is only one genuine solution – put U.S. troops on the border, which is not unreasonable since they currently guard borders in various parts of the world. Why not here at home were the danger is greater? And why must they stand pat? If cartels infringe on the U.S., like tossing small children over the border fence, U.S. troops are justified in going after them. It’s worth noting that present-day Mexico is less a functioning state than a criminal enterprise where cartels, police and army work together.

In a provocative column in The Wall Street Journal, Gil Barndollar, a senior fellow at Defense Priorities and a Marine veteran of the Afghan war, notes that in fighting a series of inconclusive wars after 9/11, the U.S. military has demonstrated a proficiency in what he calls raids – “peerless when it comes to projecting combat power, putting thousands of soldiers on someone else’s soil on very short notice.“ Quickly and effectively in and out. The goal is not winning an all-out war, much less nation building and democratizing, but making a geopolitical difference in favor of the U.S.

The U.S. has had a checkered past with Mexico, involving above all the 1840’s war that surrendered half the country to its northern neighbor. But it’s possible that present day Mexicans, long suffering under brutal cartel rule with one of the world’s highest homicide rates, would welcome U.S help in curbing that power. No conquest, no occupation, no total war, but a clear demonstration of what the U.S. military does best.

Stopping Drugs At Sea

The U.S. Coast Guard may be the least celebrated of the US. military services. It’s a law enforcement member of the intelligence community, but its glamour is limited. It doesn’t take lives, but saves them – those in peril at sea and those who may perish from deadly drugs on their way here. The Coast Guard’s reach is global, but its mission is to protect America. America first but internationally oriented, an enviable combination.

Catching the enemy in the act is not easy. It takes a seamanship that might be admired by a John Paul Jones. First a suspicious vessel has to be sighted among all those at sea. A drug carrier may elude attack by mingling in a congested area near a port the way a drug laden truck squeezes among other vehicles at a land entry. Heavy traffic is the smuggler’s boon. If his boat is farther out, say 300 to 400 miles, it’s pretty clear he has something to hide.

A Coast Guard team approaches the likely suspect and calls for it to stop. It usually does since it’s much harder to run away at sea than on land. There’s seldom violence because the operation follows a pattern understood by both pursued and pursuer. If the boat carries a U.S. flag, the team can board right way once it seems to be safe. If there’s a foreign flag, the team must get approval from headquarters that can be done quickly or may take a few hours.

Coast Guard Cutter Stratton boarding team (US Coast Guard/Petty Officer 2nd Class LaNola Stone)

Then comes the challenge of finding the suspected drugs which can be ingeniously concealed. The Coast Guard must match wits with some of the most inventive criminals on earth. The contraband may be in a secret compartment or under a false floor or in a spare engine on deck. In Miami Lt. Commander Daniel Delgado notes that on one occasion some fresh concrete seemed suspicious. Back in port, a jackhammer cut through the concrete to reveal the profitable cargo below.

Sometimes the trafficker may toss the drugs overboard to avoid detection and arrest. What floats to shore are known as “wash-ups,” debris that is often spotted by beach goers who pick it up and turn it in. It’s not a suitable souvenir.

For obvious reasons there are far fewer drug busts at sea than on land, but each haul is many times larger. The traffickers take their losses in stride. They can easily make these up in the trips that get through. Despite its best efforts, the Coast Guard estimates it only stops abut fifteen per cent of the sea smugglers.

There may be something if not purifying, at least cleansing by water. The Coast Guard is spared the every day scandals of land enforcement. There’s a going rate of $10,000 for a guard who lets a drug laden truck across the Mexican border – a pittance compared to what’s inside. A seagoing Coast Guard team faces no such temptation and can take pride in its accomplishments – not to detract from the heroism of the U.S. border patrol who can face every day violence from the aggressive drug cartels

At some point the U.S. must withdraw from its highly dubious efforts to intervene militarily in nations overseas with an idea of reforming them. Then more attention and budget can be given to the Coast Guard, a prime defender of the U.S. and those who want to come here without, to be sure, drugs.