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.

A Cartel Victory in the U.S.

Retired Mexican General Salvador Cienfuegos seemed clearly headed for a U.S. prison. An exhaustive investigation by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) showed that the former Mexican defense minister had taken heavy bribes to keep the military from interfering with the cartels whose drugs are poisoning Americans. As an aside, he aided one cartel against its rival. Such is politics in the narco state.

The DEA was dumbfounded. One of its top cases had exploded for no credible reason, hardly discouraging other traffickers from doing their business in the U.S. Mike Vigil, former international operations chief for the DEA, said freeing the general was a “huge gift” from President Trump to Mexico, perhaps for its help in slowing immigration. Keep the people out, let the drugs in.

General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda

Even by Washington standards the explanations offered were threadbare. The U.S. said there were “sensitive and important foreign policy considerations” in the decision, too sensitive apparently to specify. A U. S. Justice Department spokeswoman said the case was dismissed because of confidence in the Mexican justice system, which in fact doesn’t exist. But don’t worry, U.S. Attorney General William Barr was assured, Mexico will soon serve up a narco boss trafficking in fentanyl. No name was given. Don’t want to alarm him.

From academy came a comforting explanation. Gladys McCormick, history professor at Syracuse University whose specialty is Mexico, said prosecuting Cienfuegos would have compromised intelligence for years to come. His arrest was “scandalous,” she added. “ He truly is untouchable and sacrosanct because of what he represents and the secrets he carries with him.” Cienfuegos could not have said it better.

It’s generally agreed this was a rare procedure in contrast to normal behavior. For example, U.S. prosecutors have resisted efforts by Turkey to get charges dropped against a state owned bank accused of violating sanctions on Iran. But Turkey is in the Middle East and hardly a threat. Drug smuggling Mexico is right next door.

Narcos Is News

The Drug Enforcement Administration, established by President Nixon in 1973, has been overshadowed by the more celebrated CIA and FBI. In the television series Narcos, two swaggering FBI agents taunt a DEA undercover: “Dogs at airports now do your work.” They picked on the wrong guy. The DEA agent helps bring down the notorious drug lord Miguel Ángel Felix Gallardo, now in prison, though that is hardly the end of the story of a battle that continues uninterrupted to this day.

The show pulls no punches as it tries to get to the heart of the matter. The drug villains are no cardboard creations but full bodied portrayals. Gallardo, elegantly played by Diego Luna, is a loving family man while perfectly vicious as a cartel boss. He dreams of creating an organization that mirrors any legitimate business, and he approves the hideous torture of a DEA agent who threatens that business.

The agent, real life Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, discovered a 2500 acre marijuana field in an obscure setting in Mexico. Gallardo’s cartel is enraged, but as one member notes, the field will be worthless once the U.S. legalizes marijuana, which implies a certain futility on the part of everyone. Suffering Camarena is drilled full of holes for a product that will soon be discarded for more profitable cocaine.

Enrique “Kiki” Camarena

The series shows that the problem is far larger than just trafficking. Politics are involved at the highest level. Outfitted in a tuxedo that seems as comfortable to him as working clothes, Gallardo attends sumptuous dinners as a ranking member of the Mexican elite. The president returns his calls, may even call him. Billions of dollars of drug money, thanks to American consumers, keep everyone content. Only unrelenting DEA pressure brings Gallardo to justice. But in the show’s final scene, Gallardo tells his DEA antagonist that by putting him out of action, you have splintered the cartels into various parts that will be even bloodier and more dangerous.

Miguel Ángel Felix Gallardo

And what of U.S. involvement? The film doesn’t go there except to note accurately that American drug consumers finance the cartels that run and ruin Mexico. Without the demand there would be no supply. But are there powers beyond consumers that keep the drug trade going? Is there a culpable American establishment akin to Mexico’s? “Narcos” producers, why not take a look?

The Charitable Cartels

The drug cartels are killing more Mexicans than ever, far more than are dying from coronavirus, but with a new twist. They’re also trying to keep some alive by supplying needy Mexicans with food and other supplies they don’t get from the government. “Who do they think they are?” asks an indignant President Lopez Obrador. “The government?” That seems to be the case.

With much fanfare and social media promotion, the cartels are enjoying their new charitable image. It can’t hurt business. But true to form, they’re also imposing a strict quarantine in parts of Mexico. Troubled U.S. states like Michigan and New York might take note of their means of enforcement. No fine or reprimand but in one case – according to the Wall Street Journal – a stiff whacking of a violator with a paddle marked “Covid 19.” Mexicans stay willingly indoors.

Though drug czar El Chapo Guzman is serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison, he is nevertheless an influence in the relief effort. His daughter Alejandrina is distributing boxes of supplies with his familiar face stenciled on them. No escaping El Chapo if you want to eat. Alejandrina in fact has a business offering products in the name of her father whom she describes as a “humble orange seller with many goals and ambitions.”

An unidentified woman distributes provisions in boxes stamped with the image of the convicted drug trafficker (Mexico News Daily)

There’s an even more impressive name associated with cartel enterprise: Osama bin Laden. In fact, a leader in the Sinaloa cartel is known as “El bin Laden,” who appropriately uses heavily armed gunmen in pickups to distribute supplies bearing, course, the image of bin Laden. He taunts authorities by saying if you don’t like bin Laden, then provide supplies of your own.

Sometimes the cartels cannot help themselves and go back to business. Some criminals disguised as health workers approach elderly people with sanitation tips. With a special lubricating oil on their hands they quickly slip off rings, bracelets and other jewels, leaving their victims in worse condition.

What matters is that in sickness or in health the cartels rule.