The Embattled Town of Douglas, Az

At first glance the dusty town of Douglas, Arizona, appears to be just another sleepy stop along the U.S.-Mexican border. Not exactly. It has been the center of a battle between the forces of the drug cartels and an aroused citizenry determined to reclaim their town. It looks as if the citizens have won.

In Douglas a young vibrant man Robert Uribe, decided to run for mayor, a post more prestigious than profitable since it pays only $300 a month. But it turned out that pay was not a problem since his father-in-law is a Mexican drug cartel leader. Once elected, he blossomed out in fancy clothes, a Rolex watch and numerous trips unrelated to his office. More importantly, he began to imitate the cartels’ way of doing business, shouting orders in dictatorial style, firing subordinates who objected and rearranging the town in his own interest.

It looked as if the Mexican cartels had gained a foothold in the U.S, always an ambition of theirs. But they hadn’t counted on the people of Douglas. Tanya Duarte led a recall drive that was thrown out on a technicality, but then she and others found a suitable candidate to run against Uribe in a recent election. A Mormon with ten children, Donald Huish campaigned against corruption in Douglas. “What you see is what you get,” says Tanya. A straight forward and incorruptible candidate handily won.

Stained glass mural, Gadsen Hotel, Douglas, Az

Now is the time for healing, says the mayor. A tarnished image will not be easy to repair. As a rule, the cartels don’t like to lose. When Tanya and her husband, a policeman, were shopping in Walmart, a stranger approached and asked “Do you know who you are up against?” Are you concerned? her husband asked. No, she replied and that suited him. Tanya says the best thing to do with the cartels is not to succumb to them. Otherwise, you are trapped.

“Artcar,” Douglas, Az

Where does Douglas go from here? How to bring people to a town now famous for strife? Some possibilities according to residents: start with the Gadsden Hotel, the most sumptuous on the U.S. border with a sweeping staircase of white Italian marble and a mesmerizing stained glass mural above. Below ground, there’s a cartel tunnel stretching from a home across the border in Agua Prieta to a warehouse in Douglas. With a little agility visitors could even descend into it and trace the steps of the smugglers. They could also view a sampling of so-called artcars that are festooned with thousands of novel objects in a display that might have confounded Michelangelo. Take that, cartels.

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