Hello, Texan-born Fort Worth resident here! As you may have noticed by my previous articles and content, I am interested in sharing with proactive readers true and unbiased information.
That being said, we all know that sharing is caring; this article is about what Texas and South and Central America are sharing right now.
I would have to say that the most important thing shared has got to be…tacos! I love me some street tacos.
I’m not talking about Taco Bell y’all. I’m talking about tacos that you find pretty much exclusively either homemade, or if you’re lucky, around the corner at the gas station.
For those of you who haven’t had street tacos, imagine: Yummy corn or flour tortillas filled with your choice of meat, diced onions, topped with freshly made salsa and cilantro.
Find an establishment that serves more authentic tacos, and you can sometimes choose lengua (tongue) or tripe (stomach) as a meat if you can “stomach” it. These are options you won’t see at your typical Tex-Mex joint. You can of course still find barbacoa, beef, and chorizo, which I personally am a bit more used to. If you find a place that gives you all of these options, thank the lucky stars that you got the chance to try a real taco.
Tasty cuisine is one thing that is shared to America. On the flip side, one thing the U.S. shares with Mexico doesn’t leave quite as good of a taste in the mouth. Christopher Ingraham, writer for The Washington Post, quotes a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Ingraham writes, “More than 70,000 guns recovered from crime scenes in Mexico could be traced back to the United States…. That represents 70 percent of all crime guns recovered and traced in Mexico during that period.” Mmm, tastes like…lead.
Shoot, in Texas, gun laws are already very loose.
-Any Texan that is 18 or older is allowed to purchase a gun.
-There is no state registration of firearms.
-Open carry is allowed.
-Felons are allowed to purchase firearms that are kept in their homes, as long as it is 5 years after the sentence was discharged.
These loose rules apply to retailers selling firearms and ammunition. At gun shows, nearly anything goes. There is no background check required, and you are allowed to purchase as many guns as you want.
These loosey goosey policies are what allows so many guns to enter Mexico and beyond. How? The local folklore tells the tale of Texas residents being paid off to go into gun shows to purchase guns, then selling them to individuals (who are usually waiting in their car or truck in the parking lot) who cannot purchase them because they do not have American citizenship. Some of these folks re-sell the guns for the extra cash; some are threatened into it.
You’ve gotta think that if there’s a need for guns, there is something being protected by them. In this case, it’s drugs, which another thing shared between countries.
Typically whenever drugs are sold en masse, gangs, cartels in this case, are formed in order to monopolize on the insane amounts of capital that is gained.
There are so many key individuals and events to talk about when it comes to drugs, which is what led to cartel presence in America. So, I have created a timeline to keep it neat.
Pay special attention to the people and events that are in bold.
History lesson, go!
*1960s: USE OF SEVERAL DRUGS ARE WIDESPREAD IN THE US
Quoted from DEA’s own documentation of the history of the DEA, “In 1960, only four million Americans had ever tried drugs. Currently, that number has risen to over 74 million.”
During their early years, before criminalization, this is what drug use looked like in America:
The potential medicinal use for LSD was explored by scientists in laboratories in the UK and the USA in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s. Whenever no credible medical use was found, the drug seeped from labs onto the streets, helping fuel the counterculture of the time period.
Methamphetamine was used during the Vietnam War by soldiers in nearly every country involved; including American soldiers. Meth and dextroamphetamine were prescribed legally at that time to the public for anything from depression to weight control. Again, the drug seeped out of the realm of research or medically controlled use, and into the hands of the layman.
Heroin was allowed to be prescribed medically in the early 1910s, and it was criminalized in 1924.
Cocaine was said to be used primarily by the black communities in the early 1900s, until it spread to the disco culture in the ’60s-’80s. After that, it was common in nearly every subculture and socioeconomic group.
Marijuana was widely used, and not seen to be as dangerous as most other synthetic drugs. However, the film entitled Reefer Madness – 1936 (watch the original version for free here). This hilarious dramatization was created by a church group for parents so that they could warn their children of the “dangers of smoking pot.” Weed has long been the most accepted illegal “drug” in America however.
*JUNE 18, 1971: NIXON DECLARES WAR ON DRUGS
President Richard Nixon (served 1969-1974) declared his plan to fight a global “War on Drugs” during a press conference on June 18, 1971. (Watch as Nixon heatedly declares this war in a horribly monotone voice here.)
This “war” was declared because soldiers in Vietnam were revealed to be struggling with addiction.
Apparently the war on drugs was a pick and choose your favorite kind of war where Nixon got to pick on the existing drugs he didn’t like while leaving some totally legal.
*JULY 1, 1973: THE DEA IS FORMED
President Richard Nixon reorganizes his plans for the War on Drugs and creating the Department of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), under the federal Department of Justice. This department has grown both in employees and in income since its beginning, yet drug use has continued to grow.
The DEA follows structure and methods of preceding agencies.
Those include The Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD). The BNDD was formed after the merging of The Bureau of Narcotics and The Bureau of Drug Abuse Control. The two original agencies dealt with different types of drugs, whereas the BNDD dealt with all drugs. The BNDD was focused primarily on law enforcement rather than having much to do with education or rehabilitation.
Whenever the DEA was created, it took on the roles and responsibilities of the BNDD, which was then eliminated.
*1930s: THE GULF CARTEL BEGINS IN MATAMOROS, TAMAULIPAS, MEXICO
Founders: Juan Nempomuceno Guerra, Cardenas Guillen, Juan Garcia Abrego
Current Leadership: Check out more info here.
The Gulf Cartel is possibly the oldest cartel in Mexico. This cartel began during the Prohibition of alcohol in America when Juan Nempomuceno Guerra started smuggling alcohol into the states. Guerra’s nephew took over the family business in 1984 and shifted towards smuggling drugs instead.
This cartel has strong international ties, as well as being allied with the Cali Cartel since the early days of its existence. The Gulf and Cali Cartels had a business arrangement that worked well for both of them. The Gulf Cartel was headquartered in a town right near the Mexico-Texas border, Matamotos. So, the Cali Cartel would bring shipments of cocaine from Columbia up to Matamoros, and the Gulf Cartel would distribute it to sellers in Mexico and on in to the U.S. from there. In the 1990s, it was estimated that the Gulf Cartel was worth over $10 billion.
The Gulf Cartel stills reigns supreme in many areas.
*EARLY 1970S: MEDELLIN CARTEL FORMS IN MEDELLIN, COLUMBIA
Founders: Pablo Escobar, Carlos Lehder, along with brothers Juan David Ochoa, Jorge Luis Ochoa, and Fabio Ochoa
Current Leadership: Could not find.
Medellin is pronounced, “med-uh-yeen.” Not like “medallion” as in the pirate treasure, which is what I thought at first. Although they DO have a lot of coin…
In 1975, Medellin, Columbia based drug-trafficker Fabio Restrepo (the head honcho of the area at the time) was murdered. Pablo Escobar is purportedly behind this murder. After that event, Escobar quickly began his ascension to being one of the most well-known drug smuggling king-pins ever in the world.
The founders of the Medellin Cartel teamed together and formed the group called M.A.S. (“Muerte a Secuestradores,” “Death to Kidnappers.”) The Columbian military, Texas Petroleum, small business owners, and rich farmers allied with the M.A.S. in orderto protect themselves and their assets.
The M.A.S. was formed by criminals for criminals, in order to protect existing cartel members and their families from being kidnapped by rivals.
Through this organized network, the members found the wealth and resources to become one of the most powerful cartels ever to exist, the Medellin Cartel.
This Cartel rose to power in the mid-1980s. By this time, “Escobar controlled more than 80 percent of the cocaine smuggled into the United States. More than 15 tons of cocaine were reportedly smuggled each day, netting the Cartel as much as $420 million a week.”
The Medellin Cartel had created a business in the spirit of the American dream. With all of the wealth floating around the states, especially in comparison to the poverty in Columbia, they saw much opportunity for their type of entrepreneurship.
The Medellins first used planes and the unguarded coastline of Florida to smuggle drugs into the U.S. The kingpins of the cartels even had their own private airstrips, warehouses, and party mansions in their own countries, to make smuggling easy and glamorous; especially as seen by the great amount of poverty that existed in those countries.
The Cartel was mostly smuggling cocaine, marijuana, and heroin into Florida. However, after the South Florida Task Force began cracking down on drug and cartel-related crime with help of the U.S. Military, the cartels simply began using a different route, choosing to go through Mexico.
This business made not only the Cartel, but also distributors in the US very, very rich.
Some things to note about how Escobar operated: He established the first smuggling routes into the U.S. He was a thief and scam artist in his early years, before he began the ultimate drug smuggler.
Escobar was known for being really, really good at bribing people to get what he wanted. The phrase “plata o plomo” was created in association to him. It means “silver or lead.” Those were the options he gave those whom he was bribing; take either some money or die. It’s like he was a superhero with his own catchphrase!
Escobar is seen sort of like a superhero in Columbia. This is because he rose to power and made his own wealth in an area of poverty and simple living. He also built many schools, hospitals, and churches in the area where he grew up, and was elected into the Chamber of Representatives in Columbia as a member of the Columbian political party.
Escobar was eventually killed by the Columbian police when he was 44 years old. His death allowed other Cartels to come into power. The superhero of smuggling was not immortal, it turns out.
I would highly recommend the documentary Cocaine Cowboys, and Cocaine Cowboys 2. They are free on Netflix, and feature interviews with some of the original members so you get a firsthand account of how everything went down.
*ALSO EARLY 1970S: THE CALI CARTEL FORMS IN CALI, COLUMBIA
Founders: Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, Jose Santacruz Londono (aka Chepe), and Helmer Herrera (aka Pacho).
Current Leadership: Could not find.
The city of Cali, Columbia is where the Cali Cartel has its origins.
The crimes of the Cali Cartel began with kidnapping of laymen, as well as important political figures. They were also heavily involved in marijuana smuggling.
However, once the cartel realized that there was more money in cocaine, they switched their focus to selling cocaine.
The cartel sent Pacho to New York City to establish a distribution center in 1970. It is believed that this was the first time a cartel member came to the U.S. in order to set up shop for their business.
While the Medellin and Cali cartels worked together a number of times, they became rivals competing over territory and the control of the cocaine flow. Just, just bust a flow! No, not that kind. Ahem, anyway.
The Medellin Cartel dissipated sooner the Cali Cartel, which led to the Cali’s full height of power being in the mid-1990s, when the organization was raking in multiple billions of dollars per year.
The original cartels were formed in Columbia, where the most coca was originally grown. However, when the Columbian Cartels began going through Mexico to smuggle drugs into the U.S., Mexican Cartels began to form and rise to prominence.
Now, the most coca is farmed in Columbia, Peru, and Bolivia.
*1989: THE SINALOA CARTEL FORMS IN CULIACAN, SINALOA, MEXICO
Founders: Joaquin Guzman (El Chapo), Hector Luis Palma Salazar
Current Leadership: El Chapo, Salazar, and Ismael Zambada Garcia
The Sinaloas are the number one Cartel presence in the U.S. right now. They have centers in every major city in the U.S., according to the DEA.
If you have heard anything about the Sinaloas, it is probably due to El Chapo.
El Chapo was born to a poor family in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico. Guzman started his career in organized crime early. His uncle, Pedro Aviles Perez, was the one of the first to use aircraft to smuggle drugs into the U.S. back in the ’60s.
Since those days, the Sinaloa Cartel only became more powerful. It doesn’t hurt that heir base of operations is in an area that grows much of the country’s marijuana and opium.
El Chapo has made famous and perfected the Cartel practice of digging tunnels underground in order to transport drugs and weapons to and from the U.S. El Chapo has escaped from prison twice now, using these tunnel systems.
Not only that, it should be known that there are hundreds and hundreds of tunnels along the border of America and the U.S. It seems that every time officials on either side of the border discover one tunnel, more pop up.
Trump’s plan to build a wall won’t work so well against people who are going underground to get into the U.S.
Currently, El Chapo is in prison in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The world sits and waits to see if he will successfully attempt another escape. Until then, he is running the Cartel from inside of the prison.
*LATE 1990S: LOS ZETAS (THE Z’s) CARTEL BEGINS IN NEUVO LAREDO, TAMAULIPAS, MEXICO
Founders: Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, Arturo Guzman Decena
Current Leadership: Omar Trevino Morales
The Los Zetas are considered by the American government to be the most technologically advanced and therefore most dangerous of the Mexican Cartels.
The Los Zetas began as a branch of the Gulf Cartel. The original Zetas were recruited by Osiel Cardenas Guillen to be his personal body guard and then later mercenaries. Guillen partnered with Arturo Guzman Decena. Decena recruited over 30 men to join. These men had previously worked with the Mexican Army’s elite group, the GAFE, and then deserted the military. They were trained killers, and in a position to gladly accept the salary that the cartel was willing to offer them.
The role of the Los Zetas expanded from bodyguards and mercenaries into more violent jobs such as kidnapping, extortion, securing routes for cocaine smuggling, and murder.
The Zetas became too powerful for the Gulf Cartel to handle, so they split off after a brutal civil war and became their own faction.
As of 2012, the Zetas had control of over 11 states in Mexico, giving it the most territory of any of the cartels. Their rivals, the Sinaloas, lost some territory to the Zetas. About 1/3 of the original members are now fugitives, and the rest are either dead or were caught by Mexican military.
Check out a free documentary on YouTube about the Los Zetas here.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Now that we have looked through the history of Cartels, let’s take a peek at the impact they are having in the great state of Texas.
In only one week, reports show that one retired Army Sargent from San Antonio admitted to furnishing weapons to Cartels, and two fishermen were shot by Cartel members while fishing on Falcon Lake in Texas.
The reality of Cartel presence in Texas and all over the U.S. backs up the legend of the ruthlessness and determination of the Cartels to perpetuate their status as the biggest and baddest on either side of the border.
Check out this map made by the DEA to see what Cartels are operated in what areas.
There is too much information about the Cartels for me to be able to be able to share it all. If you are interested in learning more about the relationship between the U.S. and South & Central America when it comes to cartels and smuggling, I would definitely recommend doing a little bit of research on the role that cartel leaders play in the politics of their respective countries.
Many of the leaders rose to a position of prominence in their governments, typically through coercion. These organizations are not only ruthless and lawless, they also have their hands in the governments of the countries in which they are operating.
Now that we’ve talked about what we do share, good and also dangerous, let’s talk about what we can share. One may argue (I would), that prohibition is a huge failure. I like to think of a government using prohibition as a similar sort of thing to when a parent prohibits their child from trying drugs or alcohol. That citizen, or that child, is going to be exposed to drugs and alcohol, and they will have a decision to make that is all their own. The citizen/child ought to possess the knowledge of the effects the drugs and alcohol are going to have on their body and mind so that they are equipped to make good decisions.
However, whenever prohibition comes into effect, entire subcultures, systems, lingo and so forth are formed so that those who are set on consuming drugs and alcohol will still be able to consume them. Which they always do and always will.
Remove that prohibition and replace it with education and treatment, and you will eliminate some of the “fun” and mystery that makes drug and alcohol related experiences so appealing for so many people.
Why not share Portugal’s recent change in policies when it comes to drugs? In 2001, Portugal decriminalized (to different degrees) ALL drugs in their country. This doesn’t mean that they are now legal, it just means that the punishments and fines (especially for possession) are now much lighter. Since the decriminalization, rates of use and death have both gone down.
Again will I quote Christopher Ingraham of The Washington Post: “Among Portuguese adults, there are 3 drug overdose deaths for every 1,000,000 citizens. Comparable numbers in other countries range from 10.2 million in the Netherlands to 44.6 per million in the U.K., al lthe way up to 126.8 per million in Estonia. The E.U. average is 17.3 per million.” This information comes from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.
Now that sounds like some wisdom that the United States could definitely stand to share in. Decriminalizing is shown to reduce death aassociated with use.
Not only that, the heat on the coca farmers who are farming as they have been in their culture for generations would be significantly reduced.
The coca farmers are often forgotten in our dialogue about decriminalization. They receive very little of the money that their coca leaves end up producing, yet they are the targets of several governed tbe destroying their farms while calling them drug dealers.
Decriminalization would likely lead to less use, less protection needed for smuggling routes, and less deaths all around.
Tacos, drugs, and policies are all things that cannot be kept inside of a country, wall or no wall. That being the case, our increasingly small world should find a way to embody the phrase “Sharing is Caring” in a way that is healthy for everyone involved. I hope you have enjoyed learning a little bit more about the streets. Now you know how to look out for delicious tacos, and to be mindful of the presence of some of the biggest organized crime organizations ever to exist in the backyards of every major city in the U.S.