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Supply and Demand
Selling to Americans has meant millions to the drug traffickers and enormous corruption in Tijuana. In 1997, the DEA reported that 90 percent of police, prosecutors, and judges in Tijuana were in the pay of the drug cartels.
In a sixth-floor walk-up near the mayor's office in Tijuana, there is another kind of music playingAmerican jazz. It is a favorite of Victor Alfaro, a college professor and the head of a human rights organization in Tijuana.
"I really want to change my country," he says. "I want to see how it works to denounce vice and corruption as a citizen. But it is impossible to denounce as a citizen, because you don't have guarantees."
Guarantees of safety are what Alfaro is worried about. His office is filled with documents: One is a copy of a land sale, signed by a Tijuana city official to a known drug trafficker to construct a shopping mall. Local police have walked through Alfaro's door to tell of the corruption that surrounds them. And for a while, despite the death threats and the phone taps, Alfaro and his group published what they could prove.
"Since one of our informants was murdered three years ago, we have stopped denouncing drug traffickers," says Alfaro. "Because they kill you."
Perhaps it was this kind of frustration that prompted an unusual cooperation between the DEA and the American television crime show America's Most Wanted.
Vince Rice, an agent in San Diego helped with the production.
"We thought it was a good move to let the world know, including Central and South Americans that we are going to hunt these individuals for as long as it Takes," says Rice.
And there has been a dramatic break in the hunt, delivered by the Mexican Federal Police. The result was renewed resolve to hit the Arellanos hard. In March of this year, Jesus Chewy Labara, the financial officer of the Arrellano organization was arrested in Tijuana. He was watching his son play soccer when three well armed police vans took him to a Mexico City jail. Labara was the highest member of the cartel ever arrested.
But within weeks, the Mexican investigator who headed the case, Jose Patino Moreno, was found brutally tortured and murdered.
Speaking of his frustration the day the body was found, the FBI's Bill Gore said, "I'm sure that, with significant amounts of torture that was implemented here, that whatever he knew, the Arrellanos now know. You get close to them, and they feel threatened, and they reach out and find out how this happened to them."
Last summer, the stunning election victory of Vicente Fox raised hope again for U.S. law enforcement. Not only had Fox beaten the party in power for 71 years, he had said publicly that Mexico's leaders had been corrupted by drug money. He promised change.
How much change?
Jorge Castenas is Mexico's foreign minister. "Despite the worrisome outbreaks of drugs on the border, there is not a mass social issue," he says. "The U.S. understands this. It wants the Mexican government to do as much of the dirty work as possible. And this is a reasonable proposition. Everyone wants someone to do the dirty work. And the Mexicans respond in a perfectly reasonable way, saying yes, but not saying when, doing it half-heartedly, because there is no support for a war on drugs. "
De la Montaigne agrees with him. "That's part of the process," he says. "It's not Mexico's problem. It's our problem. The problem is in the United States. We're the ones who are consuming it. These drugs are coming up for U.S. citizens, 250 million of us, that's the problem."
Meanwhile, at the San Ysidro crossing, a well trained U.S. Customs dog sniffs out eight wrapped bricks of marijuana under the hood of a gold Mazda with California plates. But Steve, the narco junior, knows this is just the price of doing business. He could always make a profit, even when he lost 50 percent of his load.
"Sometimes I would use a pair of American kids, sometimes I'd use some older folks. My ex-wife would run her loads for her dad in a bikini," he says.
The DEA's Lawn says it will never stop. " Everybody gets a peace of the action," he says. "In an ideal world, if we could use the military to stand shoulder to shoulder around the borders of the U.S. We would still have a drug problem. We have labs in the U.S. where chemicals are used to create illicit drugs, marijuana is grown, even if there were a miracle to keep drugs from entering the country, we can keep the product on the streets by our own internal production."
Marijuana is now the largest cash crop in the country. Methamphetamine is produced in the middle of Iowa with chemicals available on most farms. Cocaine and heroin still come from abroad. A DEA study found that the average drug traffickers can afford to lose 90 percent of his product and still make a profit.
"As long as there is demand, there is going to be someone to furnish the product to satisfy that demand," says Lawn.
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