The interview that follows illuminates the difficulties of engaging in police work on the border, where law-enforcement officers are often outgunned by drug traffickers. The story of the Ciudad Juárez municipal policeman also provides valuable information on the inner workings of the corruption network that links law-enforcement agencies, drug dealers, and other criminals in Mexico, and particularly in downtown Juárez. The intimate relationship between police agencies, politicians, and narco-traffickers is a primary feature of the complex socialpolitical-geographic entity known as la plaza.
The cops take money from the narcos in exchange for protecting drug loads and killing or kidnapping enemies of the drug-dealing group in control of the plaza or territory. They also pass on valuable information and government secrets to cartel members, and warn them of impending crackdowns, raids, and potential apprehension. When one cartel attempts to take over a drug plaza from another cartel—as is occurring now in Ciudad Juárez—one of their first actions is to assassinate cops on the payroll of the rival cartel and replace them with their own people. Alternatively, rival cops are confronted by cartel hit men with the dilemma of plata o plomo [literally, “silver or lead,” that is, accept a bribe to join the new cartel or else be murdered]. Once the police force and other relevant police, military, or political entities have been purged of the enemy cartel’s loyalists, the new cartel has free rein over the plaza.
Beyond the policeman’s claim of having been an honest cop, and the discussion of police corruption, the larger story of this interview is that Mexican antidrug cops and soldiers die or are seriously injured in large numbers while U.S. law enforcement suffers relatively few casualties in the war on drugs. As of December 2008, more than forty Juárez