Drug War Zone: Frontline Dispatches from the Streets of El Paso and Juaarez

By Howard Campbell | Go to book overview

The Roots of Contraband Smuggling in El Paso

La Nacha’s life story chronicles the rise of drug trafficking in Ciudad Juárez. Fred (“Freddy”) Morales, a historian and longtime El Pasoan, complements her story with an account of the evolution of the El Paso drug trade, which has always been closely connected with Juárez.

When he was still a child, Freddy and his family moved to the oldest Mexican neighborhood in El Paso, the area known as el barrio de Chihuahuita. Chihuahuita lies west, and in the shadow, of the international bridge that crosses the Rio Grande/Río Bravo and divides downtown El Paso from downtown Ciudad Juárez. As an adult, Freddy began collecting documents and artifacts concerned with Ciudad Juárez and El Paso, including all he could find about Chihuahuita’s history. His research was helped by the fact that he grew up in the neighborhood and has lived, even as an adult, in various parts of the barrio. Morales experienced firsthand the traditional role Chihuahuita has played as an unofficial (that is, illegal) gateway into the United States for smugglers and their merchandise, and undocumented immigrants.

Freddy’s knowledge of El Paso barrio history, gang culture and territories, and the many tecato (junkie) venues and smuggling operations from the 1940s through the 1970s—and in some cases to the present—is nonpareil. Morales’s narrative illustrates the rich cultural life of El Paso barrios and a dynamic smuggling economy that continues today. Although many of the gangs Morales discusses have disappeared, the Barrio Azteca–Aztecas gang has become a key smuggling and localdistribution cell of the Juárez cartel. The gang also controls much of the vast street and prison retail drug trade in the El Paso–Juárez area, although other drug gangs and independent operators also abound.

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