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

By Howard Campbell | Go to book overview

Selling Drugs in Downtown Juárez:
Juan and Jorge

As is evident from the previous interview, the drug smuggling business connects El Paso and Juárez as well as other communities on each side of the U.S.-Mexico border and still others far into the interior of both countries. However, it was once commonplace to state that the United States had a major drug problem, whereas Mexico did not. According to this view, the United States consumed illegal drugs, and Mexico was simply the conduit for the spread of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana northward. This perspective was somewhat accurate at least until the 1970s.

By the late 1980s or early 1990s, Mexican cartels were replete with excess cocaine, and this scenario shifted dramatically. Throughout Mexico, tienditas (small drug-selling outlets, usually houses, apartments, or easily identifiable street vendors who frequent a particular spot) sprang up to distribute the extra supply to a growing domestic market. Today, such tienditas or picaderos, which are similar to tienditas but usually sell heroin, are pervasive on the streets of large Mexican cities, especially on the border and in Mexico City, and a semblance of this system is found in medium-sized cities and even in small towns.

Ciudad Juárez, like Tijuana, fabled in song and legend as a fleshpot and vice zone, is a city whose economy has relied on contraband smuggling and the provision of sex and drugs to a U.S. and Mexican market for approximately a hundred years (Martínez 1978). From the 1920s to the 1970s, La Nacha or her relatives controlled a major heroin-distributing network from houses located in Juárez within a hundred yards of U.S. soil. Neither American nor Mexican authorities could dismantle La Nacha’s personalistic and highly effective drug ring. It declined after her death and that of several family members. In the aftermath of La

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