Many of us watched with interest the recent, and remarkably anti-climactic, extradition of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to face drug trafficking charges in the United States. He has, naturally, pleaded not guilty. As this news broke, I received no fewer than a dozen messages and emails from my former partners in narcotics enforcement celebrating, to one degree or another, his arrival in New York.
But we shouldn’t celebrate too much. The reality is that Chapo’s arrest and likely lifelong imprisonment won’t do a single thing to change the equation. He was long ago replaced, and untold numbers of people were murdered, in the endless succession drama that plays out in the cartel strongholds of Mexico—which is, quite simply, a Narco-state.
The sale and use of illicit narcotics are not, contrary to the legalize movement’s daydreams, victimless crimes. The truth is, as any veteran of the failed “War on Drugs” can tell you, that the traffic in narcotics has a nexus to every other kind and category of crime, from petty theft to homicide—and it has an extraordinary reach. The end user has no idea how many people were maimed, murdered, kidnapped, abused, raped, or tortured, for that gram of crystal meth to finally reach them.
Worst of all may be the relationship of narcotics usage and sales to child neglect and endangerment, the horrific images of which I will spend the rest of my life trying to forget. The damage done by mere users is equally far reaching, whether it comes from property crimes committed to fuel their addictions, or the bottomless list of both violent and non-violent crimes, the wreckage of relationships with friends and family, the enormous burden imposed on the criminal justice system, or the simple cratering of their own hopes and dreams.
But we shouldn’t kid ourselves. The War on Drugs, as it is presently being fought, is an abject failure. It simply isn’t, and probably never has been, effective. When looked at objectively–and I entered that tube as a true believer in the cause–it is an industry designed to fail. Law enforcement will never have the money, the manpower, or the agility to defeat the drug cartels at their own game. Never. The cartels are the most powerful and ruthless corporations on this planet, and they simply devour the competition.
The costs for a single large-scale investigation into narco-trafficking—organizations that operate on the same principle as terrorist cells—can easily skyrocket into the hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars. It can take months, sometimes years, to start kicking doors, seizing loads of cash and dope, and putting it all on the table for the big photo-op and back-slapping spectacle that is helpful only for sustaining the illusion of hope in ultimate victory.
For instance, if we arrested 15 people in a big, above-the-fold caper that stretched over multiple states, the mopes were replaced in less time than it took to book them. The case itself would take years to adjudicate, fought every step of the way by cartel lawyers who care nothing about the mopes who were arrested, but are seeking discovery to figure out how law enforcement got wind of them in the first place. Armed with that information, they change tactics, or technology, and drop the defendants neatly into the American prison system, where the American tax-payer pays through the nose for their care and comfort. It is a revolving door of madness.
Almost no one discusses the violence in places like Chicago in meaningful terms. The street gang violence in that city, where 762 people were murdered last year, and some 4331—many of them mere children–shot, isn’t happening in a vacuum. What we are witnessing is a proxy war between Mexican drug cartels for control of the highly lucrative narcotics trade in that city, and elsewhere. I know that to be true because I’ve sat in a room and listened to wiretapped conversations between brokers in Mexico and their lieutenants in Chicago.
The reality is that outside of marijuana—and even that is questionable in many cases—not one ounce of heroin, meth, or cocaine, are sold in this country without the hidden hand of the Mexican cartels somewhere along the chain. The Mexican cartels exercise absolute control over the narcotics corridors into this country, and its delivery into our cities.
That hidden hand reaches far deeper into American society than many would like to believe. It involves corrupted judges, border patrol agents, street cops, and elected politicians serving at very high levels of government. I don’t offer this as opinion. I know it from direct experience working cases as a task force agent in southern California.
So, while its wonderful that Shorty has been extradited to face justice in America, and anyone who is being honest knows that he is decidedly not some kind of folk hero worthy of respect—a Sean Penn fantasy that is hard to square with facts–I’m having a hard time giving it much more than a shrug.
Until we have some kind of national awakening on the importance of educating, in an honest way, our children about the real horrors of narcotics use, and bend their minds away from usage, the Shortys of the world will continue to find eager customers, continue to exploit them, and continue their rampant plundering and pillaging.
Well i sure agree with you saying it’s a costly war and one that has replacements for replacements.It is demand of supply for sure and one that can only be cured by the people in demand and youth not wanting any longer. This can only be done if America uses innovative tactics i fear it does not have the stomach for.Maybe some young offender sitting in on a autopsy of someone who died in a drug related case. Large scale scared straight field trips maybe. However I do think we need to keep the pressure on by LE with continued narcotic investigations. We at least make it difficult to continue trafficking and keep their heads down. I know you will think of the “little Dutch Boy” who plugs one hole only to have several more appear. But at least the flow is delayed until help arrives. Peace
Dutch–im not saying the fight isn’t worth it. You were my guru–with Tagles–even learning how to fight these scumbags. I just dont think we are ever gonna make a meaningful turn unless we fight smarter on the grand cultural scale. Cases we worked together absolutely had meaning, and impact, in our community, but we can both acknowledge they were drops in the bucket. Our best cases were great and worthy fights, but we are still losing the bigger fight. Im hopeful we can educate people to the real horrors (which most people never see in a meaningful way) so that they join us in our knowledge about the incalculable damage that is done to our country by the entire thing–from sellers to users.
This is far and away your turf. I yield in courtesy to that professional viewpoint. I also absolutely agree. What seems so obvious evidently must not be. Many much more qualified including yourself has written on the problem. This example of “Shorty” is somewhat akin to the capture and eventual execution of Saddam Hussein. A despicable criminal was taken out. What appears to be the basis of this (for now) unwinneable war is the inability, or perhaps at times the unwillingingness to remove all roots of the problem. Roots so deep and tangled in myriad ways of poverty, corruption, greed and pitiful demand for the truly poisonous drugs. Like these perverse Saints coopted for evil intent. Yes evil. Evil is the perverse removal of virtue. Reversing this is no easy feat and like anything else comparable in damage to humanity. Very complicated and not for the faint of heart or those without a persistent approach. If the drug issue would by some chance diminish without addressing the root issues it will only resurface in other ventures. Build walls.? Build prisons? It’s all the bad side of money or the lack of it. Let me be on record that those working in the agricultural fields and other areas of legitimate work are the ” Holy Ones “. Only a honest person would do that kind of work. Yes, it is complicated to correct, but in reality the problem is obvious and simple to understand. Not everyone can be a Cesar Chavez. Some become “Shorty”. By the way, I stumbled on to Cesar Chavez’s gravesite on what happened to be an Easter Sunday that was also his birthday, with balloons still floating above it when I arrived. Nobody else was there. I was taking the back roads up to Lake Isabella. It stays with me to this day. I had no idea when I made an unplanned trip. El Chapo could have just as easily taken that turn…
Craig, you have struck on a very imortant problem and have more than earned your right to speak your piece. I could not agree more with your conclusions…
this needs to be on the front page overy newspaper in the country, assuming people read those , thanks Craig
In 2004 I flew into Singapore, when the plane is on approach, they give you a big red placard, that says in BIG BOLD letters, DRUG SMUGGLING is punishable by DEATH. I was told by my colleagues when I inquired, it was because they could not allow drugs to infect their culture, and spoil their national productiveness. At that time a huge problem was teenage suicide. Their education system pushed the students so hard to excel, 100% was not perceived as good enough, reason suicides were on the increase…anyhow I diverse. Yes there are drugs in Singapore, but not like here. Would drastic penalties work here, probably not…its too late. Hell they’re letting them out of jail here in Calif. There is no deterrent, because attorneys will get them off on BS technicalities, like you said, the cost alone to surveil, track, arrest, then convict is off the charts. I was told, in Singapore, executions generally take place within 12 months of arrest. Are there solutions…I’m not optimistic on this one??