Modern history

CHAPTER SIX

1990s

The administration of Carlos Salinas (1988–1994), building upon the neoliberal policies introduced by de la Madrid, now put into effect a rolling counter-Revolution. In this round it was the larger public enterprises that were sold off at bargain basement prices: among the eighty or so he privatized were the telecommunications company, the two airlines, the national steel company, the fertilizer and sugar companies, the railways, and the commercial banks that had been nationalized in 1982. The process created a new class of Mexican tycoons. In 1987 there was one Mexican on the Forbes billionaire list. When Salinas left office in 1994 there were twenty-four.

Labor, conversely, was battered. When public enterprises were privatized their collective agreements were scrapped, benefits were removed, and “flexible” work rules were imposed. Salinas also distanced the party from its long-affiliated labor unions, and ordered a series of attacks on more militant entities. At the same time, state subsidies that had kept the price of basic foodstuffs low were suddenly removed. The price of milk, tortillas, petrol, electricity, and public transport shot up at the same time wages were being slashed. The provision of basic social services, long a feature of post-Revolutionary governments, was similarly cut so that fewer people had access to free health care and education.

The neoliberal offensive was particularly devastating to farm labor, partly as a consequence of the establishment of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which Salinas negotiated with George H. W. Bush (1989–1992) and which went into effect under Bill Clinton (1993–2000). A principal U.S. condition for entering the agreement was that Mexico undo the agrarian reforms embedded in Article 27 of the Constitution, a principal legacy of the Revolution. Communal (ejido) land could now be divided and converted into private property. Price regulation of staple crops was scrapped. Tariffs and quotas on agricultural imports were removed. Subsidies that had supported small-scale farmers were deleted. All this enabled U.S. agribusiness (which, having zero qualms about ideological inconsistency, remained heavily subsidized) to export corn and other grains below cost. Rural Mexican farmers could not compete. This did not escape the attention of the farmers themselves, especially the Indians in Chiapas who, fearing the loss of their communal lands, formed a Zapatista Army of National Liberation. On January 1, 1994, the day NAFTA came into force, they declared war on the Mexican state.

The results of establishing a putatively equal trade between grossly unequal partners was that U.S. agribusiness pushed thousands of Mexican farmers out of their own markets. The price of corn dropped by around 50 percent following the NAFTA agreement, and the number of farmers living in poverty rose by a third. In the six years following the introduction of NAFTA, two million farmers abandoned their land. They flocked from country shacks to the burgeoning barrios of Mexico City; to the spreading slums of Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez to work in assembly plants on the border; and to the United States. (In anticipation of the arrival of a displaced peasantry—a migration NAFTA was supposed to have precluded by providing new jobs in the industrial export sector—the U.S. in 1994 launched the forthrightly named Operation Gatekeeper and beefed up the Border Patrol).

Worse was yet to come. Salinas had pegged the peso to the U.S. dollar, which did reduce inflation, a major accomplishment, though given all the other “reforms” the net result was lower real wages. Over the sexenio, the peso’s real value declined, but Salinas propped it up to reassure U.S. investors and facilitate his NAFTA negotiations. After Salinas left, however, his successor Ernesto Zedillo (1994–2000) was left holding the bag. When Zedillo let the peso float, it promptly sank, losing half its value, triggering double-digit inflation and a whopping recession. Many companies went out of business. In 1995 alone, one million jobs were lost. By the end of 1996, there were eight million unemployed and five million working within the informal economy, out of a total labor force of 35.7 million. Foreign investment melted away, Mexican capital decamped to Miami, and the middle class found its life savings wiped out. The Mexican government responded by adopting another austerity plan—raising the value-added tax, cutting the budget, and increasing electricity and gasoline prices.

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The crisis sparked a surge in crime. Despite the steady rise of drug trafficking, modern Mexico had not been an especially dangerous country. Now mugging, carjacking, and kidnapping rates shot up, especially in the capital. Police failed to respond to this crime wave, creating an atmosphere of impunity. Their foot-dragging was not surprising. It was estimated in 1995 that 70 percent of kidnappings were being committed by the police themselves.

The crisis also transformed the narcotics industry. Indeed it is impossible to understand the tremendous changes in the drug business during the combined sexenios of Salinas and Zedillo (1989–2000) without taking into account the massive political, economic, and ideological transformations wrought during that decade and the previous one by the PRI-governed state.

Much of the impact was indirect.

Farmers, unable to sustain themselves due to the removal of subsidies and the arrival of competition from U.S. agri-corporations, found the burgeoning market for marijuana and poppies their only avenue to surviving on the land.

The army of the urban unemployed gave the cartels a deep pool from which to recruit foot soldiers, and the miserably paid (and ­eminently corruptible) police and military provided the muscle with which to protect their interests.

The spread of everyday crime—aided by the rapid declension and corruption of local police forces—demoralized civil society, and provided a climate within which grander forms of criminality would flourish.

The adoption of free trade, and the deeper integration of the Mexican economy with that of the United States, dramatically increased cross-border traffic, making it far easier to insert narcotics into the stream of northward-bound commodities. Some NAFTA rules were of particular help: because maquiladoras—assembly plants just across the border—were exempt from tariffs and subject to only minimal inspections, Mexican smugglers began buying up such factories to use as fronts for shipping cocaine.

Narcotrafficking had formerly been integrated into the PRI corporatist state, an under-the-table equivalent of labor, peasant, and business organizations. As such it was subject to a certain degree of regulatory control, and to unofficial taxation, in return for the de facto licensing of smuggling (the plaza system). The state’s abandonment of this form of corporatist inclusion contributed to the independent growth and power of organized crime syndicates.

The glorification of wealth and entrepreneurialism provided a cultural environment that boosted the social standing of narco businessmen. As in the former Soviet Union and other post-communist regimes, a neoliberal shock treatment simultaneously produced millionaires and gangsters, a twinning that Forbes registered by including them on the same list.

The weakening of the state and the glorification of “free enterprise” conferred authority and legitimacy on the private sector in which drug traffickers were now key players. As Watt and Zepeda point out, neoliberals prioritized accumulation of profit over social welfare, ruthless competition over cooperation, and the sanctification of private property and wealth over community and civic ­responsibility. These propositions—the cornerstones and guiding principles of free-market ideology—also formed the dominant ideology of crime syndicates.

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Not all the consequences of PRI initiatives were indirect. Presidents Salinas and Zedillo undertook a series of direct actions that would have major (though massively unanticipated) consequences for the narcotics industry.

Salinas was well aware of rising insistence in the U.S., in the aftermath of the Camarena torture-murder, that Mexico commit to a stepped-up war on drugs. This had been made clear with the establishment of the certification process in 1986, which threatened to punish non-compliance by throttling IMF loans. Salinas was also aware that bringing NAFTA negotiations to a successful conclusion depended on winning the good will of George H. W. Bush, an old anti-narco hand from his days running Reagan’s South Florida Task Force.

Seven months after taking office, Bush declared in his first televised address to the nation that “All of us agree that the gravest domestic threat facing our nation today is drugs.” He proposed spending billions on a militarized response. Salinas signed on. He approved a binational Northern Border Response Force to monitor the border, created the National Institute to Combat Drugs (INCD) modeled on the DEA, and permitted U.S. Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) planes to fly over Mexican airspace to track drug-trafficking activity. (Furious protests led him to terminate the AWACS program, but satellite surveillance was approved.) By tripling the resources available to the attorney general’s office, and increasing the participation of the Mexican military, he produced an increase in the quantity of confiscated drugs and won plaudits from U.S. authorities.

Bush had a specific request as well: Salinas was to (metaphorically) bring him the head of Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, chief of the ­Guadalajara Cartel. Rafael Caro Quintero and Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, Félix Gallardo’s accomplices in the murder of Camarena, had been apprehended but the boss of bosses himself, protected by the ­governor of Sinaloa, remained at large. In 1989, the task was assigned to Guillermo González Calderoni, a powerful commander in the ­Mexican Federal Judicial Police (the rough equivalent of the FBI), whose brief was combating narcos.

González Calderoni was told, he later avowed, that President Salinas wanted to reel in the master of the Guadalajara Cartel to ensure U.S. re-certification. According to González Calderoni, his super detective work tracked the gangster to his lair in Guadalajara. According to Félix Gallardo, the cop was an old friend who had invited him to dinner at a restaurant, then betrayed and arrested him. In 1990, President Bush certified that Mexico had cooperated fully in drug control efforts, praising in particular the arrest of Félix Gallardo.

The decapitation of the Guadalajara Cartel—a centralized regulatory gangster regime supported by the PRI state—gave the “free market” its head. The consequences for the criminal sector would be even more disastrous than the havoc wrought in the legitimate economy by the larger neoliberal project.

At first, the lieutenants of the original cartel attempted to establish some ground rules. Following Félix Gallardo’s arrest in 1989, the sub-capos held a gangster summit in the resort city of Acapulco. Some say the meeting was convened by Félix Gallardo himself via mobile phone from prison, others (including Félix Gallardo) denied this and identified none other than González Calderoni as the proposer. Whoever initiated the gathering, the attendees were almost all members of the old Sinaloan narco tribe, long intertwined by ties of marriage, friendship, or business. They proceeded to amicably parcel out production territories and smuggling routes to the U.S. market, awarding themselves the ­plazas that had once been assigned by the now-defunct DFS.11

The resulting organizations were called cartels, misleadingly, as they were in fact fragments of an exploded cartel—the byproducts of de-cartelization—and most were manned by descendants or associates of the original Guadalajaran trio.

Three were situated in the west of the Mexican borderland. The Tijuana Cartel went to members of the Arellano Félix clan—Félix Gallardo’s nephews and nieces. The Sinaloa Cartel would be run by Félix Gallardo’s professional lieutenants, most prominently Ismael Zambada, a.k.a. “El Mayo,” and Joaquín Guzmán Loera, a.k.a. “El Chapo” (“Shorty”) for his five-foot-six stature. Command of the Sonora corridor would be assumed by Miguel Caro Quintero, the brother of the incarcerated Rafael.

In the center of the borderlands, the Ciudad Juárez route went to the family of the jailed Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, winding up eventually in the hands of his nephew, Amado Carrillo Fuentes.

Control of the eastern borderlands, including the transit points of Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros, remained the province of the Gulf Cartel, the only outfit whose roots did not run back to the Sinaloa seedbed. Its origins dated to the early 1930s when Juan Nepomuceno Guerra smuggled alcohol from Matamoros to the Prohibition-parched north, then diversified (after Repeal) into gambling, car theft, prostitution, and the smuggling of other items. In the 1970s he brought his nephew Juan García Ábrego into the business, and it was the nephew who in the 1980s moved the organization into cocaine, dealing directly with the Cali Cartel.

As the 1990s unfolded, all these Mexican traffickers flourished. Moving tons of narcotics north and pumping billions of dollars back, they steadily replaced the Colombians as the dominant partners in their conjoint cocaine trade, a peaceful takeover solidified after the 1993 death of Pablo Escobar at the hands of the Colombian police.

This new generation of traffickers pursued innovative strategies. In Ciudad Juárez, Amado Carrillo Fuentes of the Juárez Cartel had a fleet of cocaine-packed Boeing 727s making regular runs between Colombia and Mexican airports, earning him the sobriquet “El Señor de los Cielos” (“Lord of the Skies”). In the east, García Ábrego’s ­sophisticated land-based system was able to smuggle over three hundred metric tons per year across the border, garnering him (the DEA estimated in 1994) $10 billion a year.

How were their expanded operations able to flourish in the early 1990s if Salinas, in cooperation with the U.S., was beefing up law enforcement agencies? In the short term, the old collusionary plaza system remained effective, thanks in part to the efforts and stature of one holdover from the old regime, Guillermo González Calderoni. With the DFS dismantled, the attorney general’s Federal Judicial Police (PJF) had primary responsibility for manning the law and order ramparts, and the man in charge of anti-narcotic work was González Calderoni, who had had lengthy, amicable, and mutually profitable relations with most of the organizations.

The Juárez Cartel operation of Carrillo Fuentes, in particular, enjoyed his badly needed protection—all those airplanes and landing fields were spectacularly visible. In a nice touch, González Calderoni served simultaneously as Chief of Security for the Lord of the Skies and, among other official titles, the PJF’s Chief of Aerial Interception. His services went beyond seeing and speaking no evil; the DEA believed that Carrillo Fuentes had once paid González Calderoni a million dollars to assassinate a rival drug lord.

At the same time, he was also on the payroll of the Gulf Cartel’s García Ábrego, with whose family he had long had close personal relations. He had been known to be helpful to the Sinaloa Cartel as well. Comandante González Calderoni was thus in the good graces of government and gangsters, and able to extend the shelf life of their old relationship, though the government side was no longer in as commanding a position as in the old days. González Calderoni’s protection did not come cheap, and the amount of funds that flowed to him personally was stupendous, valued by the DEA at $400 million.

In 1993, however, the comandante fell off the tightrope when the attorney general fired and indicted him for drug trafficking, torturing prisoners, and taking bribes from García Ábrego. González Calderoni escaped across the border to Texas, and when the Salinas government sought to extradite him, he successfully defended his U.S. residency by claiming, very publicly, that his friend García Ábrego had told him that President Salinas had employed him to murder the two top Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas campaign advisers in the 1988 election—a fate he did not wish to share. He also announced that Carlos’ brother Raúl was a frequent guest at García Ábrego social events , and suggested Raúl was himself a narco protector. (Both assertions were stoutly denied by the brothers.) In 2003, González Calderoni was gunned down by parties unknown, shot in the head as he entered his silver Mercedes parked outside his lawyer’s office in McAllen, Texas.

After González Calderoni’s fall it would not be possible to resurrect the old relationship between crook and state. Governments (or pieces of governments) would certainly continue to protect narco operations, but the initiative would increasingly come from the gangsters’ side, for the simplest of reasons. With the ascendancy of the cocaine trade, cartel profits had soared into the empyrean, and the amount of money they could now budget for bribery allowed them to make irresistible offers—unrefusable ones too when accompanied by threats of violence, as in the formulation plomo o plata (“lead or silver”), i.e., take the money or die. According to a 1994 study by the National Autonomous University of Mexico, overall trafficker payouts rose from perhaps $3.2 million in 1983 to $460 million in 1993, larger than the Mexican attorney general’s entire budget. In 1995, the Department of the Interior estimated that 30 to 50 percent of the one-hundred-thousand-strong Federal Judicial Police (PJF) had been captured by drug money.

The conquest of hundreds of local municipal police forces was even more thorough, corruption producing an all-but-wholesale desertion of police into the ranks of criminality, where they served as escorts and adjutants. The terms of the relationship had been reversed. Previously criminals had been forced to pay up, or face sanctions from state agents. Now criminals chose to pay, and it was they who would punish noncompliance. State regulation had been thrown off, as neoliberal doctrine dictated, and replaced by a privatized regime, in which public officials were suborned on a piecemeal basis.

It may be simply coincidence but the departure of González Calderoni overlapped with the first fissuring of the confederation of cartels. Competition erupted—as it will in an unconstrained marketplace—between the Arellano Félix brothers and the Sinaloans Ismael Zambada and El Chapo Guzmán, over access routes into California. Likely more was involved than commercial considerations. The two outfits had different lines of descent from the mother organization—one familial, one professional—and they were also (as Ioan Grillo notes in El Narco) clannish, given to vendettas as well as strictly business-based rivalries. Violence was a natural concomitant. In feuds between gangsters, competition was not a matter of price-cutting but of throat cutting. Nor was violence employed in only a utilitarian way; it was a matter of performance as well. Power flowed to those able to demonstrate a greater ferocity than their opponents.

The Arellano Félix boys took an early lead in the violence sweepstakes. Not only did they put together a notorious regiment of ­killers—recruiting Chicano gangbangers from San Diego and sons from Tijuana’s wealthy families—but Ramón Arellano Félix took pains to construct a terrifying public image. He became infamous for allegedly throwing a victim’s corpse onto a fire, grilling up some steaks over it, and standing around with his compadres while enjoying beef, beer, and cocaine. Whether this was true or not mattered less than that rivals believed it to be so; a street rep for cruelty was itself a powerful competitive asset. Ramón also introduced a new and bloody tactic, with a new word to describe it: an encobijado (“an en-blanketed one”), meaning a corpse wrapped up in a blanket and dumped in a public place, often with a threatening note attached. Again, these were performances with a public purpose, that of displaying their kill-willingness for all to see.12

In 1993, a spectacular instance of violence, made so by its victim rather than its method, put the growing inter-gang warfare on the national public’s radar screen. In May, Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo went to the Guadalajara airport to meet the arriving papal nuncio when (according to the official story) he drove into the middle of a firefight between the Tijuana Cartel’s Arellano Félix brothers and the Sinaloa Cartel’s El Chapo Guzmán and his thugs. Posadas’ murder generated many alternative explanations, most of which assumed the cardinal was an intended and not an accidental victim. But whatever the cause, the consequence was that drug war battles now had the capacity to impact the highest levels of Mexican society. The resulting media firestorm put terrific pressure on the federal government to do something decisive, and within two weeks police in Guatemala had nabbed El Chapo Guzmán and deported him to Mexico, where he was locked up in a maximum-security prison.

Drug-related violence now touched secular as well as ecclesiastical elites. In March 1994, the PRI candidate fingered to succeed ­Salinas—Luis Donaldo Colosio, previously president of the party—was assassinated at a campaign rally in Tijuana. Again rumors swirled, and the truth remains elusive, but most contending explanations revolved around Colosio’s relations (or refusal of relations) with narcos. The same was true with another murder that followed hard upon Colosio’s, that of José Francisco Ruiz Massieu, brother-in-law of Carlos Salinas and secretary general of the PRI, who had been pushing for further investigation into the death of his close friend Colosio. The assassination in broad daylight of the PRI’s two most powerful officials suggested murky dealings between the party and the cartels, and revealed that the commanding heights of political authority were no longer so commanding.

This latest blow to its legitimacy might have cost the PRI the presidency, and indeed the election returns in August 1994, as certified by the new and quasi-independent IFE (Instituto Federal Electoral or Federal Electoral Institute), demonstrated the growing strength of both old established and newly created rivals. The PRI’s replacement candidate Ernesto Zedillo received 50.18 percent of the vote; the PAN candidate Diego Fernández de Cevallos Ramos, 26.69 percent; and Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, choice of the new PRD (the leftist Partido de la Revolución Democrática or Party of the Democratic Revolution), 17.08 percent. Conventional wisdom held that the combination of assassinations with the Chiapas uprising led many to opt for stability, but that the single party chokehold on the political system had been all but broken.

President Ernesto Zedillo, only too aware of the party’s peril, opted during his sexenio (1994–2000) for some efforts at reform.

In 1995 Raúl Salinas, the brother of former president Carlos Salinas, was arrested. Swiss banking authorities had discovered he had 289 bank accounts, containing an estimated $500 million, which they charged were profits from working with drug dealers. Salinas denied this and the case was never proven. Instead he was arrested, convicted, and jailed for allegedly masterminding the murder of his ex-brother-in-law, José Francisco Ruiz Massieu, but after serving ten years he was acquitted. Whatever Raúl Salinas did or did not do, the furor further chipped away at the legitimacy of the ruling party.

In 1996, Gulf Cartel kingpin García Ábrego was arrested and extradited to the United States. Tried and convicted with $350 million of his assets seized, he was sentenced to eleven consecutive life terms and dispatched to a maximum-security prison in Colorado, where he remains to this day. The removal of García Ábrego would prove rife with unanticipated consequences.

Also in 1996, Zedillo, deciding the PJF was hopelessly corrupt, began dismantling it—the equivalent of disbanding the FBI in disgrace. Some 1,800 agents were dismissed on grounds of corruption or incompetence, and the remainder transferred in 1999 to a newly minted Policía Federal Preventiva (Federal Preventive Police [PFP]).

The deflating of the police was accompanied by an inflating of the role of the military, a policy strongly promoted by Bill Clinton’s appointed drug czar, Barry McCaffrey, a recently retired four-star general whose previous position had been as head of the United States Southern Command. Given the rising drug war violence in the north, the crisis of the political system, the disintegration of police credibility, the collapse of the currency, and the attendant need to stay in U.S. good graces, Zedillo acquiesced. He established a five-year plan (the National Program for the Control of Drugs) that significantly widened the involvement of the (reluctant) armed forces beyond their sporadic participation in eradication programs. By 1996, almost a thousand soldiers had received special training in counter-narcotics tactics in the U.S.A.

In addition, in December 1996, a very high-ranking military man, indeed the likeliest candidate to become Mexico’s next secretary of defense—General Jesús Gutiérrez Rebollo—was chosen by the attorney general to head up the INCD, Mexico’s national anti-drug agency. General Gutiérrez Rebollo would become the counterpart of drug czar General McCaffrey, who hailed his new colleague as a man of “impeccable integrity.” Two months later, in February 1997, the current secretary of defense grimly announced that General Gutiérrez Rebollo had long been protecting (and profiting from) Amado Carrillo Fuentes, El Señor de los Cielos, to whom he had almost certainly handed over a mountain of classified information. The barbarians, it turned out, were already inside the military gates. By August 1997, 402 military officers had been taken into custody, fifteen of whom ranked between lieutenant colonel and general. The breaking of Gutiérrez Rebollo and a significant portion of the officer class short-circuited further resistance by the Mexican military to its new number-one mission. It would bow to U.S. counter-narcotics priorities, just as its presumed moral invulnerability was so dramatically shown to be a fantasy.

Worse, just as the PRI state was opting for militarization, so was the Gulf Cartel, which had supposedly been defanged by the arrest of its capo García Ábrego. In 1998, after a period of intra-cartel battling, one Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, a García Ábrego lieutenant, had murdered his way to the top. But given ongoing confrontations with rivals, and the likely deployment of military force against him, Cárdenas Guillén set out to create a Praetorian Guard. He turned for assistance to Arturo Guzmán Decena, a commander in the army’s elite Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales (GAFE), Mexico’s equivalent of the Green Berets.

The special forces had been given counter-insurgency training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and dispatched by President Salinas to crush the Zapatistas. Guzmán Decena had been sent to Tamaulipas to clamp down on drug gangs but had been amenable to bribes from Cárdenas Guillén to allow safe passage to Gulf Cartel drug shipments. This was not atypical for soldiers; skimming the profits of traffickers seemed a perk of the job. But Guzmán Decena left the barracks altogether, and signed up with Cárdenas Guillén. (Grillo speculates that his defection may have been triggered by General Gutiérrez Rebollo being sentenced to thirty-two years in prison, and the growing calls by families of the disappeared to investigate human rights abuses in the Dirty War in which Guzmán Decena had been a player.) Guzmán Decena brought with him to the dark side thirty or so GAFE colleagues, crack soldiers all, and an arsenal of the army’s most sophisticated weaponry and surveillance equipment. Soon they had expanded beyond bodyguard duties to become the Gulf Cartel’s mercenary military arm, and dubbed themselves: Los Zetas.

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Meanwhile, back in the west, the loss of Gutiérrez Rebollo’s protection had proven a setback for the Lord of the Skies. Deciding he needed to alter his profile, Amado Carrillo Fuentes went to Mexico City in July 1997 for a rendezvous with plastic surgeons. He apparently died there on the operating table, from the effects of an anesthetic. His death served as flypaper for theorists of assassination conspiracies who attributed his demise to a variety of proposed perpetrators. But whatever its cause may have been, his passing unleashed a tempest. As his brother Vicente struggled to take command of the Juárez Cartel, the Arellano Félix brothers, sensing an opportunity, tried to move in on their Ciudad Juárez plaza.

The Sinaloa Cartel, which was already at war with the Tijuana crowd, joined forces with the Juárez Cartel, on the enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend basis, and launched a counter-assault on their Tijuana stronghold. Now the streets ran red, with hundreds killed, tortured, and disappeared. At first Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana were the principal battlegrounds, but then the fighting expanded to adjoining states.

At the very same time that a centralized regulatory regime gave way to chaotic competition in the criminal underworld, the centralized one-party regime gave way to a competitive party system in the world of politics.

11 In thus assuming responsibility for self-regulation, the Acapulco meeting was in the vein of the legendary sit-down held in Atlantic City in 1929, at which mafiosi from around the country divvied up market share and established protocols for settling disputes, including laying out rules for ordering approved executions and assigning the tasks to a covey of contract killers known as Murder, Incorporated.

12 There was another element in this mix, the growth of a local market in drugs. In the 1990s, meaningful numbers of Mexicans started taking hard drugs, partly a matter of increased distribution due to lapsed regulation. Mexican capos started paying their lieutenants with bricks of cocaine and bags of heroin as well as cash (a practice pioneered by Arturo Durazo, chief of the Mexico City police force). Mid-level hoods unloaded their products on local streets, nowhere more so than in Tijuana, which developed the highest level of drug use in the country. Arellano Félix affiliates set up hundreds of tienditas, “little drug shops,” especially in the center and eastside slums. Fighting over street corners drove violence to new heights. Toward the end of the nineties there were some three hundred homicides per year in Tijuana, and a similar number in Juárez.

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