11/14/10 - Dudley Althaus

The Horrors of Drug War" with Houston Chronicle reporters Dane Schiller & Dudley Althaus and El Paso Councilman Beto O'Rourke

Century of Lies
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Dudley Althaus
Houston Chronicle



Century of Lies / November 14, 2010

The failure of Drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more. Now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.


(Field recording of massive amounts of gunfire, screeching tires and violence)

The audio you hear is from a YouTube video, taken by a passerby in Tamaulipas, Mexico. It’s a running gun battle between two competing gangs on November 10th. This is the war between drug traffickers that has waged since the boss known as Tony Tormenta was killed. It’s the kind of thing you see going grocery shopping.

(Continued gunfire)


Hello, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. I think we have a very important show for you today. We’re going to be speaking with two reporters from the Houston Chronicle, Mister Dane Schiller and Mister Dudley Althaus.

They cover the criminal justice system quite a bit in their reporting. As we speak, Dudley is in, near Mexico City and we don’t even want to say where he is. We have in the studio, Mister Dane Schiller. Dane, welcome to Century of Lies.

Dane Schiller: Thank you.

Dean Becker: Dane, you got to hear that running gun battle, that audio. That speaks rather well of what’s going on in Mexico, does it not?

Dane Schiller: A war zone, absolutely.

Dean Becker: The term “Drug War”, you know, Gil Kerlikowske, the Drug Czar said, “We don’t want to call it a Drug War anymore. We’re going to do something different.” But, it is a war in Mexico, is it not?

Dane Schiller: Between the cartels, absolutely.

Dean Becker: That’s rather indicative, I mean, there was the city that was abandoned just a couple of days ago that the warring factions between the Zetas and the Gulf cartel – who was in charge and who was collaborators. The city was just abandoned, was it not?

Dane Schiller: From what I heard, it was like the Grapes of Wrath type thing. People were walking from the city, carrying their suitcases with pick-up trucks loaded with elderly, children and everybody, everything they can or could fit in there, leaving in fear, just leaving a ghost town behind.

Dean Becker: I used to like to go into Mexico back, especially in my drinking days and go into Mexico, have a good time and party it up. It always felt a little bit dangerous but, it’s gone beyond that. Ciudad Juarez is now the most dangerous city on the planet and many of these smaller towns are, in their own right, perhaps even more dangerous. Your thoughts?

Dane Schiller: There’s always been a little hint of crossing the border. And who knows what can happen but there is no comparing the past to what’s happening now. Anything is possible and as you look at the country you see that places like Mexico City, which long has had the reputation of being very, very, very dangerous are actually now, it seems much safer than some of the small towns in the countryside.

Dean Becker: Yeah. I’m reading here from, let’s see, November 11th, “Refugees from a town mired in gang warfare can only flee but still for their lives.” It’s written by our next guest, Mister Dudley Althaus. Are you with us, sir?

Dudley Althaus: How are you doing, Dean?

Dean Becker: I’m good. Thank you for going us. Dudley, you have seen the horrors. You’ve heard the stories. This is not something that’s just going to go away out of hope, is it?

Dudley Althaus: No, it’s not going to go away out of hope. It’s a really serious situation that keeps seemingly getting worse every day. The number are piling up of those who are killed. Those killed leave a lot of orphans behind. People, as you just mentioned, have been driven from their homes in some places.

It’s important to point out that his is not happening all over Mexico. I get emails from people wondering if they should go on vacation in Cancun. It’s just not happening everywhere but this is a very serious and historic time in Mexico’s history and things are bad.

Dean Becker: Yeah and I – and this brings to mind, like right now, Cancun may indeed be safe but they – was it Cancun where they rolled the heads across the dance floor? If, I remember correctly?

Dudley Althaus: No, that was in Michoacán.

Dean Becker: Michoacán. Ok.

Dudley Althaus: You can get to a disco still in Cancun, I think. But Cancun has had it problems with these drug battles, certainly, between the mafias. The police chief of Cancun was killed about a year and a half ago by the drug gangs, murdered almost as soon as he took office. He was a retired army general but yeah, it has had its problems but with that being said, it hasn’t affected the tourists that much.

I’m not trying to promote Mexico as a tourist destination. I’m just saying that these are very specific places where this is happening. Along the Texas border, along the US border and kind of down both coasts, in the remote areas of both coasts and in some of the cities.

There was just a shoot out today in the capitol of Nayarit State, which is really near the coast of Puerto Vallarta, which killed seven people, including two toddlers, in the car with their parents.

Dean Becker: And this brings to mind, I’ve heard it in some quotes and I don’t have it in front of me but the fact is I believe it was some government official – Mexican government official, saying something to the effect of the vast majority of those being killed are narcos and it’s not really something that we should be concerned about. But that – it’s not even provable because they don’t solve – they solve relatively few of their murders in the first place, right?

Dudley Althaus: I think that’s right. I mean, I tend to think that most of those who are being killed are somehow involved but on the other hand, they’ve been a number – quite a few innocent civilians killed. It’s nothing to make light of. There are people caught in the crossfire. They are people.

What’s happening now is instead of say, ten years ago or five years ago is that instead of killing the two guys they’re after, they’ll kill the ten people standing next the to guy they’re after. That’s why we’re getting so many massacres.

It’s indiscriminate. It’s gotten much more vicious. I think many of us are shocked by the level of depravity that we are seeing in these killings, beheadings and all sorts of things.

The town you just mentioned, that I covered, I talked to the people who had fled that town on Thursday. There was a guy hung in the central plaza of the town back in May. Strung up, lynched basically but they had cut his arms and his legs off with a chainsaw, they had said.

Dean Becker: Uh.

Dudley Althaus: While he was still alive.

Dean Becker: Oh lordy. Yeah, well, um –

Dudley Althaus: And that’s just a ten-minute drive from the US/Texas border. That sort of just brutality is just what we are just trying to get our heads around down here.

Dean Becker: Yeah, well, ok again folks, that was Dudley Althaus with the Houston Chronicle and we have with us in studio, Dane Schiller, also with the Houston Chronicle. Here in a few minutes we’re going to bring in council member Beto O’Rourke out of El Paso to talk about the effect of this Drug War on his constituents.

Now Dane, I wanted to ask you. You tend to cover more of the US criminal justice side of this story. There’s been a great story about the secrecy of the trial of the Osiel Cárdenas Guillén. He was a major drug trafficker who got – who bargained, I guess, a twenty, twenty-five year sentence, was it, for supplying information.

Dane Schiller: Well, Osiel Cárdenas Guillén is going to be put of prison in fourteen years, at the most. He did get a sentence that is about twenty-five years but he was given credit for time served in Mexico after he was grabbed up and before he was extradited to the United States, a place where he has supposedly had all kinds of lavish surroundings and was still running the cartel. So, it’s tough to call that hard time.

Dean Becker: And there was a more recent bust of another – We had Tony Tormenta who was killed just two weeks ago or something. We had the bust, not too long ago before that, of La Barbie another famous, cartel member, if you will. What’s his situation?

Dane Schiller: La Barbie is one of two prisoners in a federal police, I should call it, at the headquarters in the vicinity of Mexico City, just two of them, two big drug guys. He’s trying his best to get back to the United States to cut an even better deal than OCL, there’s no doubt about that.

His own lawyer admits that he was hired many months before he was captured to start looking at options. The last thing they want is for Le Barbie to stay in Mexico and be subjected to whatever could happen to him down there.

Dean Becker: Yeah, right and again – let me ask you about this, Dudley. The abuses of the federal police and sometimes the state and local police leave people with very little – with nowhere to turn in many cases. Am I right?

Dudley Althaus: I think that’s correct. I mean people do not trust police. Often times the police are in bed with the gangsters. That’s been a real problem with getting people to call in with anonymous tips even, about where the gangsters are.

People tend to trust the army more and there are more anonymous tip lines that are being used by citizens to report on suspicious neighbors and that sort of thing and it’s led to some busts in recent times but yeah most people do not trust the police here.

Dean Becker: Right and we have a bit of that here in the US around the area of snitching and just the potential to be killed or harmed because you speak up against a drug dealer in your neighborhood or a drug gang, if you will.

Once again we’re speaking with Mister Dane Schiller a reporter with the [Houston] Chronicle here in the studio and also with the [Houston] Chronicle, Mister Dudley Althaus.

I’ll tell you what, let’s go ahead and open up the other phone line, I want to bring into our discussion a council member in El Paso, directly across the river from Ciudad Juarez, the world’s most dangerous city. Beto O’Rourke, are you with us sir?

Beto O’Rourke: I am, thanks for having me, Dean.

Dean Becker: Beto, thank you so much. This gets to be more difficult to endure and to understand why we allow this to continue. Tell me what the pulse is. What’s going on there in El Paso and Ciudad Juarez?

Beto O’Rourke: Well, as you all probably know, Juarez is now the deadliest city in the world measured by murder rate per 100,000 citizens. It’s actually gotten worse. It was very bad in 2008 when it had 1,600 people murdered. In 2009, you had over 2,700 and so far this year we’re at 2,800 an obviously still have a month and a half still to go in the year and it brings us to over 7,000 killed in Juarez since 2008.

Yeah, we understand that the Drug War and drug demand in the US, drug prohibition and Calderón’s declared war on the Drug cartels are central to all this. But beyond that, it’s really hard to know much more then that.

We just got a report this weekend that said that 98.5% of all crimes in Mexico go unpunished right now. So, the real truth really is that nobody knows who is doing the killing and for what reason, simply because these murders aren’t being prosecuted.

We can assume that the people who are killed are involved in the drug trade and maybe implicitly guilty but I really contest that. Even one of the reporters that you just interviewed said that they may be going after two guys that are involved in a rival drug gang and kill the ten people next to them.

So, I think we’re seeing, especially in Juarez, a line that’s been crossed. Where it is very clear that the innocents, if they are not outnumber the “guilty” are certainly a significant part of the toll that’s been taken in Juarez so far. Where this goes we don’t know but it’s clearly getting worse year after year and month after month.

Dean Becker: Alright, once again friends that was council member Beto O’Rourke out of El Paso. We have with us in studio we have Mister Dane Schiller from the Houston Chronicle and his fellow reporter, Mister Dudley Althaus who is in Mexico, somewhere.

Dudley, he brings to mind a thought that we had touched on and that is that people are afraid to go to the police but it also makes me wonder if there isn’t the violence and the mayhem, is it a necessary part of “ruling” these corridors, that it just has to be part of it? You thoughts on that?

Dudley Althaus: Well, I think these corridors have been going on for a long time and the violence didn’t really blow up until just about past – well, when Calderón started the crackdown. I would take – my personal opinion is that Calderón didn’t cause this, the crackdown didn’t quite cause this but what I think Calderón did was turn, finally turn and scratch the scab, if you will.

One thing that’s really shocked me and I have been in Mexico for a long, long time is just the level of these guys and how deeply ingrained they became in a place like Juarez because it’s not as if these cartel bosses are ordering up every one of these killings. There’s a lot of gang killings going back and forth.

The various street gangs are aligned with one cartel or another but only loosely. The retail drug trade, I think, has a big part of it and these guys just in it for tit-for-tat, back and forth killings.

There’s always been drug violence in Mexico. I’ve covered Mexico for probably for twenty-five or twenty-six years. Drug violence has always been part of the story but nothing like this. This is just something that was just unleashed.

Many people will argue that it was unleashed because of the crackdown. I tend to believe that he crackdown opened something that has gone mad. You could make the argument, and I think it’s a valid argument, that the crackdown has been handled badly, that they could have done better in the way they did it but it is not as if the country would be perfectly happy and peaceful if it hadn’t happened. There is something going on here that I think everybody just kind of let go for a long time.

Dean Becker: In that situation, in the city of Mier, where the hundreds of people abandoned their homes and walked to the nearest town, that – to me it begs the question of why or where was the Mexican state? Where was the government to cause a whole city to abandon ship?

Dudley Althaus: Well, that’s right, when I went in to the actual river – the Rio Grande bank town where these people had taken refuge, that’s why some of the people talked to me. They are very afraid and they are very exposed.

There’s a few soldiers and marines in this town and the town is still supposedly controlled by the Gulf Cartel. So, it was calm but these people were desperate to get it out and get some reaction from the government.

So far, the government hadn’t reacted at all to them at all and it was almost a week after they had first fled. They haven’t had any more soldiers come in to protect them. There was no deployment of a battalion of soldiers to that city to make sure people could go home or anything like that. It hasn’t happened yet. So, yeah, I think it’s a very valid question.

Dean Becker: Alright.

Dudley Althaus: And that’s certainly what these people would want to happen.

Dean Becker: Yeah, Dane Schiller, you had a thought?

Dane Schiller: I agree with Dudley. There hasn’t been a lot of help for the people. A lot are desperate. They want the government, they want the military to come in there and restore some law and order and save their homes, save their lives, save their places from being pillaged, etcetera, and they are very desperate.

Dean Becker: Yeah. Let’s see, I want to – this one’s going to Beto O’Rourke, the city councilman in El Paso. I think it was just in the past couple of days, I saw a story that indicated that once again, that El Paso is one of the safest cities in America. Is that true, Beto?

Beto O’Rourke: It is true. We’ve had three murders, so far this year in a city of almost 800,000, when next door, in a city with little over a million, you’ve had over 2,800 in that same period. What’s interesting is that for those listeners of yours that don’t know.

Juarez with the 2,800 murders and El Paso with the three murders are literally geographically, culturally, historically and economically joined at the hip. They’re really two halves of one bi-national metropolis.

So, many of the cartel operatives, leaders, even probably some of the linemen live and operate in El Paso as well, it’s just that the violence, at least the violence that’s associated with the Drug War between the cartels that we assume are still warring for the Plaza, the Sinaloa and the Juarez Cartel, all that violence takes place in Juarez.

So, it is really – it’s a paradox that has drawn a lot of attention and interest in probably one of the safest, if not the safest city in the United States, next to the deadliest city in the world right now.

One thing I’d really like to say, just to comment on a statement made earlier, in terms of citizens waiting for government involvement, what’s interesting is there has been kind of an inverse correlation in between the federal troop presence and federal police presence in Juarez and the violence.

When Calderón sent over 10,000 soldiers and federal police to Juarez, the murder rate actually escalated. It just goes to show that if these federal troops are not the indeed a part of the drug operations on the border, that are absolutely ineffective in stopping them, whether it is the drug trade that’s crossing our borders at ports of entry or the killings that we assume to be associated with this.

So, these are literally failed cities along the US/Mexico border. The mayor of Juarez, the mayor Jose Reyes Felix was actually living in El Paso, Texas. Your listeners probably also know about a young, twenty year old woman who took over as Chief of Police in a small city called Guerrero, in northern Chihuahua, about thirty-five miles from us here because no one else would take the job.

So, you had a criminal justice major in college, becoming the chief of police in one of the deadliest cities in Chihuahua, which is the deadliest state in Mexico right now. So, it’s really a complete breakdown of civil authority and again, we don’t know where this is going to go but it’s been very bad for a few years and it seems to be getting worse.

Dean Becker: Alright, that is Beto O’Rourke. Now, I wanted to bring up a thought here. I post, nearly everyday, probably, on the Houston Chronicle comment section and one of the things that I see in response to my posts, which I’m a legalizer; I’ll admit that. But, the people say that it’s going to get worse and if you legalize it the violence will come across the border and total mayhem will ensue over here.

I want to pose this to perhaps all three of you gentlemen. They don’t want that violence on this side of the border. It would completely contaminate or ruin or kill their golden goose. Let’s start with you in the studio first, Dane Schiller.

Dane Schiller: You’re saying that the Mexican drug traffickers don’t want that violence to break out in the United States?

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Dane Schiller: I agree with that 100%. They don’t want that to happen because then there’s going to be a massive crackdown in on some of their – on this side, their routes are going to be closed down and it will be tougher for them to do business.

The last thing they want is a change in posture in the United States and a bunch of US troops to have a different mission, a different set of privileges, orders to line up along the border and just cut down their business.

Dean Becker: Ok. Next we go to Dudley, in – somewhere in Mexico. Your thoughts on that question.

Dudley Althaus: (Laughs) Nice save, Dean.

Dean Becker: Ok. I wasn’t gong to tell them.

Dudley Althaus: The question is what would legalization do? Would it bring—

Dean Becker: No, the question was that the gangs, the cartels do not want that ultra-violence on this side if the border. Your thoughts?

Dudley Althaus: No, well I think Beto just brought this up about Juarez and El Paso. I mean, those two cities share everything. They share the drug trade, they share the income from the drug trade and everything else but Juarez has the murder rate.

I think it is, in part, due to rule of law. Crimes actually get investigated in El Paso. Murders actually are prosecuted and I think that’s the big question. So, yeah, I think there’s no need to have that ultra-violence on this side if the United States.

There’s a lot of fear that it would cross over and I think some of it’s a well founded fear as far as being vigilant and there have been incidents but as far a massive that El Paso would have the murder rates of Juarez? No, I don’t see that happening anywhere along the Texas border.

I think that if you go to any of these Texas border cities – when I did the story, What is El Paso, two years ago, the Texas border cities, all of them, all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico, had like murder rates in the single digits – murders in the single digits for that year. So, it hasn’t crossed and I doubt it will cross. I don’t think it’s in anybody’s interest or the gang’s.

Dean Becker: That was Dudley Althaus, in Mexico City and Beto I think we talked about that. Now, let me address one more question here to all three of you guys. We’re speaking with Dane Schiller here in studio and fellow reporter Mister Dudley Althaus in Mexico City and Beto O’Rourke a councilman in the city of El Paso.

Another comment I see in response, whether it is on the [Houston] Chronicle comments section or in verbal discussions with folks is that they object to changing the status quo. They say if you legalize drugs that these guys will move to extortion and kidnapping and – I don’t know – other crimes. Do you see any indications that they’re stifled in doing these crimes under different circumstances? Let’s start first with you, Beto O’Rourke.

Beto O’Rourke: You know, there was a very interesting interview published yesterday in the Wall Street Journal with the new Mayor of Juarez, Teto Megia and he’s asked just this question and he talks about something that a lot of people – again, we don’t know for sure because the crimes are not solved but that a lot of people believe is going on that you’ve got now thousands of trained killers – trained is probably too strict a word to use but you have thousands of young people who have killed other people in Juarez who have guns and ammunition and the ability and will to kill and in a culture of complete impunity. There’s no law enforcement really to speak of.

They’re now able to commit these crimes of opportunity, whether it’s holding up a store or carjacking somebody who is traveling through the city, extorting a business, killing the girlfriend who dumped him or the teacher who flunked him, etcetera and so we are seeing a lot of that and he talks about that in the interview. He talks about these fifteen and sixteen and seventeen year old kids who can just go out there and commit these crimes of opportunity.

One really interesting thing he says though in the interview is, he says if drugs were taken out of the equation by making them legal and having that controlled by the governments on both sides of the border, he says in the interview, he could then deal with the extortions and the kidnappings and the crimes of opportunity separately.

He kind of refers to them is disorganized crime versus the organized cartel crime that’s taking place. He says that spawned this rash of disorganized crime of opportunity, now whether that is true or not and whether the US and Mexico would ever tackle that proposition to make these drugs legal and controlling them so you could focus in these street level crimes, I don’t know.

But to contend that somehow these organizations are not involved in these activities or these activities are not taking place today would be wrong because it’s happening all over the city, along with these thousands of murders.

Dean Becker: Alright, that was Beto O’Rourke. Let’s go now to Dudley Althaus in Mexico City. Your thoughts in that regard?

Dudley Althaus: Dean, I think Beto is exactly right. I think I was in Tampico, a few weeks ago and I figured, in fact, that the gangs are moving into extortions and kidnappings in a big way in all of the places in northern Mexico that are unheard of or you don’t think about normally. To call this a narco war could almost be a misnomer now because it’s really gotten to be about organized crime of all sorts, or disorganized crime as Beto pointed out.

When I was just up on the border where the people had just evacuated the town. I talked to the one guy who knows the border very well, a Texan, and he said that the scary thing now is the lack of the discipline in these gangs between the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, which used to be very disciplined.

Now you have basically kids that have been halfway trained, have with guns and everything else and they have the power and they don’t have anybody really clamping down on them when they get out of line. There’s all kinds of – they’ve gone freelance in some ways and that makes it even more dangerous.

Dean Becker: Alright. I’ll tell you what, we’re going to have to wrap it up here soon. We’ve got just about a minute left. A real quick question that I want to ask my two reporters here.

I’ve been watching the net and as many of the cable channels as I can and these stories about the refugees, the ultra-violence that we are talking about in those small border towns that are driving the people to vacate their homes, is not being reported on CNN or MSNBC. In ten seconds, Dane, why are these other broadcasters or other media not covering it?

Dane Schiller: It might be that they haven’t been able to get there on the ground and get their video and get their people to see it.

Dean Becker: And if we, Dudley, real quick.

Dudley Althaus: I think that’s it. I think a lot of people, including myself, have been afraid to go into those towns, to tell you the truth. When I went in on Thursday, I called ahead, I talked to at the city hall, I talked to the Head of Civil Protection and he said that now it was safe and to come on in.

So, I went in and a number of my colleges, I was at a journalist conference in Laredo and I gave contacts to the other people and we talked about it and a lot of people will go in this weekend. I think more people will take more notice of it.

Dean Becker: I got to cut you off Dudley. We’re flat out of time and Dane Schiller, Dudley Althaus and Beto O’Rourke.

Once again folks, I remind you that there is no truth, justice, logic, scientific fact, no medical data, no reason for this Drug War to exist.

Please, visit our website: endprohibition.org

Prohibido istac evilesco!


For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker. Asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at Pacifica Studios at KPFT, Houston.

Drug Truth Network programs, archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies.

Transcript provided by: Ayn Morgan of www.eigengraupress.com