For the past several years, Borderland Beat has been reporting what many others are afraid of reporting: news and stories about the drug wars in Mexico and the United States.
Below is my interview with Chivis, one of the masterminds behind the blog.
Muchos gracias for agreeing to this interview, Chivis!
Without disclosing crucial details, tell us a bit about yourself!
I am married, mother of 3, and grandmother of 5, including a set of twins. My education, through college was in Los Angeles. I am of Mexican-American heritage. I am second generation American born. My husband and I have owned and operated an international business for 25 years. We have lived in 12 countries, mostly Asia and Latin America. 14 years ago I founded our family foundation, 100% of all funds are family generated, we work in Central America, Mexico and the U.S. building schools, therapy centers for special needs children, with emphasis on autism and provide educational resources and “kitchens” for impoverished children. This honors the life of my autistic grandson. BTWin Mexico he is the first non-Mexican citizen to have a school named in his honor.
I settled in NE Mexico. I had no idea that it was a hotbed of narco violence. And I was so naïve. My family is from Sinaloa, Jalisco and Sonora. So I didn’t have family in Coahuila where I put down roots. However, after the first shootout, literally in my parking lot, I became a quick study of all things narco.
What is Borderland Beat?
BB is a project. Borderland Beat was founded by “Buggs”. Buggs is a Mexican American who was with a police agency as assistant chief. He, like most of us, became frustrated at the lack of honest reporting of what was transpiring in Mexico with organized crime and drug trafficking. One could access Mexico’s news outlets, however if person lacked Spanish skills it was pointless. BB would be a tool, in English, providing original work or translated work of Spanish language articles. We refrain from politics for the most part, but we do not hold back in offering raw truth. That holds true with graphic images, of Mexican Organized Crime and Narco War. (Narco means drug) Americans are ignorant to what is happening south of the border. Something that affects so many Americans, yet they remain in the dark as to information. It is the fault of the press. They choose what is investigated and published.
None of us are paid. We are all volunteers.
All U.S. agencies of the drug war follow us and respect us. Even the Whitehouse for the last two administrations. Agencies use us as a training tool for new agents. The book Bloodlines, is a true story about the Zetas and their horse racing money laundering scheme. In the first paragraph it has a new FBI agent, reading BB on his computer as he is educating himself on the Mexican Drug War.
Take us through the process of creating a post for the blog. How is research carried out? Do you have contributors on the ground in Mexico and the US ?
We have contributors in Mexico, the majority are, or part time. One of our fantastic contributors is known by the name “Otis” and he lives in the U.K.
We also have sources and myself I have developed good relationships with authors, publications and journalists. They call on us to help glean information, to verify or to pick our brain.
For me creating a post begins with recognizing something that moves me. Maybe I receive a communication, or read a pot in the Mexican press. I then set out to research by accessing historical information, contacting people on the ground and contacting fellow reporters. Agencies are a good help with some articles. People don’t realize that federal agencies are willing to assist where they are able. I attempt to contact the principals of a story. That is how I met Dr. Jose Manuel Mireles and Ann Devert I consider both dear friends. Ann is the mother of Harry Devert, the traveler killed in Michoacán. Embassies, DEA-DOJ agencies and agents etc. I have a good relationship with many agents, special agents and defense attorneys. El Chapo’s lead attorney and I have been communicating since he defended “El Mochomo”. The attorney respects BB and like most organized crime attorneys he has followed jus for years. Because of the trust developed he sends me all press releases before the general press.
What is your number 1 most read/cited scoop of all time?
That would be a photo sent to me of El Chapo. This was prior to his being captured and no one has a photo since his El Puente prison days. I wasn’t quite sure if it was genuine so I titled the headline “A new photo of El Chapo? You be the judge.” The story was republished countless times including most of Mexican press. Surprisingly I was given source credit by just about everyone. I have received many exclusive photos. In three cases U.S. agencies used them for official web pages. Including the photo in question of El Chapo.
“Los Zetas”, “Cartel del Golfo”, “El Chapo Guzman” – these are words we frequently hear in connection with stories about the narco wars. But who are they? Can you give us a brief overview of the battle lines in the drug war?
That would have to be asked in a timeline context. The so called war is very fluid. Enemies one day, allies the next, or visa versa. In my state of Coahuila, I landed there over a decade ago. I witness up close and personal Z’s and CDG as allies, then as deadly enemies. Z’s have controlled our state since the split. My first shoot-out I witnessed was at my offices, I had the complete complex as my own. With iron gates, security etc. One day the Mexican Navy was in a clash with Z’s they entered my complex for no more than 3 mins but our parking area was littered with bullet casings, as was the streets. Two innocent mothers were hit by gunfire, as they were at a school, awaiting their children. One mothered died.
Back to your question, it is complicated, ever-changing and needs a chapter or book of its own. I will say CDG is the oldest cartel. They began as alcohol smugglers during the U.S. prohibition years. Zetas were founded by former or deserted special forces turned bad guys. They formed to be the enforcers for CDG. El Chapo should need no introduction. But he was given Sinaloa Cartel to operate for the original Mexican godfather Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, aka “El Padrino” who controlled all drug “plazas”. He was arrested for the murder of U.S. DEA agent Enrique Camarena. He remains in prison today. The murder was brutal. He was brought back from the brink of death multiple times only to be tortured further. Padrino –means Godfather-knew he would be locked up for decades, at least. So he divided jup drug regions and put them in the hands of his most trusted. That is how Chapo entered as capo.
(Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Photo: cnn.com)
Many of us in Europe have fond images and representations of Mexico in our minds: sunny beaches, great food, warm weather… When did things get dark for Mexico? When did this mayhem start?
Only about a third of Mexico could be considered narco land. The thing to remember, the truth of the matter is that Mexican government is in reality the cartel. It is horribly corrupt, racist and untrustworthy. Narcos exist because it is big money for the government. At one time drugs were legal in Mexico; there were no cartels and no violence.
Mexico is rich in culture, natural resources and is a stunningly beautiful and diverse landscape. From Ancient pyramids, to sandy pristine beaches it is an amazing country to visit. Food is delicious, and so different in the various regions. My family is/was from Sinaloa, Jalisco and Sonora.
One notorious aspect of the drug wars are the beheading and torture videos. Why do they film those gruesome acts? Who are the videos aimed at?
The first execution on video was created/directed by Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez. His and all that followed were created to instill terror in the people and enemies alike. I can’t watch them and have “watchers” do the dirty deed for me so I can report on them. I was sent an exclusive homemade video once, of 49 dismembered bodies being dumped. I did not watch, but I listened and even the sounds were something that has stayed with me.
A prevailing myth among “laymen” is that anyone who is killed by the cartels must have been somehow “dirty”, involved in the drug trade. Is this true?
NOT TRUE!!! Often innocents are used as props. It is easier to collect compliant innocents. And municipal police, in collusion with narcos, conduct the collection.
Further info read my article https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/bodies-of-innocents-used-as-props-in-mexicos-drug-war/
Is there any end in sight? Can you think of a realistic scenario that would lead to the bloodshed coming to an end, and the people of Mexico being liberated from the terror of the cartels?
Not in my lifetime or that of my children. It has to come from the people. Once a group of Mexican people were asking why the rule of law and personal freedom is so strong in the U.S. and not Mexico. I said because the people of the United States are willing to die for it. The people of Mexico are not there yet in any organized way. Mexicans walk around with blinders on for their self-preservation. It became “My house, my family, my space…” nothing else matters.
A book that well describes this is “Manana Forever” by Jorge Castaneda
Can people help in any way? If someone reading this thinks “I want to do something about this!”, what would you say to them?
Be informed and inform. One cannot change something that is unknown. Talk to friends.
What’s next for you? Have you thought of writing a book?
My husband is going to semi retire in 2018, so we can live a more settled life. Our business has exceeding all of our expectations by leaps and bounds, our family foundation will never die, we have fulfilled all of our lifegoals. so whatever our next and final chapter brings we look forward to.
I would love to write a book. It would be different I think, “a naïve humanitarian, sets up shop in the middle of Mexico’s narco war and becomes a Narco Reporter-Blogger.” Sounds about right.
But I can’t write the book without being exposed. I have broken bread with some of the most evil of characters in government, names everyone knows. And if outed my staff would be in danger. So for now a book is too dicey.
Finally, the regular questions I ask from all my interviewees:
Your top 3 books?
That is tough… I am a reader
Parting of the Waters
The Band Played on
The executioner’s song
Your top 3 movies?
To Kill a Mockingbird
A Woman Under the Influence
What model phone do you use?
Like U.S. presidents and Narcos alike, I use Blackberry for security
I have the KEYONE model for a couple of months.