In this excerpt from
El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency, journalist Ioan Grillo describes what it is like to step inside a Mexican warehouse filled with confiscated drugs.
To a hard-core drug aficionado, the evidence room on the Mexican army base in Culiacan, Sinaloa, would be a wet dream; it has enough crystal meth, cocaine, grass, pill, and heroin to keep a human being stoned, tripping, high, low, spun out, and seeing fairies for a million years. And then some.
It is a fort within the fort, protected by barbed wire and closed-circuit cameras, which, we are reminded, will be recording our journalist visit one sunny December afternoon.
While they call it an evidence “room,” it is actually the size of a warehouse, with no windows and one hefty steel door.
Every time this portcullis is opened, federal agents cut off special seals, and when it is closed, they put on new ones, to make sure — and show us — that no troops are pilfering the goodies.
On the streets of American cities, the treasure trove would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
General Eduardo Solorzano guides us through the chamber of sinful substances. He is a squat and square-jawed soldier in his fifties with glasses perched on the end of his nose and a black vest packed with beepers, radios, and cell phones that he keeps barking ino in a curt, commanding tone.
He accompanies his tour with comments in measured military language while occasionally getting excited at finding samples of rare types of narcotics amid the bags, bricks, and bundles.
As we step inside, a cocktail of mystic toxic smells greets us. To the left, towers of cling-wrapped marijuana loom above over our heads. To the right are huge sacks of cut-up ganja plants and enough seeds to give birth to a forest of psychedelic weed. Walking forward, we stumble into a pile of giant, blue metal saucepans of the type Mexicans use in the restaurant to cook up broths such as posole and consomme.
General Solorzano lifts up a lid of one and flashes a knowing grin: “This is crystal.” He smiles. The white sludge of raw methamphetamine fills the pan like a foul stew of ice and sour milk. In a corner, we catch sight of a much older Sinaloan product, black-tar heroin, which looks like jet-black Play-Doh, oozing out of yellow cans.
An inventory neatly lists the name of each type of drug next to a quantity in kilos; they currently total more than seven tons.
Periodically, a bureaucrat in an office somewhere will sign the order for a certain batch of heroin or marijuana or crystal meth to be carted away and burned on a bonfire.
But stocks are quickly replenished by a steady supply of new produce garnered in weekly raids on safe houses scattered all around Culiacan and in nearby villages and ranches.
On the afternoon of our visit, one such load conveniently arrives for us to photograph. A truck rolls up and young soldiers move with military orderliness to unload hundreds of brown packages into the warehouse.
General Solorzano grabs one, reaches into his black vest for a box cutter, and carefully slices a triangle in the packaging to reveal white powder crammed into a brick shape. “Cocaina!” he says triumphantly.
A lab technician quickly proves him right. The white-coated specialist conducts the test using a portable kit, which looks like a car toolbox.
He selects a vial of pink solution, mixes it with a small sample of the captured blow, and it instantly turns blue — indicating a positive match.
General Solorzano, a foot lower than me but with shoulders twice as broad, turns round and stares me in the face.
“Taste it,” he says, unsmiling. “Go on.”
I look round at the other officers, agents, and technicians to see if he is joking. They all have sturdy straight faces. So I dab my little finger onto the cocaine brick and stick it into my mouth.
Cocaine has an unforgettable bittersweet flavour, neither tasty nor disgusting, like a prescription medicine you cautiously swallow and are then relived that it isn’t so bad. “You will feel that your tongue falls asleep,” General Solorzano says, a grin now spreading across his face.
“This is pure, uncut cocaine.” My tongue certainly does feel numb. And I also feel a little giddy. But then again, maybe that is from walking in the hot sun. Or maybe it is from earlier in the day when we watched soldiers cut up a whole field of captured marijuana and set fire to it, sparking a golden green blaze that unleashed clouds of ganja smoke wafting off into the horizon in these arid, jaggy mountains.
Republished with permission from El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency by Ioan Grillo. Copyright © 2011 by Ioan Grillo. Reprinted by arrangement with Bloomsbury Publishing. All rights reserved.
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