Heroin. Just the word conjures up extremely vile images. It is an item that all of us have or should have a disdain for. Yet, for some reason, the market for this item in New Mexico has become the main source of income for a generation of unemployed. Something is really wrong here. Now we must face reality.
New Mexico has for years been the entry point for heroin coming into the United States. For a long time many just did not acknowledge this fact. However, as time went on and heroin and its results began hitting places like the upscale Northeast Heights of Albuquerque, where La Cueva High School is, all of a sudden we had a heroin problem in New Mexico.
I’ve known for a long time that heroin was a big problem facing New Mexico. Just take a look at Española and the notoriety it garnered as a major heroin capital. Yet, for the most part, Española seemed “out of sight, out of mind,” so no problem was noticed. Now it’s everywhere across New Mexico. I will call it a plague and soon to be a calamity if nothing is really done about it soon.
From Afghanistan to Juárez to the United States
Heroin is the end product from opium produced from the poppy plant. Most of the world’s opium comes from Afghanistan. Most of the opium production in Afghanistan is in a province called Helmand in the southeast. The U.S. Marine Corps is there on the front lines of what we know as “the war on terror.”
I have been there recently on patrol with U.S. Marines. Daily we were attacked by local Afghans we’ve come to know as the Taliban. There is something that sticks with a person when he is shot at daily while walking through poppy fields in eastern Afghanistan.
In 2011, Ciudad Juárez, Mexico is a war zone, and it has been for quite some time. It is a war zone because opium produced in Afghanistan is turned into heroin and finds its way to the back door of New Mexico, at Juárez, awaiting distribution into the United States. The amount of money derived from the profits of heroin is astronomical.
During my time in Afghanistan I interviewed several Afghan farmers who had two- and three-acre plots of land. All grew poppies that produced opium. Each farmer netted around $250 per month and was paid by the various networks of drug lords throughout the country. In discussions with military civil affairs folks I learned that the final product, heroin, once it reached the streets of the United States, garnered drug profits in the millions of dollars.
In between $250 a month in Afghanistan and millions of dollars on the streets of the United States is room for lots of crime and corruption.
Anyone not willing to acknowledge that we have a serious drug war going on at our back door has his or her head in the sand. I’ve been to Juárez recently, and it is a solemn scene to observe. It is not the area Marty Robbins used to sing about just across the border from the West Texas town of El Paso. It is a killing field, Mexican style. It is a dead zone. It is a place full of terror.
It is because of heroin.
The governor needs to fight
New Mexico has the unique opportunity to declare war on heroin. Not in words, or cute public service announcements, or catchy little billboards on I-25 and I-40 – but in reality, in such a way that causes the cartels currently occupying Juárez to shake in their boots. The sheer reality of what happened in Columbus, just south of Deming, this year is reason enough for the State of New Mexico to get serious with this issue.
We have a governor who is from the region bordering what we call “our back door.” She knows this area like the back of her hand. She also was a prosecutor in Doña Ana County and campaigned on the premise that she was not afraid to take on the drug cartels in Mexico. I happened to be with her one spring day last year along the border with Mexico in Southern Doña Ana County when she was making a campaign commercial about this very issue.
Her husband, Chuck, the first gentleman of New Mexico, spent more than 30 years in law enforcement in Doña Ana County. He knows the situation firsthand and has plenty of experience in putting away the bad guys.
I propose that Governor Martinez take an emphatic stand against the cartels in Juárez and get downright serious about fighting this war on drugs, specifically heroin. Earlier this month, a former Albuquerque resident and La Cueva High School student, Sgt. Christopher Diaz, USMC, was laid to rest in El Paso. He was killed in Eastern Afghanistan. He was fighting the war on terror, which I know to also be directly linked to the war on drugs.
Governor Martinez asked us all to lower our flags in honor of Sgt. Diaz, which I readily did with my flag in my backyard. I am now asking Governor Martinez to pick up the battle that Sgt. Diaz died for and take on the cartels in Juárez, where the war on terror has become the war on drugs.
I for one do not enjoy lowering my flag each time a Marine is killed in Afghanistan. It hurts, personally. And there are too many young people in New Mexico dying from heroin overdoses. It’s time we get tough on heroin in New Mexico and those that seek to do us harm.
Not afraid of anything
I believe Governor Martinez is the right person to take on this task. She can begin by enlisting her husband and assigning him a position overseeing selected state law enforcement authorities combating the heroin trade across New Mexico. He would be able to utilize his decades of law-enforcement experience. He has a fine reputation already in the southern part of the state, where the influx of heroin is most prevalent. He also knows law enforcement personnel south of the border and is fluent in Spanish. He would have no problem reporting directly to the governor on a daily basis.
The Mexican cartels would be put on instant notice. The result would be a win-win situation for all of New Mexico.
Susana and Chuck, the governor and the first gentleman of New Mexico, convinced me they are not afraid of anything. Neither am I. Together, let’s declare war on heroin in New Mexico.
Spiri is a combat war photographer and writer. Find him online at jimspiri.com.