In all my years, I never had a weapon. That's not to say that all my friends in Texas and New York weren't packing. And everyone on the Mexican side had all kinds of weapons, of course. As a matter of generosity, politeness, and indebtedness, it was not uncommon to bring a showpiece like a Glock or an antique weapon as a gift of deference to the cartel administration.
The year was 1982. I'd already been through a couple of interim pre-cartel bosses regarding my proposal to bring Mendocino genetics to their operations in Mexico. At this time, the idea of using Indica genetics was itself new, but having both the necessary connections in Mexico to operate at sufficient scale as well as the new, high yielding genetics was novel. Floyd, my San Diego friend, who I met through Roger, my coke smuggling partner, introduced me to Brian. Brian, had built a career around the availability of Cannabis from Juarez, which shared a metropolitan downtown with El Paso, separated only by a short bridge over the Rio Grande and the easy proximity of Floyd in San Diego who was a distributor in the lucrative Southern California market. After years in the business, a natural talent and the ability to move easily in the bilingual mixture of culture that had developed along the border, Brian had made a fortune and had connections at the highest levels of both El Paso and Juarez society.
El Paso was El Paso del Norte when it was owned by Mexico, and, even then, it had a long a smuggling tradition, as the gateway to northern regions. Over the years the wealthy frontera attracted every available but restricted commodity and established Juarez as a staging point for smuggling. Cannabis enriched residents on both sides of the border. As time had gone on, great pot baronages arose, marked by conspicuous consumption. At this time, the pre-cartel organizations on the Juarez side that handled Cannabis logistics up to and across the border, were not the bloody enterprise that evolved later from the introduction of cocaine from Colombia using those same routes.
Floyd introduced me to Brian because I had cash buyers on both coasts. Particularly, my New York buyers who had been passed to me from Miami Sammy, aka Sammie Two Sticks, the paraplegic pot dealer who had arrived on the scene from Woodstock with D.L. who made all his money being the primary source for the acid at the music festival. Bifocal Bob and the Jewish mafia would cash any size load upon arrival at his Manhattan warehouse, a very compelling incentive when you also factored in the substantial price difference between Cannabis fresh over the border in bales from Juarez and Cannabis in small packages on the streets in New York.
On my first visit, I remember my impression of the geography around El Paso. It reminded me of the high desert in Southern California only even more barren. As I looked out of the plane at the hundreds of small dirt roads that had been cut through this remote desert, I understood how easy it was to cross the border and disappear. Long before whatever night vision, advanced radar that they have now, they had border patrol with binoculars who were invariably paid off. If they did catch you though, and you hadn’t paid or they were the one in a hundred by the book officer, you could expect to go to prison forever.
I had already made previous proposals with Brian to other Juarez organizations to advance my proposition to grow Mendocino genetics in Mexico. My pitch went like this: “Why do you go to so much trouble to smuggle such poor and inconsistent quality? With improved genetics and cultivation techniques, we could considerably increase the value of your fields. This is the product the gringos are after, etc.” After these other attempts, which are themselves the subject of other narratives, Brian and I were furtively approached by the patriarch of the family that for generations had provided access to the smuggling routes across the border from El Paso in Juarez and northern Chihuahua. These secret routes and ranches, preserved for decades were the treasured assets of Don Chui and his family.
For this reason, Don Chui and his family avoided the limelight and kept a low profile. There was nothing for the Don to gain by inserting himself into every deal in the Juarez-El Paso Cannabis marketplace. As long as his family controlled the routes, and made all the appropriate payoffs, every smuggling group had to pay him obeisance.
My associates and I met at Don Chui's estate, centrally located in Juarez on an unassuming cul-de-sac. From the outside it looked like a normal track house, but once inside the foyer, you could see the Olympic size indoor swimming pool and the lush internal quarters. We were ushered to one of Don Chui's living rooms that had a shag carpet and a large velvet painting of Vincente Fernandez, the singer. I sat down on the leather couch next to my friend and we stood up as Don Chui walked in. After we exchanged pleasantries, my friend pulled out the gift we had brought for him.
The end of World War 2 in Europe was signed on May 7, 1945, at Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower's headquarters in Reims by Gen. Alfred Jodl, Chief of Staff of the German Army. At the same time, he signed three other surrender documents, one each for Great Britain, Russia, and France. All of the Allied commanders were given five commemorative .45s made of silver in a velvet case with live silver bullets. Now I assume that the bullets were only coated in silver, but who knows? My friend presented Don Chui with one of these commemorative .45s in a velvet lined, mahogany case, complete with rows of silver bullets.
Don Chui humbly accepted this unique gift and just sat on the couch staring at the gun. I could tell he was genuinely touched. To take it out of the case, one would have to break the case, like a fire alarm. He stood up and placed it lovingly on the mantle.
That afternoon with the Don we developed a plan to bring both seeds and clones of high yielding Indica strains to his protected fields in northern Chihuahua. There we could grow acres of some of the highest grade Cannabis Mexico had seen in some time. With the Don's secret routes, crossing the border and receiving the loads would be a walk in the park. The finished product would be delivered to warehouses arranged by my buyers on both coasts.
There was a knock on the door. It was sudden and unexpected enough that we all felt jumpy. No one knew about this meeting and certainly, the Don didn't want those currently climbing the pre-cartel pyramid of power to know what we planned. Don Chui answered the door himself and in strolled Don Roberto with a swagger, loaded with his customary jewelry and Gucci attire.
Don Roberto in his early twenties had already climbed the ladder to the highest rungs of power in Juarez, taking over all border operations from El Grenas (literally "The Mop Head", because of his Reggae styled locks). We had already done several transactions with him but wanted to keep this industrial-scale project out of his scrutiny. In retrospect, that might not have been the best strategy, but Roberto, who always wanted the lion's share, would likely have overtaxed the enterprise before we had even gotten started.
Don Roberto reservedly walked in, and, in minutes, sized up the situation. What were the motherfucking Gringos doing having a private discussion with Don Chui, owner of the smuggling routes and vast ranches along the border, especially the professor with the genetics who I'm already doing the Ergotamine Tartrate (precursor to LSD, but that's another story...) deal with? At the speed of light, Don Roberto had figured out what was up.
Don Roberto sat down on the couch but jumped up again when he saw the gun in the case on the mantle.
"So what a happy afternoon meeting we have," he said, "and it looks like everybody is here." "What's this?" he asked, gesturing toward the gun. Don Chui explained that it was a gift. "Oh, a gift. I see." Roberto said, eyeing it. With a swift gesture, he stood up, and grabbed the case from the mantle and sat down casually back on the couch.
"This is a beautiful, thoughtful gift...Do you mind?" and, without waiting for a response, took a handful of vehicle keys that he had in his pocket and shattered the case. My friend from Texas looked at me. He had already carefully explained, with Southern charm, when we first started going to talk to the cartels, "Del, if I was in your neck of the woods, say in a pot field in Mendocino, and you said, 'Duck.' I'd be sure to duck. Well, when we're in Juarez, and I tell you to duck..."
Roberto pulled out the silver .45 and waved it around, with exaggerated laughter. Then he saw the silver bullets. He pulled out the clip, carefully loaded it, and snapped it back in. He clicked the safety off.
"Hey, we're having a party!" he said and discharged two bullets into the fireplace about four feet away. The noise was unexpected and deafening that close.
"Oh, maybe I shouldn't have done that," he said. "I don't want to stop the party." He stood up and, after a few words with Don Chui, he left.
After he was gone, we gathered ourselves, shaken, and drove back across the border to El Paso. I went back to the Marriot in Las Cruces where I was staying. The next day I got a call from my Texas friend at eight o'clock in the morning.
"Get a copy of the El Paso Times and check out page 3, " he said. I got up, put my clothes on and got the paper from the front desk. On page 3, I found this:
"A well-known cattle rancher and member of the Juarez city council, Chui Hernandez, was found dead this morning, from multiple automatic weapons fired at close range when he went to pick up his morning paper. His murder is apparently the result of cartel violence. Juarez authorities say an investigation is underway."
To be continued...