Mexican journalist Jesus Esquivel discusses the reality of drug trafficking

Majority of Trump voters don’t care about or understand US-Mexico relations, Esquivel says

J. Jesús Esquivel, the Washington correspondent for Mexican news magazine Proceso and author of several investigative books on drug trafficking, spoke to MIT students during a Q&A session on Monday. Later in the evening, Esquivel also took part in a panel discussion for the Mexican community in Boston.

Both events were organized by LUCha de MIT, a student group housed under MIT’s Latino Cultural Center, and Mexicanos en el Extranjero Comprometidos con la Democracia (“Mexicans Abroad Committed to Democracy”), an initiative by Alonso Domínguez ’20 and Edith Olivares.

At the Q&A, held in English, Esquivel fielded questions from Tanalís Padilla, an associate professor of Latin American history at MIT, and from the audience.

The panel, held in Spanish, consisted of Esquivel, Padilla, and three successful Mexican Americans in the Greater Boston area: Gladis Martínez, a logistics specialist and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient; Rubén Jaime, a business owner of 15 years; and Jesús Garcia, a lead engineer at an information technology consulting firm.

Domínguez explained the intended purposes of the two events before the start of the Q&A.

“First and foremost, over the last — well, forever — but particularly the last few months, we heard from the American media about the ‘bad hombres’ [from Mexico],” Domínguez said. This narrative was “offensive” and “inaccurate,” and it failed to address the “role that the U.S. has played in the persistence of the drug trafficking problem.”

Secondly, Domínguez continued, the 11 million Mexican-born immigrants living in the U.S. (a statistic corroborated by a 2013 Pew Research Center study) could become a “rather potent political force” if they participated, but historically, they do not. Thus, another goal was to encourage political interest and participation among Mexican expatriates.  

Most of the Q&A centered on Esquivel’s work as a journalist and author, in particular his coverage on the role that U.S. agencies and citizens play in both fighting and sustaining the illegal drug trade. Esquivel’s most recent book, Los Narcos Gringos (“The American Drug Lords”), explored the latter.  

It is a “big lie that Mexican cartels are in the U.S. cities and streets selling drugs,” Esquivel said. “The narco[tics] traffickers are business people, not stupid people,” and they know that “if they are here, they will be destroyed immediately.”

“Do you think El Chapo is in Los Angeles selling drugs?” Esquivel asked.

Instead, the distribution and sale of illegal drugs in the U.S. relies on a “very sophisticated infrastructure” of U.S. brokers and traffickers who coordinate each logistical step: storing the drugs in temporary “stash houses” near the border, transporting the drugs to locations inside the U.S., and then transporting the money earned back to Mexico.

Some of the agents in this process may come as a surprise, Esquivel said. Brokers sometimes approach blonde-haired, blue-eyed “soccer moms” to transport money.

Because they are unlikely to be stopped or questioned by the police, these moms are asked to take a “vacation” with their kids (from Boston to Atlanta, for example), in return for a large payout and a new car. During the trip, someone will put in a bag, and later, someone will remove the bag — Esquivel estimates that at least $1 million in cash is transported this way per trip.

Esquivel’s previous books have detailed the function and impact of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in dealing with Mexican cartels.

In response to an audience question from Domínguez, Esquivel also explained the effects of the Mérida Initiative and former Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s militant anti-drug campaign.

Once the Mexican military became involved, the cartels, who had previously worked with the government to avoid killing civilians, began murdering innocent people in large numbers, to the point where the public had grown accustomed to the violence and bloodshed, Esquivel said.

Esquivel could not sleep the night he first saw a body, but now, he can eat a hamburger right after. “We don’t have the same feelings we used to have as human beings,” he said.

“[The event] shed a lot of light on how the U.S. itself is involved in the drug war that it is trying so hard to combat,” Kevin Leonardo ’18, who attended the Q&A, said in an interview with The Tech Monday. “It was very interesting to hear how everyday people are helping move along everything.”

The evening panel addressed the second purpose described by Domínguez. Titled El Voto Cívico Construye La Democracía (“The Civic Vote Builds Democracy”), it focused on the need for civic engagement and possible causes for the lack thereof, emphasizing the importance of voting and youth involvement.

DACA, for example, shows the power of political action: the passage of this policy was not the result of a sudden whim of Barack Obama — rather, it was brought to his attention thanks to the noise generated by the hard work of protestors.

The panelists also discussed a variety of issues affecting Mexicans and Mexican Americans.

One such issue was rural education. In 2014, 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers' College in Guerrero, Mexico were abducted by police while traveling to Iguala and subsequently disappeared; their exact fate remains unknown.

“Schools like Ayotzinapa date back to the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) that gave the country’s population education, land, and labor rights, reforms that have been continuously dismantled by the neoliberal policies that began in the 1980s and which the current administration continues to intensify,” Padilla wrote in an email to The Tech.

In addition to the topics covered in the two events, Esquivel gave his thoughts on Donald Trump in an interview with The Tech Monday.

“As a Mexican journalist in Washington for almost 30 years — and this is not to offend anyone — the majority of the people who voted for President Trump in the November elections of last year are people who don’t care or understand about the [U.S.’s] relation with Mexico,” Esquivel said. “If Trump says Mexico is on the African continent, they will believe that.”

Esquivel also commented on Trump’s unpredictability: no one knows “what he’s going to say two hours or two minutes after one of his tweets.”

“When he is talking about serious issues, nobody, nobody in Mexico takes him as a serious president of the U.S.,” Esquivel said. “We still don’t get it. What went wrong with American democracy?”