“We live in a land controlled by the Sinaloa cartel,” sighs 46-year-old Jeff Walters (name changed), a sixth-generation rancher as he traverses his 30,000 acres of hostile and craggy terrain spread across Nogales in Santa Cruz County on a typical sweltering Arizonian summer evening.
In one of the harshest and highly inaccessible swathes of countryside, the sight of carpet-soled moccasins strewn along the way bears witness to the nefarious reality which looms large over these unfenceable patches of rugged wilderness – drug trafficking. “Mexican drug mules, who crisscross these areas with their booty, cover the soles of their moccasins with carpet for fear of leaving behind tracks, which can be traced by U.S. border security patrols,” says Walters.
Personal security has always remained a major concern, and many people living in these parts own a gun, says Walters as he shows off his Smith and Wesson pistol. Tales of horrendous torture, violent rape and other cold-blooded brutalities continue to send shivers down the spines of those who reside in these infamous corridors.
Like Walters, several others have installed motion-sensor cameras on strategic point across the mountainous landscape. Footages recorded serve as constant reminders of the overwhelmingly menacing presence of the Sinaloa cartel in these frontier societies. Locals in these areas believe that smugglers take advantage of the dearth of navigable roads, the worrisome paucity of law enforcement patrols and the overall lack of governmental oversight to make their way through this treacherous topography. Ranch owners feel that Mexican drug cartels have a carte blanche to operate along the Arizona-Mexico border.
Geographically, the state of Arizona shares a 362-mile-long border with Mexico. Of which, 306 miles have some kind of fencing, whereas the remaining 56 miles form a porous border sealed with an occasional mesh of barbed wire or no physical barrier at all. This predominantly underprotected stretch between Arizona’s ports of entry (POEs), connects major Arizona cities with drug hubs in Mexico, making the region an attractive hotspot for Mexican cartels to carry out business with ease.
The deadly Sinaloa cartel has managed to spread its tentacles throughout Arizona, including cartel scouts stationed at vantage points in the mountains, south of Phoenix. These cartel scouts are often entrusted with the demanding job of guiding drug consignments heading northwards from the border. It is primarily through these difficult terrains, and other ports of entry along the border, that mammoth loads of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine make their way to stash houses in or around Phoenix and Tucson before being moved to drug markets within Arizona or cities such as Chicago, Denver, Detroit and New York. Many of cartel members who rule the roost in this region have exploited technology to the fullest, to dodge law enforcement authorities. Nowadays, smugglers crossing the borders are known to use high-tech military grade satellite phones, radios and binoculars.
Experts attribute the sharp spike in drug trafficking along the Southwest border to the insatiable demand for drugs among American consumers. After all, the ever-growing surge in addiction is fueled by a corresponding demand for drugs. According to a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Arizona is a “narcotics shopping mall” for criminal gangs across the country.
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