In April 2011, I travelled to El Centro in Imperial County to meet with Attorney General Kamala Harris on a fact-finding tour of cartel drug and human trafficking at the Mexican border. As I told an assembly of law enforcement officials at that time, the biggest threat to the peace and security of my county, Del Norte, 1,009 miles away, was the importation of Mexican crystal methamphetamine, that according to DEA estimates, accounts for over 80 percent of all meth in the United States.
That poison then makes its way up the I-5 corridor, turns left at Grants Pass and arrives in Del Norte County and was involved in over 75 percent of the felonies on my desk as district attorney.
More recently, I listened to the ongoing debate on whether the United States should be militarily involved in Syria, mostly due to the possible use of chemical weapons by the Assad government. Never far from mind, the U.S. commitment to a 10-year war in Iraq based upon Saddam Hussein’s unproven use of “weapons of mass destruction.” And a presidential visit to newly elected Mexican President Pena Nieto, in which Mexico’s fast-evaporating war on drugs was relegated to a distant second behind a polite, benign chat over economic relations.
The Mexican meth that is crippling Del Norte County is not just a county issue, but a national one. Well known, President Nieto’s PRI party, longtime bedfellows with the cartels, has taken a sharp detour from his predecessor’s attempted battle to overcome the cartels’ stranglehold on the law enforcement and judiciary systems in that country. Mexico’s drug trade that feeds this country’s $65 billion consumption in illegal drugs each year.
I was back in Imperial County recently to meet with District Attorney Gilbert Otero and members of the Law Enforcement Command Center (LECC). I was informed again that 80 percent of all meth entering the United States is coming from the massive Mexican meth labs, most notably those controlled by the Sinaloa cartel and its leader Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman and that 60-80 percent of that crystal meth entered at San Diego and then makes its way up the I-5 corridor. I was further provided with statistics showing that in the almost two years since I toured the area with Attorney General Harris, there had been a 57 percent increase in seizures and for the same time period a 65 percent increase in smuggling incidents.
In the month preceding my return to Imperial County, seizures at the Calexico check point alone intercepted 71 lbs. of meth entering the U.S..
The “outlook” at the conclusion of the documentation I was shown is less than encouraging, stating in part: “The consistent increase of methamphetamine seizures over the past three years both in weight and number of loads along the San Diego sector is a trend that will likely continue through 2013.”
Again, all of this might be callously reduced to empirical data if it did not directly affect every person in Del Norte County. The health care cost alone to Del Norte County is staggering. Dr. Greg Duncan, the hospital chief of staff, stated: “In 1992 methamphetamine was unknown in this county. Now we probably average one surgical case and two to three Emergency Room meth-related visits every day. There are no statistics on cost, but it likely exceeds $10,000 per day for acute medical care in Del Norte County, not including long-term care for meth-related complications such as stroke. The patient may not pay, but somebody does.”
When a small number of envelopes containing anthrax killed several people in 2001, hundreds of millions of dollars were appropriated almost overnight because it was deemed a “terrorist threat.” Our invasion of Iraq and our 10-year involvement there over alleged, unproven “weapons of mass destruction” speaks for itself. We are on the brink of military action against Syria because we take national offense and outrage at the thought that someone might use “chemical weapons,” yet tonight alone, literally thousands of Americans will be killed, beaten, raped, robbed or hospitalized because of the scourge that is Mexican crystal meth.
I can only wonder how rapidly this country and county would abandon its present umbrella of appeasement if the super-labs creating and importing this poison were located in a hostile or Islamic country or killed persons at the Boston Marathon, instead of our good neighbor, trading partners or local frequent courtroom flyers, all of whose continued daily existence bears testimony to our lassitude, lethargy and cowardice.
The level of carnage and collateral damage will only continue and exponentially increase until people speak up and demand action in the form of the elimination with extreme prejudice of Mexican meth labs and tougher prosecution and sentencing of those involved in its distribution. The alternative is the continued silence of complicity and the false comfort that you are not alone- because “Chapo” Guzman and the men in Sinaloa are betting on you.
Jon Alexander is Del Norte County district attorney.