This is a source for analysis, interviews, and commentary on security in Latin America. Herein you will find rumors, the results of off the record interviews, and information you'll not find in international or United States news media.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Locals of Douglas/Agua Prieta

Agua Prieta, Sonora - just across the border from Douglas, Az - is perhaps the only Mexican border town that hasn't seen astronomical violence.

Even in the next town over, in Naco, men find time to corner one another and spray pick ups with hundreds of bullets.

But not in Agua Prieta. This is a town where everyone knows the name "El Chapo" - the head of the so-called Sinaloa Cartel - and no one knows the name "Calderón" - the president of Mexico.

El Chapo keeps a strong grip on Agua Prieta, preventing all but what many consider a normal level of violence.

About a year and a half ago, there were a few days when local cops found bodies here and there, but that was soon over. It was more of a message to anyone even thinking about trying to take over Agua Prieta: just keep thinking.

The locals in Douglas don't know much about gun smuggling. And they don't know much about the violence that rages across Mexico. Many of them get on with their daily lives, interestingly unaware of what's going on just to the east in El Paso/Juarez, or to the west in Nogales.

There is one local, however, who knows more about gun smuggling across the Douglas border than anyone else. He owns the only gun store in town.

"I get five thousand dollar bribes every week," he told me yesterday as an opening statement to what turned out to be a 45 minute monologue on why he keeps to the law and how the guys at the ATF - Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms - won't leave him alone.

And with good reason. While staying well within the law, he can sell all the ammunition he wants to corrupt Mexican cops. Its such a large loophole that the ATF has asked him nicely not to sell to the Mexican cops.

Within the law, he can sell as many "long guns" as he wants. These are the so-called "weapons of choice" - the AR-15 variations and AK-47s.

About a year ago, he sold between five and ten long guns to a couple guys - nothing illegal about it - and some of the guns were used in Naco at a shoot out. When the guns traced back to his shop, the ATF agents on the case could only get the name and information of the men who bought the guns, but not the men who smuggled them across the border. This gray area - called the gray market - is where the legal trail ends, and the black market begins. Again, the gun dealer is just running a business.

If a guy comes into the store, obviously a gang banger or an otherwise sketchy individual, and wants to buy a gun, there's nothing the gun dealer can do if the guy checks out. Refusing a sale might get the gun dealer into trouble, especially if the customer wants to start talking about discrimination.

Back at the Border Mart, there is no talk of guns or drugs, really. People come and go, and "coyotes", known as "polleros" or chicken herders, often come in for a quick stop after a long day of smuggling people into the US.

Today, I'm heading back into Agua Prieta to learn more about how and why this town has managed through the recent trying times of violence, the economy, and a new feeling from the gringos who don't seem to want them any more.

Maybe I'll find someone who knows the president's name, not Obama (everyone knows him) but Calderón.


alyssa marquess said...

I am about to make a trip with my car down there and I am really scared because I am going alone...which I am a pretty 22 year old woman trying to reunite with my mexican boyfriend that got deported in January. He is supposed to be waiting for me at the border of douglas/agua prieta for me in like three weeks. Please could you tell me anything that I should know before I pack my bags and drive my car there from birmingham, al? Do I need a passport? Should I drive my car there? How much you think will cost to enter mexico? what should I do? Please email me back I beg you...i need quick answers.

Joseph Mateus said...

Hello, Alyssa Marquess don't worry, you will be fine to drive your car into Mexico at this Douglas/ Agua Prieta border, its the safest border of them all with the least narco violence. I will be crossing this border myself shortly with my car coming from Western Canada..Yes, you need a valid US passport to enter Mexico an re enter the US. It shouldn't cost you anything to drive your car into Mexico, unless you want to buy some extra car insurance to drive in Mexico but I am not sure its required by law..just ask the mexican border guard when you cross over.

Anonymous said...

I believe the Mexican government now charges $21 for a permit to bring your car into Mexico. You'll need a U.S. passport or passport card to return to the U.S.

Takes 5 to 6 weeks but you can pay more for faster service. Check on-line or at your Post Office for the forms.

Bien Viaje and I hope your boyfriend doesn't turn out to be a loser.

Anonymous said...

You can enter Mexico free At A.P. And go about 20 miles with no paper work. Need Pastport to get back out, If you need to more than the 20 miles, You will need Car tile. Credit card. Cost abut $20. Be sure to clear car with Mexican office when leaving!

Anonymous said...

That is right. You can enter free. Up to the second check point with no paper work. But if you plan to travel further in Mexico. Get your paper work as soon as cross into A.P. The on your right as you enter Mexico. From Douglas.

Anonymous said...

sorry the Building on the right. it will take about 45 minutes. And cost About $20t $25. You will need a credit card. A.P. has been safe. But to drive around A.P. you need nothing.

Anonymous said...

Is good to hear that not "big issues" go ./. the two border ports; and that's is possible cus the brive people who let pass both ports ar "IN" both offices (nicely) agreed with what's coming and going! there so many known smugglers that do what they need to do without getting in trouble, they have been arrested and sent'm to either Tucson, Bisbee, or even right there in Douglas's detention center, they pay their fines and they get out either staying in US or go to Mexico, don't matter they'll keep doing the same again and again, I don't get it!

Powered by Southern Pulse |