Wednesday, May 25, 2011
A former paid assassin for a Mexican drug cartel tells his disturbing story in a new book. We'll hear about the world of El Sicario.
How has drug violence in Mexico affected your life?
The illegal drug trade brings in more than $25 billion a year, but numbers in this story don't address the human consequences. Fronteras: The Changing America Desk is launching a series examining how the flow of illegal drugs from Mexico impacts this side of the border.
Whether you live near the border, you work in law enforcement, are a business owner, or have lost a loved one to the violence, we want to hear your experience. Share your insights here.
This week, KPBS is broadcasting a series by our reporters at the Fronteras desk about the many ways the drug war is affecting us in the U.S. But even as we calculate the costs here, it's impossible to overlook the devastation the drug cartel wars have brought to areas of Mexico. One man who has lived his life in the center of that devastation and committed acts of unspeakable violence is now telling his story. He calls himself El Sicario, the paid assassin.
Molly Molloy worked as translator for the book, EL SICARIO: The Autobiography Of A Mexican Assassin, she is a research librarian at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.
This week, KPBS is broadcasting a series by our reporters at the fronteras desk about the many ways the drug war is affecting us in the United States. But even as we calculate the costs here, it's impossible to overlook the devastation the drug cartel wars have brought to areas of Mexico. One man who has lived his life in the center of that devastation and committed acts of unspeakable violence is now telling his story. He calls himself El Sicario, the paid assassin. The woman who translated his story joins us now. Molly Malloy is a research librarian at the New Mexico state university in Las Cruces, and molly govern.
MOLLOY: Hi. How are you?
CAVANAUGH: I'm well, thank you. You said that the images you translated from El Sicario opened up a window into an unknown world. What was the world he described like?
MOLLOY: Well, it was a very violent world, a very stressful world. And sadly, it's a world that I believe since the time that this man made an escape from the world, it's only gotten worse. It's gotten more violent, and the death toll in Juarez and other places in Mexico has only gone up, almost exponentially, since the time this man left the work that he had been doing, which was to perform assassinations for the Juarez drug cartel.
CAVANAUGH: Who is El Sicario?
MOLLOY: I'm sorry?
CAVANAUGH: Who is he?
MOLLOY: Well, I just know him by his professional name. He says that the work he did was to be a sickario, it is a paid killer, a paid assassin for a criminal organization. I don't know his real name. He lives under various identities in order to try to keep himself safe in his new life, and to protect his family.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Can you describe him?
MOLLOY: I'm not going to describe him physically because we made agreements with the person that we would do the most we possibly could to not reveal physical attributes of him or anything about him that would put his life in danger currently. And especially to protect the lives of his family.
CAVANAUGH: So what did he tell you about getting involved with the drug cartels? How did that happen?
MOLLOY: It happened when he was a young teenager. Probably around the age of 15 or 16. He was recruited from his secondary school in the city of Juarez by people that he described as sort of low level men working for the cartel at that time, which I estimate was in the early 1980s. At that time he was recruited to drive cars across the international bridge from Juarez to El Paso. And although when he was first doing this work, it was never clearly stated to him by the people he was working for what was in the cars. His job was to drive it, park it as a designated spot and walk away. And he would be paid 50 dollars for one of those trips, which at that time and for a person in his situation was a lot of money. As things got more dangerous at the international bridges, the money he was paid rose considerably. He told us one time that he was paid a thousand dollars to drive a car across the bridge. Obviously those cars were loaded with can traban, probably drug, and he was never certain or at least as far as he tells the story, he was never certain what he was carrying and where it was hidden in those vehicles. But that was how he got started.
CAVANAUGH: Molly, I think one of the biggest parts of this book for an American audience is to try to figure out how this person, this paid assassin could be a hitman for a drug cartel, and also be working with the chihuahua state police. How was he able to straddle both worlds?
MOLLOY: Well, actually, the difficult thing for us as American readers and, you know, informed people about Mexico, what's really hard for us to understand is that this is a system that's been in place for many, many years. A system of corruption that involves people at all levels of law enforcement in Mexico. It involves at all levels of politics. In the business of narco trafficking, which is one of the -- it generates a huge amount of money in Mexico. It employs a huge number of people. This system's been in place for many years, probably several decades. And so his recruitment into the work was actually something quite ordinary for people in his position in the city. He was recognized by some of the people in the drug organizations as being a really good student, someone who could learn things quickly, someone who was not afraid to do the task that he was assigned. And so he was recruited to be -- to work for the drug organizations, and one of their techniques is to send those people to police academies to be trained by the state to do the things that law enforcement people do everywhere, to investigate crimes, to learn to shoot and guns, and all of this kind of stuff. And yet, at the same time, he always knew that his training in the police academy was something that would eventually be used by the cartel people who had recentlially recruited him when he was still in high school.
CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with molly Malloy, she is research librarian at New Mexico state university. She translated and edited a story, an autobiography of a paid Asystemin, it's called El Sicario. And I'm wondering, molly, I don't want to leave people with the impression that what this man did was drive cars for the drug cartels or -- he outlined for you some very, very serious offenses.
MOLLOY: Absolutely. Driving the cars across the bridge was his initiation as a young teenager. As he got older, he attended the police academy, he eventually was involved in kidnappings where people who owed money to the cartels or who had done some other kind of offense according to the drug trafficking organizations. These people would be kidnapped, they would often be tortured, and they would almost certainly be killed. And he did this for something like 20 years. So there's a lot of people that he murdered. He was also paid to dispose of bodies. He was one of the people that would find places to bury these people, to bury the bodies of the people that had been captured, tortured, and then killed. And as you know from looking at the current news, a lot of -- as they're called narco graves or narco fortas in Spanish are coming to light now in several places in Mexico, specifically in Tamaulipas on the northeastern border, and also down in Durango, which is the state to the south of chihuahua. So this is something that's -- this hiding of people being killed, this is something that's been going on for many years, and this person whose story is told in the book participated in it for quite a long time.
CAVANAUGH: Why did he decide to come forward with his story?
MOLLOY: Well, there's several reasons. The reasons that he gives most ultimately is that during the time he was making his escape from the cartels, both to save himself and to try to protect his family, he became a Christian. He says that he went to several church services and he was also being protected by someone who was a Christian. And that's men who were hiding him and protecting him at this time were also involved in this religious group. And they talked to him. They allowed him to debrief, if you will, to come clean, to confuse some of his crimes, and in the process of that he asked God to forgive him. Now, this is his story. This is what he tells. I'm not qualified to say one way or another whether God can forgive this person, whether his conversion is real and honest. I can say from the many hours that I've spent talking to him that I believe for him, this is a very real and very true and very deep emotional experience that he went through. And he believes that part of his duty now that he is a Christian, that he's been saved by God, he believes it's his duty to tell his story, in order to prevent other young men from getting involved in such a terrible, sinful existence.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How do we know his story is true?
MOLLOY: Well, we were able to corroborate quite a few. The things that he talked about in terms of the situation of kidnapping people.
A. Holding them, torturing them, and then burying these -- the bodies. This is something that if you pay attention to the Mexican press, which both Charles Boden, my coeditor and I do,, this is something that happens all the time. What we are able to get from El Sicario is his first person account of how some of these things were done. There were several things that he talked about in terms of telling his story that we were able to corroborate in the press. Several high profile assassinations that he mentioned going back into the early 1990s. And I researched this in a database of newspapers from the region, and we were able to corroborate more or less that what he was saying happened. At least it was covered in the press. His version of it was often quite different. But this is also something that's very common in Mexico newspapers. There's very little of what we would call investigative journalism. Generally a prime story is presented with just the bare facts in the newspaper. And the reason for the killing, the involvement of the different people, both victims and the perpetrators of the crimes, this information is almost never published in the press because it's very dangerous for reporters to publish it. Go ahead.
CAVANAUGH: Were you ever concerned that telling this story of El Sicario, the story about this man's violent murders past would actually glorify his activities?
MOLLOY: I don't think so. He doesn't tell the story in a way that makes him seem like a hero of any kind, or even like a -- what would I say? A big macho bad guy or something. He never boasts, he never brags about his activities. He seems truly remorseful for the things that he's done. He is able to describe things in a way that's very clear, very cold vericalulated, if you know, and I think that when he was telling this story, he had to actually relive some of these things, and that's why he was able to present his tale in such a clear and concise way that we felt -- that we were compelled to make a book out of it. His motive is to tell the story, to tell how the system really works so that the full extent of the corruption can become better known.
CAVANAUGH: And why did you want to help tell his story?
MOLLOY: Well, I was present during all of the time that he was telling these things, both to Charles Boden for a previous magazine story that he did. And also the film maker who wanted to make a documentary of this man's testimony. I was there. I heard everything firsthand, and it was such an amazing -- it was such an amazing story telling accomplish. Very few people can talk as clearly as this man can. I can't. I go and -- I mean, I don't sound too good on the radio probably.
CAVANAUGH: You sound fine.
MOLLOY: But this guy could just tell the story in such a clear fashion, it was so well organized that it just -- the book wrote itself, essentially.
CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with molly Malloy, translator and coeditor of the book, El Sicario, the autobiography of a Mexican assassin. The author is Charles boden, and the KPBS fronteras desk series, the drug war at home continues tomorrow morning on morning edition with a story about how narco culture has become fashionable with young people in border towns. You can tune in for that tomorrow morning. Thank you so much molly.
MOLLOY: Thank you.