Baghdad Beach: Sand And Drug Trafficking Between The US And Mexico

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At the easternmost end of the border between the United States and Mexico, the boundary between the two countries is barely a tongue of sand that hinders the mouth of the Rio Grande.

At the easternmost end of the border between the United States and Mexico, the boundary between the two countries is barely a tongue of sand that hinders the mouth of the Rio Grande.

Here there are no iron bars that get into the sea to prevent the illegal crossing of people, as happens at the opposite end, in the Pacific, at 3,200 km. It does not seem necessary.

The international gaze has been on the Mexican border with the United States for months because of the increase in the number of migrants trying to cross and the energetic measures of President Donald Trump to avoid it. But outside of border bridges or clandestine crossings, there are points where migration is not the issue.

Playa Bagdad is one of them.

The area is a landscape of dunes, half-dry lagoons and kilometers of beaches dotted with old wooden huts or simple sticks with tarps that wave with the breeze coming from the Gulf.

On the Mexican side, the only road from the interior ends in a town, 15 kilometers south of the border, with several dozen houses where tourists wanting alcohol and partying with fishermen live there, who can go out to look for sharks to land cocaine .

On the American side, almost uninhabited plains are seen. The nearest city, 40 km away, is Brownsville. On the road to the coast there is a Border Patrol control, a gun sales shop with shooting range included and even a field from where this week the SpaceX company tested rockets to try, in the future, to reach Mars.

The limit between the two countries is just 25 meters of water that invite you to walk when the tide is low, but few do so because it is a remote place and the cartels allocate that place for the drug crossing. The US drug agency, DEA for its acronym in English, adds another use of these lands: that of a clandestine cemetery.

No one is interested in migrants arriving here.

They don’t want the point to heat up, says Marco Antonio Álvarez, a thin man with tanned skin and gray beard.

Álvarez refers to organized crime. He knows what he is talking about because he was coyote, he was in jail in the United States for human trafficking and he crossed drugs. Now he is paid $ 300 a month – he does not clarify who – for watching two boats stranded in front of him and observing the river a few meters from its mouth.

If you start jumping people, you will see patrols on that side, add to the shade of a wooden cart that was previously put seafood.

Baghdad Beach: Sand And Drug Trafficking Between The US And Mexico

And the last thing the local bosses want is to see security forces that complicate a business, drug trafficking, which changed the life of the place.

Playa Bagdad, in the northeastern corner of the state of Tamaulipas, suddenly appeared on the maps in 1848, just when the border was drawn, explains historian Andrés Cuellar. It was the exit port for US southern cotton during the secession war and resurfaced several times after its hurricane ruins.

In addition to fishing, smuggling was always present: formerly silver, during the dry law, alcohol, and since the 80s marijuana and cocaine.

It is now the point of embarkation and disembarkation of drugs bound for Texas, according to The Associated Press, Sammy Parks, special agent of the DEA.

The choice of place is not surprising. It’s a short, easy, open step and there’s not much vigilance, says Mike Vigil, former chief operating officer of that agency. Of the 1,215 members of the new National Guard that, according to the Mexican government are deployed in Tamaulipas, there is no sign.

The reason for the name is a cluster of myths: that if the dunes remember the deserts of Mesopotamia, that if they sacked a ship and that looked like Ali Baba and the 40 thieves, that if the one who baptized him was a lover of The Thousand and One Nights. Vigil believes that it is because some of the camels that the US army bought in the 19th century in one of his most peculiar experiments to conquer the desert areas passed by.

Three decades ago, people like Álvarez combined fishing with the crossing of migrants at $20 per person to take them to Brownsville. When cocaine entered and things changed, everything began to control the morning, says Álvarez referring to organized crime.

The municipality of Matamoros, to which Playa Baghdad belongs, presents it as a tourist destination, but according to Álvarez, you have to pay extortion for everything.

The crossing of people continued upstream. Here the drug stayed.

Guadalupe Correa, from George Mason University, says that the cartels divide the territory based on different corruption schemes and that is why there are migrant trafficking zones, other narcotics transfer areas and high corruption areas such as the bridges where everything happens.

Tamaulipas has been one of the most violent states for years, marked by fear and silence and where the authorities have been most infiltrated by the narco. Two former governors are detained and open criminal proceedings.

Now, the state government says it is collaborating with the federal and the US, especially in the exchange of information. The Mexican federal executive did not respond to a request for comment.

The state was the feud of the Gulf Cartel until in the early 2000s its armed arm, Los Zetas, separated from the group and began a bloody war, later increased with the divisions within the Zetas themselves. The Gulf, now formed by smaller cells, maintains control of Playa Bagdad and all its surroundings.

Currently, explains Agent Parks, fishing boats carry drugs on these beaches to take her to Isla del Padre or Corpus Christi, in Texas. Others enter the river or lagoons and arrive in the United States by road through international bridges.

The federal government recently recognized that some customs are in the hands of the narco and one of the places where that de facto control is felt is where the Rio Grande ends.

A man fishing with friends and asking not to give his name, sets an example when he saw how armed people threatened one who tried to reach the US shore in front of him. He was gunned down and brought back, he whispers. If you want to cross, it is with them.

It is one of the few who dares to comment while putting more carnaza on his hook, although the conversation stops every time a boat approaches. You never know who watches, he says.

It’s a very dangerous place, says Parks. Clandestine graves have been found in the area and a local threat is that someone wants to take you to the beach ™, which means you disappear. Tamaulipas has more than 6,000 missing.

Baghdad Beach: Sand And Drug Trafficking Between The US And Mexico

From his chair under the shadow of the wagon, Álvarez explains that the area is controlled by the guard but not the National Guard, but ex-officers – police, military, marine – who report for the morning.

The only uniforms that the PA saw at the mouth of the river were four state policemen aboard two ATVs that made a quick turn to the sand tongue and returned.

Members of that same body were behind sandbags placed on the side of the road that connects Playa Bagdad with Matamoros, a control against which villagers demonstrated in early August because, as they said, it was only worth extorting them.

In the village, the band music of the small dining rooms raised on the beach on wooden piles is mixed with the shouts of the sellers of oysters, shrimp or beer.

There, at the entrance, there is a Navy post. According to the fisherman, it is to protect tourists, but some are afraid to arrive. Others claim that it is a quiet beach, the only thing is not to get into trouble.

At some point, a big man with shaved hair gets out of a roast chicken truck at the mouth of the river to ask AP journalists what they are doing there.

How tourists can record whatever they want, says the man who emphasized the word tourists. Here there is freedom of expression. The irony was as obvious as the invitation to leave.


Source: 20Minutos