A version of this article originally appeared on VICE Mexico. Leer en Español.
Roughly 200,000 people have been killed and another 28,000 gone missing since former Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared war against drug trafficking over a decade ago. The country’s current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has continued that war; altogether, money spent by Mexico’s Departments of Justice, National Security, Public Order, and Interior Security on this project has totaled 1.8 trillion pesos (almost $100 billion USD) since 2006. However, according to INEGI (the government entity responsible for Census data), about 70 percent of the Mexican population admitted to feeling unsafe as recently as 2016.
Meanwhile, according to the National Survey on Drug, Alcohol, and Tobacco Use (ENCODAT, in Spanish) conducted from 2016 to 2017, drug use in Mexico increased by 47 percent over the previous seven years, with 8.4 million people between the ages of 12 to 65 admitting that they had consumed illegal drugs at least once in their lives. At the time, the most frequently consumed illegal drugs in Mexico were marijuana (the consumption of which went from 6 percent in 2011 to 8.6 percent in 2016), cocaine (from 3.3 percent to 3.5 percent during the same five year period) and hallucinogens, consumption of which remained stable at 0.7 percent.
Camila* is 35 years old and lives in a municipality outside Mexico City with her husband, Emilio*, a drug trafficker. Both names are pseudonyms VICE is using in order to protect their respective identities.
In some ways, the couple and the way they make their living are right at home here: In January 2017 alone, there were approximately 20,000 spots in Mexico City where illegal substances were being distributed, according to the city’s Secretary of Public Safety. But Camila has stood by Emilio through plenty of episodes—and taken part in a few of her own—that might make even seasoned veterans of the local drug scene cringe. This is her story.
I met my husband through my brothers, who worked with him in the drug-dealing business. We started going out about 2006, but very casually. I liked him because we were equals and both very fun-loving. We love to have fun and be silly.
Emilio was in a downward spiral when I met him, selling off properties he owned to fund his crystal meth habit. When I found out, I didn’t want to leave him alone to deal with it; on the contrary, it reinforced my need to be there for him. I gave him IVs and I tried to put him in clinics, but he never gave it up.
One day I got annoyed and stopped seeing him. For six months, I didn’t hear anything about him. When I saw him again at a dance, he had kicked the habit, but had no money. We got back together—this was 2008. We got married and moved in together, and he started working in Mazatlán, a seaside resort town in the western state of Sinaloa.
If you’re in the drug dealing game, you’re obviously putting a lot at risk. At the time when Emilio and I got married, two gangs had started fighting for control of the region: Los Zetas, the most sophisticated crime syndicate in the country, was working in alliance with the Beltrán-Leyva Cartel against the Sinaloa Cartel (of El Chapo fame). My brother was in one of them and he tapped Emilio to work with him. He gave him a plaza in a town in Sinaloa to use as turf, where he was in charge of keeping tabs on the merchandise and running sales.
Because of the violence between cartels, we had to move to a new house every three months. None of our other family members were able to visit us, and when we left the house we had to be sure we weren’t being followed.
We were basically locked up in that house, without anyone knowing where we lived or anything. Moreover, the competing cartel had photos of me and was following me. I realized it and I’d talk to my husband, who would tell me where to go. I stayed in one spot while he’d talk to people to find out who might be following me. As Emilio didn’t leave the house for fear of being targeted, they wanted to go through me to find him. Out of safety concerns, I always had to make sure I wasn't being followed home.
By January 2010, I was pregnant, but I would transport the goods because my husband couldn’t leave the house. Eventually things started to get better, although we still had to change houses at regular intervals. Then the violence started to get worse and all of my husband's workers were killed. Two days before my daughter was born, they kidnapped his bodyguard. At dawn on the day she was born, we found him hanging from a bridge.
Emilio had to go move to Nayarit and then to Mexico City. Just a week after I’d had a c-section, I had to take a taxi to deliver the merchandise and money to his new workers, with my daughter in my arms, terrified and everything. I was alone in my house with my son and my newborn. A year after my daughter was born, I went to Mexico City with Emilio in January 2011.
I didn't think about the danger of it all. Now, I look back and say, "Oh, how did I dare do that? I was exposed so much."
Once we relocated to Mexico City, Emilio tried not to repeat the same mistake. He started a legit business with the money he’d earned. He opened two video game arcades. But in July 2011, he was kidnapped, and paying the ransom took away all the money we had.
After Emilio’s rescue, we started sleeping at the arcade because we were afraid to go to the apartment where we lived. We spent roughly four years like this, between the time that we were married and the birth of our second daughter in 2013—the same year that Emilio first started trafficking drugs into Mexico City.
The luxuries of being married to a trafficker are that you never want for anything. Emilio gives me everything. He gave me 100,000 pesos (about $5,400) on my birthday, but the best gift that I’ve received from him is my home. And everything that I say I want, he gives it to me.
Looking back in time at the most challenging years of your life, maybe you couldn't go out on a weekend because you'd spend all your rent money. Me? I couldn’t take my daughters to the beach because I had to think about what how much money it was going to cost us; whereas now, I go here, I go there… whatever I want, I buy it. I don't live my life worrying or twiddle my thumbs.
I’ll say to my husband: "What do you prefer: that someone else wears those new shoes first, or that I get to show them off before they do?” He doesn’t limit me at all. If I say, "I want this," he says yes. But I also try not to be abusive or let my spending habits hurt my family, which is what we care about most.
Apart from taking care of our family, I help Emilio with his accounting. He’s not very organized. I take inventory, keep track of what people owe him, and log to whom he gives the merchandise.
I’m the only person who manages his money; his brother is in the business too, and he passes the money to me to handle. I need to have the accounts squared away for the new shipments that come in every day and be ready to pass things along on to debtors. I also check the customers’ wallets so there's less of a chance that they'll steal from us.
If ten grams are missing, we have to go back to the warehouse and find out where the error is. Last week, I didn’t finish the accounting until 3 AM and it had already taken all day. It’s chaos. My husband doesn’t touch the accounts at all and says that nothing is free, and that I have to do my part, too.
People take advantage of us. They always want to benefit from everything we’ve earned, and they’re always going to talk shit about us. They’ll never give us or our family the pleasure of hearing positive things about ourselves.
Emilio’s workers have hated me in the past because if I saw something wrong, I didn’t cover it up. I need to tell my husband when people are acting out of line, because they’ll take you for a fool if you don’t put a stop to it. Once, my husband lost 400 grams of cocaine, which cost us 100,000 pesos. Just like that—one day it was there and the next it was gone. And who took it? Who knows.
Another time, when I started adding everything up—80 minus ten equals 70 grams, and the worker had only logged 50 grams of cocaine. “That's wrong,” I told my husband. Four whole pages of this employee’s paperwork were full of tricks and forgeries.
Emilio almost had a heart attack. "Stay smart," he cautioned. It's stressful, having to take care of yourself on all sides so you don’t get screwed over.
Both Emilio and I have encountered problems in our marriage because of our respective families. They’re nosy, and if they're looking for trouble it’s better for me to distance myself from them. I still pray for them every day; I just prefer not to know anything about them.
And then there’s the other women and the gossip that accompanies them. One time, some guy called me from a private number and told me that Emilio was in a hotel with another woman. I called his cell; he didn’t answer. Eventually he answered and I realized that he was on a motorcycle, so who the fuck knows what was going on. I prefer not to be embarrassed and I too want to have fun. He’s generally been very good to me, so I said, “Whether you do something or not, I’m not going to be embarrassed by it. I’m just going to find out what I need to know.”
People always freak out, too. They’re scared to go out or spend time with you because they’re worried you’re going to bring trouble along with you, which is why I don’t talk to anyone anymore. If I have a casual chat with our neighbor, he'll start asking what we do and scrutinize our expenses. If you give them the opportunity, people start to come to their own conclusions. Better to leave it at a "Good afternoon!" and call it. We say we sell clothes, and that’s that.
I do have friends—they’re the wives of Emilio's friends—but I don’t trust any of them. I'm more afraid of their envy than anything else.
I tell my daughters that their dad sells sneakers and clothes. Apparently, one time at school, my daughter said that her father sells the branches of dried plants. She’s seen our products, but I always tell her, "You shouldn’t say anything about what you see [at home], because they’re very dangerous things that can put your dad in jail."
In the future, I’d like to start a clothing store as a plan B. Emilio wants to move to northern Mexico with my father; he wants to retire from the drug game all together. His plan is to buy apartments and rent them out, or to establish a seafood restaurant or even a franchise. But until things get as as ugly as they were back in 2008, I doubt he’ll start thinking about retirement seriously. I’d prefer—any day of the week and a thousand times over—that he just retire and leave all of this behind us, rather than to somehow expose himself or have something horrible happen to him. My family is the most important thing in the world to me. If he, my children, and myself are somehow in danger, none of it—the money or material wealth—matters.
This account has been edited for length and clarity.
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