SAN DIEGO – Defenders of immigrant rights are concerned about the increasing number of cases in which people are forced to smuggle drugs into the United States from Mexico by drug traffickers threatening their families.
The activists say this phenomenon is becoming widespread and cite cases of two prominent members of the Tijuana art community who were jailed recently after being arrested in San Diego.
Famous architect Eugenio Velazquez was sentenced last week to six months in jail followed by six months of house arrest after being arrested at the entry port of San Ysidro in March.
He could have been handed a 10-year sentence but the judge accepted the argument that he was forced to smuggle drugs because of threats to his family.
In the case of promising opera star Maximo Melchor Vazquez, the tenor was sentenced last month to nine years in prison.
His attorney, John R. Rodriguez, said his client trafficked methamphetamines under threat and presented no defense in the case, fearing for the safety of his family.
Victor Clark Alfaro, director of the Tijuana-based Binational Human Rights Center, told Efe that Mexican cartels are increasingly resorting to threats to recruit couriers, or “mules.”
“It’s not a new tactic. It’s been going on for years. But the number of cases has increased in which cartels not only use ‘blind mules,’ frequent travelers who have no idea they’re carrying drugs hidden in their cars, but now they more often identify people who travel constantly to the United States and threaten them,” he said.
David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of California, San Diego, told Efe that many people arrested at the border carrying drugs are U.S. citizens who came into contact with crime gangs through drug use or illegal gambling and are pressured into trafficking people or drugs.
“One of the problems is that people in Mexico don’t trust the authorities, so they feel obliged to give in to strong-arm tactics from criminal gangs,” Clark Alfaro said.
For Enrique Morones of the Border Angels group, it’s important that authorities of both countries make confidential telephone lines available to threat victims so they can report these situations anonymously. EFE