Mexican criminals force migrants to smuggle drugs

Prestigious opera singer and architect cases attract media attention

SAN DIEGO. - Activists who defend the rights of immigrants are concerned about the increasing number of cases in which people are forced to smuggle drugs into the United States from Mexico, where drug traffickers are threatening the family members of these victims in order for them to comply.

The activists say that this phenomenon is becoming widespread, and cite two cases of prominent members of the Tijuana art community who were jailed recently after being arrested in San Diego. Famous architect Eugenio Velazquez was arrested last March at the San Ysidro border, and was sentenced last week to six months in jail followed by six months of house arrest. 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 towards his family.

In the case of promising opera star Maximino Melchor Vazquez, the tenor was sentenced last month to nine years in prison. His attorney, John R. Rodriguez, said his client was also forced to traffic methamphetamines into the U.S. under threats and fearing for the safety of his family, but presented no other defense in the case.

Victor Clark Alfaro, who is the director of the Tijuana-based Binational Center for Human Rights, told Efe that Mexican cartels are now 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 are also now identifying people more often 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 people arrested at the border carrying drugs, are usually U.S. citizens who come into contact with 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 into strong-arm tactics from criminal gangs," Alfaro said.


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