In Culiacan, Mexico — the town that breeds drug lords like El Chapo Guzmán — narco culture is part of daily life. The excessive amounts of money, drugs, violence and death take center stage. But what happens after a drug lord faces their inevitable death? Where do they get buried?
Seeker Stories shows that “life” after death for these kingpins is just as luxurious and status is just as important.
“The most telling example of how Mexico’s narco wars have played out is the cemetery of known narcotraffickers where they construct huge mausoleums over gravesites.”
Some of these graves are as expensive as apartments in the town. They are so elaborate, that some house camaros, champagne and homages to women. It’s almost as if the narcos wanted to show off their power, even after death.
This is a story of a surprising find in a tranquil Australian suburb. What unfolds is a tale of hidden illegal activity and a surprise discovery. This all happened back in 2017, but legal proceedings are putting the spotlight on this case again. Cases like this bring to mind how many Latin American communities are stigmatized due to the incidence of drug-related crimes in the region, and how global cartels expand internationally. These processes of stigmatization not only affect everyday interactions but also wider policymaking, as the recent discussions around the proposed border wall in the US-Mexico border have highlighted.
First things first: Australia is hard to reach for drug cartels.
Oceania is the last bastion for international drug cartels. Australia, in particular, is heavily guarded but also has miles and miles of coast that is practically impossible to fully surveil. Cartels, however, have found ways to enter this market. In recent years, journalistic accounts of the role that international criminal networks have in the distribution of drugs in Australia has sparked public concern and debate. According to recent research published in The Age, “Australians consumed illegal drugs worth $9.3 billion in 2018”. The presence of organizations such as the Sinaloa Cartel in Australian cities and its role in the ice epidemic has sparked concerns among journalists and policymakers. The Australian media is up in arms every time the cartels are identified in the country. As reported by Daily Telegraph on January 28, 2019: “The Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel, described as the most ruthless and deadly in the world, has joined forces with the increasingly dangerous Nigerian crime network in Sydney to carry out large-scale drug importation.” This story, for example, plays with fears of foreigners in a society that sometimes tends to be insular and afraid of immigration. Are reports like this generating stereotypes?
This is where this story begins:
Sylvania is like any upscale suburb in the ultra-expensive beachside city of Sydney, Australia.
Houses in Sylvania often reach the $1 million AUD mark. It is a pretty relaxed place with a mostly white population, but with pockets of Asian and Greek migrants. It is the synonym of a relaxed Aussie beach suburb. Nothing much happens and everything is usually closed by 7 p.m.
There is some old money around, and plenty of new money.
When we said homes can easily reach a million, we were talking about the lower end of the spectrum. A four-bedroom apartment goes for more than two million Australian dollars. But look at those views!
From the outside, a suburban home in Sylvania was just another ordinary, sleepy household.
Nothing to suspect. Just a comfy couch and a bookshelf lined with Lonely Planet travel guidebooks.
The cops suspected something was going on so they searched the property.
The Australian Federal Police was investigating a Sydney-based Colombian gang that was involved in the distribution of border-controlled drugs. The police were also following the trails of a money-laundering operation believed to be operated by Colombians. This all happened in 2017, but the details of the case are just being released as part of a court proceeding. As Australian Government News reported on July 12, 2019: “On 10 July 2019, the Supreme Court of NSW made orders which restrained a residential property in Sylvania, NSW, under section 19 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Cth) based on the allegation the property was used in, or in connection with, various drug offences under the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).”
This is what they found behind the now-famous bookshelf: and now the police is trying to seize the property.
The authorities believed that the house was actually a custom made to fit in the illegal drug operation. For this reason, the authorities are looking to confiscate the house. In addition, the authorities charged a 45-year-old man (the police hasn’t disclosed his name for legal reasons) with multiple drug-related offenses: supplying cocaine, being in the possession of cannabis and, as reported by The Sun UK, ” dealing in proceeds of crime with a value that reached around $100,000.” This man pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years and six months in federal prison.
Drugs, high tech transmitters, they really had everything they needed to run a drug business.
According to The Sun UK, police found that the property “was full of cash, replica weapons, tasers, and wireless transmitters, police confirmed”. This was a big hit on organized crime in Australia, a country that is hard to penetrate for drug cartels due to its tight borders and geographical isolation. There are also very few cases of police corruption. Officer Penelope Kelton, Coordinator of Criminal Assets Litigation, said (as per The Sun UK): “The ability to confiscate items used in the commission of crimes sends a clear message to the criminal underworld – if you commit the crime, we are prepared to target your assets. Drug-related crime puts a great strain on the community through increased health care costs, associated property crime and other forms of violence. It is only reasonable that police can fight back on behalf of the community by targeting those who seek to profit from inflicting this misery.”
Drug trafficking is a significant issue in Australia for multiple reasons.
The illegal distribution and consumption of narcotics through global networks of criminal complicity is a significant social problem worldwide and public health concern in most Western countries, including Australia. Alongside the distribution of drugs, negative stereotypes about Global South populations run rampant. In particular, Latin American citizens from countries like Colombia and Mexico are stigmatized due to the negative image their home countries have in relation to the drug wars.
Representation matters: not all Latinos are drug dealers!
Alongside extremism and terrorism, since the 1990s international criminal networks have been framed as one of the main challenges to Western democracies, a place formerly held by the Soviet Union and left-leaning countries. This understanding of recent world history has the potential to generate stereotypes that could influence national and international discussions regarding border security, as seen in the recent debate in the United States concerning the construction of a Southern border wall.
How stories like these are told in the media influences the way in which Latinos living in English-speaking and Global North countries are perceived. Australian newspapers emphasized the fact that those arrested were Colombian, which further adds to the bad rep that the country has in the Southern Hemisphere. To this, we have to add that most references that Australians and non-Latino Americans have of the region are through TV shows and movies. As a recent editorial by Hector Tobar published in The New York Times pointed out: “By the next network upfronts, or summer movie blockbuster season, Latino drug operatives may outpace their chief rivals — jihadist terrorists and Russians mobsters — and become the country’s leading screen bad guys”.
Tequila is perhaps the most iconic drink from Mexico (although mezcal has been making a BIG comeback for a few years now, particularly as part of urban hipster cultures). We recently reported how tech mogul Elon Musk is trying to get his controversial Teslaquila off the ground, and how Breaking Bad actors Bryan Craston and Aaron Paul are considering having their own label. That is all good if they bring money and jobs to the area of Tequila, Jalisco, where the ancient spirit is produced under Denomination of Origin.
In the meantime, here are a few Mexican-owned tequila brands, some of which are the usual suspects (1800, Corralejo) while others are smaller but exciting brands.
This tequila is housed in a legendary hacienda, as the company, Sotol, states: “The Hacienda Tabalaopa, a family jewel since it’s establishment in 1881, has historically embraced Sotol as the spirit of the region”. This premium spirit, Sotol, is a bit different to tequila as it is elaborated with a wild agavacea variety termed Dasylirion which only grows in the Chihuahuan Desert of northern Mexico. This is an example of how the industry is diversifying, encompassing other regions of Mexico.
This beautiful bottle contains a premium tequila developed by a young Mexican entrepreneur. This relatively new brand is socially conscious and has programs to support agave growers in Jalisco. They source their agave azul from small growers, supporting the local farming industry. It has gotten some good reviews and is bound to become a staple of hipster bars worldwide.
This casa tequilera is as traditional as it comes: it has been operating since 1886 when it was founded by Don Delfino González. However, its owners have taken good care of the brand’s image, using a contemporary brand design that looks great on any bar shelf. Their crown jewel is the San Matias Cristal, which is clear and pure, distilling the floral notes to the nose and the palette that pure blue agave brings. It is the new face of an old distillery, so it brings together the new and the classic in interesting ways.
One of the most traditional brands around (we can totally picture Jorge Negrete or Pedro Infante drinking straight from the bottle while delivering a serenata). This tequila is also the brainchild of Don Delfino González, who during the period that preceded the Mexican Revolution found the perfect conditions for growing agave azul and producing tequila in the Los Altos region of Jalisco. The red soil fields here are rich in iron and other minerals, which provides the perfect nourishment for the agave plants.
This tequila is manufactured by Tequilas del Señor, a house that has more than seven decades of expertise. It is named after the indigenous woman, La Malinche, that according to the legend served as a translator for the conquistadores. For those who enjoy a clear taste, La Malinche is a good option. To the nose, it provides intense notes of baked agave with hints of mint and citrus. It is silky in the mouth with pleasant herbal notes and lovely acidity. It is great to drink by itself… perhaps after a few carnitas tacos.
Just look at this bottle! It would be envied by the most delicate whiskeys on the planet. The reposado (which basically means “rested”, as it has matured in oak barrels for years) variety has a smokey and deep flavor. This house is owned by Armando Orozco Espinoza, a young tequila master that comes from a long tradition of experts. The mantra of this house: ” passion, tradition, braveness, attitude, maturity, and youth.” Bound to become one of the classics.
These tequilas fall in the super-premium category, so they are bound to be a bit pricey (so please don’t make cheap margaritas with it… go a bit more sophisticated and put together a fancy cocktail). This relatively new brand was years in the making: they hired a tequila master to spot the perfect agave plants to create a distinctive flavor. The family that runs this business has been growing agave for more than four decades. The fields and factory are located in the “Golden Triangle” region in Los Altos (Highlands) of Jalisco.
A young brand that has gotten some traction in the European market. The reposado variety is a delight: deep, peppery flavors thanks to the eight months it spends in oak barrels. Tequila 29 Two Nine is owned by a family who, according to company communications, wants to disrupt the game.
One of the most widely sold tequilas, both in Mexico and overseas. It is manufactured in the Hacienda Corralejo in Guanajuato, which as become a tourist attraction in its own right. As stated by the company, “visitors can satisfy their curiosity and excitement about the processes used to make tequila. The atmosphere is a delight to both sight and smell, as exemplified by casks for aging tequila located in beautiful cellars and filled with a suggestive and captivating aroma that evokes the honey of cooked agave”. Sounds like a perfect holiday to us!
This is a luxury craft tequila owned by Mexican-Americans but manufactured the distiller Tequilera Las Juntas in Jalisco. It is made from 100 percent Blue Weber Agave grown in the region of Tequila. It has won multiple international awards.
A young, hip brand whose slogan is #takelifebystorm. It was created by Marco, a master distiller with over 40 years of experience. He says: “I’m really proud of what I’ve done throughout my career at some of the best brands, but there are always limitations when you work for someone else. Tromba represents everything I think great tequila can be.” Marco is joined by Rodrigo Cedano, a young apprentice who really strives to create a tequila that distinguishes itself from the dozens of options in the market. Guess where the name comes from? “Tromba gets its name from the intense rainstorms of the Jalisco highlands that nourish its famed agave plants. It also represents energy and rejuvenation that fuels the passion and purpose of its founders”.
It takes its name from the famous poisonous rattlesnake. This brand specializes in blends that infuse tequila with flavors such as honey and coffee. It is created in the town of Arandas, in the Jalisco highlands. This brand makes sure that the agave plants are used in a sustainable way, and use every part of the plant in the production process. They have some pretty good ideas for cocktails: http://cazcabel.com/the-drinks/.