Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Dope and Dead Presidents

["Semana Culiacana" continues this week...]

If you're entering Culiacán from the mountainous outskirts, there's a toll plaza with a sign that says "We Only Accept Mexican Currency." This seems odd at first, since the US border is about 500 miles away, and there's hardly a lot of cruise ship tourists wandering in. But out in the mountains there's a considerable amount of, um, "alternative agriculture" taking place, and that's a cash business. And because the Mexican drug cartels are financed almost entirely by American citizens, that cash tends to be crisp, unmarked, non-sequential $100 bills - which is, ironically, worthless around these parts. So there's a steady stream of "farmers" riding into town with a fat wad of Benjamins in their pockets, looking to turn them into pesos. And apparently, they often forget to bring change for the tollbooth.

The Calderón administration has implemented a bunch of new rules aimed at curbing money laundering, so the farmers can't exactly come rolling into their local bank and deposit the money. So a thriving underground money-changing network has sprung up. And by "underground," we mean "right out in the open" - located along the length of Benito Juárez Ave.

Every few feet there's a woman on a stool, under a beach-sized umbrella, with a male goon standing next to her for protection. The cars drive up, the dollars come out, pesos go in, and the car drives off, without any of the yucky paperwork a legitimate enterprise might require. Every now and then the cops pretend to do their job and raid the place, but that basically amounts to what the Mafia calls "taxation."

We of course wanted to film all this, but it didn't seem especially wise, given the number of people involved. We manged to talk our way onto a neighbor's roof (as we said, these press passes: solid goddamn gold) to get some wide shots, which of course resulted in us being spotted. Within a few minutes a very friendly, extremely well-endowed young lady came over, goon in tow, and very politely asked us what we were doing. We gave the usual spiel about "regional aspects," which she swallowed. She really couldn't have been nicer. We asked gently if she thought anyone would mind if we came to Juárez Ave with the camera, and she said they probably wouldn't want to have their pictures taken because "mostly what we're doing is laundering narcotrafficking money." We told her that was a pretty good reason.

Later on, just for laughs, we rolled down the street shooting out the window of the moving van. Turns out our amiga was right: no one was excited to have their pictures taken.


Crazy Rita said...

Now I am wondering what these money laundering places, er, I mean casa de cambios are doing with the Benjamins if there are a bunch of new rules. Do they have a deal with the banks? Everybody has to get their cut. I am scared to take photos. Mr. Burro, you have balls bigger than Mexico.

Burro Hall said...

Good question. I assume that these folks are more-than-indirectly connected to the people who pay the farmers in the first place. I'll bet one of those $100s could spend a whole year going around in circles and only get three or four different people's fingerprints on it.

John Olson said...

Well I spent Easter Saturday selling rides in my fun little plane off the beach at The Reef near Rocky Point and I flew away with a large wad of mixed pesos and Bens in my shorts. I departed Mexico with them secreted in my motorhome. Sort of a reverse -laundering as I see it. I am spending the Bens but saving the pesos. They are prettier and they work fine down there for tacos and cervesa.