El Paso Vice: the Drug War Through a Gimlet Eye

Here’s a piece that originally appeared in Der Spiegel, and was reprinted on the ABC News website.

The war on drugs has become so intense that the line between criminality and law-enforcement has blurred. Salvador Martinez, an undercover officer at the Mexican border, ended up in prison after he went too far.

Salvador Martinez began his career with 150 grams of heroin. He met the dealer in the Texan city of El Paso in a diner with large windows during the lunch rush. More witnesses reduce the risk of execution, Martinez calculated. Both of them drank iced tea, he recalls. Martinez wanted dark heroin, La Negra, as the Mexicans say.

The story goes on to relate how Mr. Martinez came to eventually arrange for a hit on the kid who murdered his cousin, a crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to prison.

The story originally appeared on March 3, 2013. I don’t know how we missed it back then.


  1. Much of this story is related in Down by the River, a book by Charles Bowden that was published by 2002. Martinez may be a fictitious name, he may be related to Phil Jordan, the agent whose cousin, Bruno, was murdered, or Martinez may be Phil Jordan.

    1. I thought Bruno was Phil Jordan’s brother, which would make Martinez some kind of cousin, I guess.

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