Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A hit man's story

Most of his jobs began with a voice down the phone telling him where to meet. At the safe house he would find the weapons and the hit squad. They would pass around a photo of their target – a police chief who owed money, a politician who got in the way – and wait for the signal, sometimes for days.

The killers rarely struggle to find their prey. Bodyguards are regularly bought off.

Several shots to the back of the head or a tight ring of bullets through the car door and into the body is enough.

The killers are told to cut off the victim's head if he talked too much. They will saw off his arms and fingers if he stole drugs and cash. And they'll chop up his body if they've been told to.

Reuters recently interviewed a hit man (incidentally, also a former cop) from Ciudad Juarez who worked for Chapo. Above is part of the story, as published by the news agency.

"There are things people do that they shouldn't, and that is the punishment," the hitman said.

Reuters continues: He spoke in almost a whisper, his eyes hidden behind mirrored sunglasses. A row of broken teeth were just visible behind his bottom lip.

This hitman used to get up to $15,000 in cash for each murder. "They pay peanuts now," he said.

Everybody is a cartel killer these days, he said. Drug dealers, addicts, low-level cops, teenagers. "They kill women and children, they're very careless," he said, insisting he was a professional since his first execution at age 17.

"I killed, cut off heads," he said coldly.

"I had a lot of work in 2008, sometimes several jobs a day," the hitman said.

He was paid to murder businessmen, local government officials and senior policemen, never small-time smugglers. The hitman apparently worked for Guzman, but refused to say the kingpin's name. "You know who I mean," the hitman said.

After 20 years in the business, he couldn't take it anymore and he got out. "I've changed my life." He holds a Bible, he is repentant, he is a born-again Christian and he has a wife. He says the past weighs on his conscience.

"So many times you see how the people end up, their heads shot to pieces. It gets ingrained in your mind, however evil the guy was who had to die, it stays in your brain."

"There are people in Juarez who handle us, distribute us between jobs. We come from all over, we just come in to do what we come to do, we make the kill and get out, disappear."

Kudos to Robin Emmott and Julian Cardona from Reuters, as this the best hit man reporting in Mexico that I've seen so far. I've read interviews that don't appear to add up, and seem partially fabricated. This doesn't (and I trust Emmott's reporting) and reveals far more than those others do.

I have to admit I'm kinda jealous of their cojones/deathwish; I thought about trying to find a hit man in my research for The Last Narco, one who worked for Chapo, but I backed down from several potential leads because I got a weird gut feeling, and figured it wouldn't add that much value. This interview proves me wrong, and I'm now a little annoyed I stuck with low-level narcos who simply claimed to move drugs for the big man. I never got to a stone-faced killer.

Of course, what Reuters is doing researching this aspect of the drug trade is beyond me; seems like risks far outweigh the benefits, especially for what is primarily a business-news agency. The guy does talk about how hit men are being paid far less these days – not due to the recession, but due to the fact that lives are worth far less – but I'm not sure that's what got the editors interested in the story.

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