El Paso Vice: When Drug Cops Become Criminals

Martinez told no one who he was or that he had worked for the DEA. If someone asked him why he was there, he said money laundering. If someone asked him his profession, he said he was a teacher. If someone asked anything more, he said: "You've already asked your two questions for the month."

He didn't have a single friend during his seven years in prison. He was alone with himself and his thoughts. He wondered whether people would be happier if the American drug police stopped hunting smugglers with Black Hawk helicopters. Or whether, if drugs were legal and accepted, there would be no cartels or drug police, making it possible to go drink tequila in Juárez in the evening. Then he wouldn't have told the Mexican commandant to make criminals disappear. And he wouldn't have met Jaime Jañez, and maybe Bruno would still be alive and Martinez would be free and able to hold his wife in his arms.

"Legalization just feels wrong," he says today. "We must protect America from drugs."

In 2006, when Martinez was behind bars, the then-Mexican President Felipe Calderón said: "I know that restoring security won't be easy, and will cost a lot of money and, unfortunately, human life. But rest assured that in this fight, I will be standing on the front lines." Martinez read about it in the newspaper and thought it was a good idea. In cooperation with the US, Calderón deployed soldiers in his own country to fight drug traffickers. Since then, the cartels and the army have been fighting each other in Ciudad Juárez with rocket-propelled grenades.

In prison, Martinez developed his own opinion of his actions. Today, he says that he was innocent. What he did wasn't right, but it also wasn't wrong, he says. He was simply applying the methods he had learned.

On Independence Day, Martinez laid his head against the concrete so he could look outside through a slit under a window. He saw a firework in the distance, and an American flag flying on the prison watchtower. Martinez often tells of such scenes, which seem like they could have been thought up by a screenplay writer. If he could make a film about his own life, it would include a lot of violins.

No Solutions for a Losing Battle

Martinez takes a plane from El Paso back to San Antonio, where he drives for another half hour to reach his home, a small house with a swing and a pecan tree in front. While imprisoned, Martinez found the man who had been lost through his years with the police, a caring man who cuddles his son and phones his wife 11 times a day. He has put all the paperwork that documents his past in a box. There are photos that show him standing in front packets of cocaine, certificates from the DEA for particular achievements and newspaper articles describing his big successes. Martinez has closed the box and placed it high on a shelf.

His probation officer suggested that he work at a car wash, but Martinez prayed to find the right path and became a bail bondsman and bounty hunter. Today he bails people out of jail, a job that only exists in the US, where people have the right to be released for a payment while they await trial. Martinez provides them with the bail money, for which he collects a fee, and if they fail to appear in court, he hunts them down and brings them before the judge. He says that he was a bit rusty at first, but is doing well again now. If the opportunity presented itself, he would like to raid a house again.

In spring 2012, when Martinez was a free man again, a number of Latin American heads of state suggested legalizing drugs. US President Barack Obama replied: "I don't think legalization of drugs is going to be the answer." Martinez heard nothing about this. He no longer reads the news. The DEA now has a budget of some $3 billion and over 10,000 employees. In the last six years, around 60,000 people have died in the Mexican drug war.

Under the night skies of Texas, Martinez says that he no longer feels angry. He knows the drug war is failing, but not how it can be won. He understands why the DEA dismissed him. He believes that Bruno's killer will eventually meet his punishment. Jaime Jañez, the man who betrayed him, is dead. He was shot with an automatic weapon. The killer was never found, Martinez says.

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