Standing in the Athens police headquarters, interviewing the director of the drug unit, I realised I had a bag of chemically enhanced crystal meth in my pocket. I’d bought it the night before from a Greek homeless man and had forgotten to throw it away. After the interview, I stepped outside to smoke a cigarette, which is when some officers noticed the film crew I had brought along, who were recording from a distance.
Minutes later the cops dragged us into a holding room, the little packet of drugs still stuffed in my pants. They made some calls, glared at us and eventually, reluctantly, released us – without ever searching me, thankfully. On my way out, I threw the baggie into the first garbage can I passed.
Several Greek police stations have been firebombed in recent months, so the cops have reason to be nervous, especially when they notice that they are being filmed. On our first evening in Athens, a different group of officers approached us and, after spotting our film crew down the street, demanded to see our papers. They deleted our footage and detained us for a couple of hours, until we’d managed to get our passports delivered to the station. Greece is a paranoid place at the moment. The police, fascists, anarchists, dealers and drug users are all fighting for local supremacy and no one trusts anyone else.
The night before our close call at the Athens police headquarters, I was approached by a group of homeless people, one of whom was smoking some horrible-smelling stuff through what appeared to be a meth bowl made from an old lightbulb. Although I don’t speak Greek, I managed to let him know that I wanted to buy some of the drug, colloquially known as sisa. The homeless guy wandered off with my five-euro note, and afterward an old man grabbed my arm and shouted, “No, no take! Very bad.” I wasn’t going to smoke it, but I was very curious about Greece’s infamous new drug.
Julián is a coke dealer. He’s 44. He’s been working Mexico City for two decades. He agreed to take us on a ride-along as he worked. The phone never stopped ringing, not for a minute.
VICE: You couldn’t see us yesterday because you had a really important poker game. How was it? Julián: Great, man. I won. We split the pot. I got 1,000 pesos. It was relaxed. There was a tournament today, but I won’t be going.
Do you have contacts with the police or politicians? Of course, with the AFI [Mexican FBI]. Everyone is well connected, and everyone is so full of bullshit—epecially over there in the organized crime and anti-kidnapping units. I take care of the heavyweights from the AFI. They send their bodyguards to me in armored cars and shit.
[At this point, Julián pulls up to a drugstore.]
You buying medicine? No, just candy for my diabetes. Oh, yeah, I’m diabetic. If you do not complicate your existence, fuck, life is worth shit. I won’t be long, hang in there.
[Ten minutes later we are driving south of Mexico City.]
Julián: Look at that guy [pointing at a trannie]. Shit. It’s a shame he’s got an antenna.
Have you ever gotten a blowjob from one of them when you were really coked up and horny? With hookers, of course. At my age, I can’t be judged if I do a guy or I don’t.
Here’s something everybody should know about gay men: We like to disappear. We like to numb the feelings. We like to be anywhere that’s not here. We like to, quite simply, get fucked up.
And you know what? We’re damn good at it. We’re the best. It’s estimated that about 20 to 30 percent of the gay and transgender population abuse substances, compared with only 9 percent of the general population. Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t. A lot of the LGBT community may be out and proud, but most of us still got issues.
Last night, as I was drinking a Skinnygirl margarita in bed, I started to think about all the boys I’ve been friends with and/or dated who clearly had drug and alcohol problems. It might not have seemed like it at the time because we were all having so much fun getting lost in the haze of gay mistakes, but it’s obvious to me now what was really going on there. Some boys, even with their cheerful dances to Beyoncé songs and their vodka sodas, were quietly coming undone, while the rest of us were simply trying to come together.
I was a sophomore in college the first time I ever accompanied a gay friend to an NA meeting. My best friend at the time had just told me he had an addiction to cocaine, which was shocking because I didn’t even know he did coke.
“Are you on it all the time?” I asked him in his San Francisco apartment.
“What about last Sunday afternoon when we were just at my house watching TV? Were you on it then?”
We sat there and cried a little bit. Then we hugged each other and set off to an NA meeting. It would be my first but certainly not my last.
The Hired Murderers of Medellín, Colombia, Are Laying Low—for Now
The Russian was 13 years old when he first killed a man. He has no regrets about it; the man he killed had mistreated the Russian’s little sister. He built a weapon called a chupa chupa—a blade tied to a length of PVC pipe—and plunged it into his victim’s neck. “I learned a man’s most fragile area is his jugular,” he said, adding that he was arrested for the murder but walked free due to a lack of evidence.
In Medellín, Colombia, during the 80s, the Russian (who, like all of the criminals interviewed for this story, wishes to remain anonymous—“the Russian” is not even his real nickname) was recognized as a talented and valuable hit man. Pablo Escobar, the drug lord of drug lords, was in the midst of building his trafficking empire, which of course led to constant altercations with rivals and the police. The dirtiest of the work was carried out by gang members from the slums who came to be known as combos, so it was all too easy for someone like the Russian to land a full-time job as a sicario, or “hired gun.”
The Russian’s most striking features are his red hair and a series of burn scars on his arms, which he calls his résumé. He got them when he was a young man working in a cocaine-processing laboratory. “One day a container of sulfuric acid spilled all over my body,” he recalled. “I spent six days in a coma—I had second-degree burns and a broken arm and foot. It’s not easy getting out of such a place alive. But I was lucky enough for them to think I was dead and just throw me out. The following day, a passing mule driver found me.”
After a year and a half of recovery, the Russian gathered some money he had buried for safekeeping and went after the people who had left him for dead. “A friend gave me a .38,” he said, before pausing, as if he was reliving the scene inside his head. “I killed them all.”
The Fugitive Reporter Exposing Mexico’s Drug Cartels
These are the opening paragraphs of Dying for the Truth, a book written about the infamous Blog del Narco, which fills Mexicans in on the (often bloody) activities of the murderous local drug cartels, where the nation’s mainstream media has failed:
Shortly before we completed this book, two people—a young man and woman who worked with us—were disembowelled and hung off a bridge in Tamaulipas, a state in the north of Mexico. Large handwritten signs, known as narcobanners, next to their bodies mentioned our blog, and stated that this was what happened to internet snitches. The message concluded with a warning that we were next.
A few days later, they executed another journalist in Tamaulipas who regularly sent us information. The assassins left keyboards, a mouse, and other computer parts strewn across her body, as well as a sign that mentioned our blog again.
However, we refuse to be intimidated.
As you can see, the people who keep the blog running risk their lives to do so. The book, which will be published in both English and Spanish by Feral House, will include a selection of the most relevant posts and pictures published between March 2, 2010, when the blog first started, and February 2011. Choosing to remain anonymous for safety reasons, the blog’s editor finally agreed to talk about her work, and the threats and trials she and the site’s programmer have faced in order to keep this project alive for so long.
According to the book, in 2012, their website—whose aim is to collect uncensored articles and images about the Mexican cartel’s extreme violence, their activities, and the government’s fight against them—registered an average of 25 million visits a month. According to Alexa, it is one of the most visited sites in Mexico. Although criticized by some media outlets for publishing gory images and information that’s given to them by cartels (such as executions and video messages aimed at rival organizations), the blog has become an essential source of news for journalists, citizens, and visitors.
VICE had the opportunity to speak with Lucy (a pseudonym she has chosen to protect her identity) about her blog, her new book, and what’s next for Blog del Narco.
VICE: Let’s start from the beginning. How did Blog del Narco come about? Lucy: It was a way to show we were angry with the authorities and the media who had forgotten their number one responsibility, which is to keep the public informed. I’m a journalist, and my partner does both social networks and programming—so the idea was born, and on March 2, 2010, we went live with the blog.
Was there anything in particular that made you act? Stories from people like, “I went on vacation to Tamaulipas and they were saying absolutely nothing on the news. I walked into the lion’s den and the gangs stole my vehicle, they locked me up for two days”—that kind of situation. People who had nothing to do with this, but ended up being affected due to a lack of information.
Why weren’t the media reporting what was going on? They had been gagged in two ways: the federal government had told them, “You won’t say anything, there’s nothing going on here,” and on the other hand, there was the pressure from the criminal organizations.
When we shot this, I could not believe what was happening. This was probably the most mind-blowing moment for me. I mean, it’s Vanessa Hudgens, the girl from High School Musical! Of course, the ATL Twins were very helpful in demonstrating the proper way to snort drugs off of naked women. The girl with the “drugs” on her (crushed B12, in case you’re wondering) was an extra who was stiff as a board and blushing from ear to ear the entire time.
This Week in Florida: A Violent Stripper, A Crazy Naked Man, 4000 Lbs. of Cocaine, & More
Please allow me to introduce Demetrio Perez Jr…
Perez first made national headlines as a City of Miami Commissioner in 1982, when he threatened to banScarface producer Martin Bregman and director Brian DePalma from shooting on city property unless they made changes to Oliver Stone’s screenplay. He claimed that he was concerned with the negative portrayal of Mariel refugees—thousands of whom were dangerous criminals who turned South Florida upside down and contributed violently to our skyrocketing crime rate—and suggested that the character of Tony Montana be rewritten as “a Communist agent, infiltrated into the United States by the Fidel Castro government.”
Interesting perspective: Flee the oppression of Cuba for the freedom of America so that you can censor people here? I guess he wasn’t as pissed about Fidel Castro ruling with an iron fist, as he was that he wasn’t the dictator imposing his dangerous will on the people.
South Florida voters gave him plenty of opportunities to do so, however, as he was later elected to the Miami-Dade County School Board, where uniforms were a typical part of his platform to transform Miami into his own dictatorial playground.
Most intriguingly, he owns a chain of for-profit private grade schools (a conflict that didn’t seem to concern his constituents when he served as a public school board member), where he actually wrote the textbook. The book is basically an insane ideological rant with chapters on dinner table etiquette and “civic morals” (written without irony) and a history lesson on America’s greatest president, Richard Nixon, and how he got a raw deal.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, who recently received $10,000 in campaign contributions from Perez, introduced a resolution that would issue $110 million in bonds to benefit Perez’s private and charter school business ventures. While there is no fiscal responsibility on the part of the taxpayers, Perez would be given the money to buy his private companies from himself and then be paid to run those businesses as non-profit entities, so he’ll no longer have to pay taxes on their revenue
According to Commissioner Barreiro’s chief of staff, “it’s for the children.” If you believe that, I have a baseball stadium I want you to finance.
Welcome to This Week in Florida.
- A Tampa mother-daughter porn duo—known “professionally” as The Sexxxtons—have started a website and released their first DVD (whatever that is). They say their goal is “to be filthy rich.” Well, they’ve certainly accomplished the first half of that mission.
- The University of Miami is already internationally renowned for its shameless inability to protect its studentsand campuses. Last week, after a laptop had been stolen on campus, their emergency alert system (developed following the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting) kicked into action, warning students simply that there was a “black male on campus.” Not an unusual occurrence, even in the upscale, predominantly white and Hispanic City of Coral Gables. Follow up messages contained either no information (see below left) or misinformation (that the suspect was armed).
The first time I caught wind of Gunplay was back in 2010. I was at a house party and a drunk friend of mine was raving about the manic Florida rapper with the wild dreaded mane—not for his deft and aggressive rhymes, but for his cavalier approach to snorting cocaine. Because I only vaguely recognized the MC as one of Rick Ross’s Maybach Music Group hangers-on, my friend took it upon himself to drag me away from the party and give me a crash course in videos of the light-skinned MC getting knocked the fuck out, snorting heaps of blow in front of cops in Colombia, and generally acting like a some kind of ghetto Steve-O hopped up on coke and wreaking havoc. I was pretty impressed, probably because I have an affinity for maniacs. But what in the world did all of that have to do with rapping?
It wasn’t until this February, almost two years later, that I began to understand Gunplay as an artist rather than a sideshow. It was his closing verse on Kendrick Lamar’s superb track “Cartoon and Cereal” that grabbed me by the neck and pulled me into his world. When I heard him spit the lines, “No cameras, no lights, just pain/ Mama how much trauma can I sustain?” I knew there was more to Gunplay than just wilding out, even though his raucous and frenzied charisma is big part of his appeal.
Gunplay’s combination of craziness and consciousness has made him one of the most engaging figures to emerge in hip-hop. The unabashed junky has continued to up the ante on both fronts, dropping the stellar mixtape 106 & Snort while falling into even more controversy by doing things like brawling with five thugsfrom 50 Cent’s entourage at this fall’s BET Music Awards.
Right now, things are coming to a head for Gunplay. As he readies Medellin—his highly anticipated major-label debut for Def Jam, due out next spring—he also faces serious jail time for a laundry lists of criminal charges. This reality check makes me wonder whether the fire that has helped put him at the precipice of superstardom could also destroy him. Not only would a stint in prison likely derail his ascent to the heights of the hip-hop game, it would also leave his eight-year-old son without a father.
I called the rapper, whose real name is Richard Morales Jr., last week while he was on house arrest in Florida for allegedly attacking and robbing his accountant back in April. We ended up talking a lot about death, because with all the drug abuse and violent incidents, he’s been banging on heaven’s door lately. I really hope he can get himself together, slow down on the white girl, and fulfill his musical potential—even if that means we get fewer funny World Star Hip-Hop videos.
VICE: Hey man. Is everything all right? How’s house arrest? Gunplay: Yeah, I’m making it do what it do. I’m still working and I’m on that Black Ops 2, perfecting my skills. It’s cool, but I can’t wait to test the turf on the road again.
So, what is it like being Gunplay? Do you feel like you have to act crazy all the time because that is your persona? Gunplay is really me. What you see is what you get. I’ve got my chill days and I’ve got my turned-up days. But I’m mostly chill. You all just catch me when I’m wilding out.
So, the way you acted at Six Flags is how you are around your son? Well, you have to separate Gunplay from Richard Morales. That’s what I’ve been doing, lately. Trying to separate my music from my real life. You can get caught up in character.
How did having a son impact the way you look at the world? Once you know you’ve got a mouth to feed and someone to take care of who is depending on you, you go a little harder to try and get the money. Sometimes you do the wrong things to get it. I’ve been trying to balance my career, get the money, and not go to jail in the meantime.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Colombia is the world’s biggest producer of cocaine, providing around 80 percent of the whole planet’s supply. In true entrepreneurial spirit, mom and pop coke shops, or “kitchens,” pepper the countryside, churning out 345 tons of the white stuff last year alone. As a commercially-minded fellow who understands the pitfalls of a consumer-driven culture and the importance of production, I decided to spend a day as an apprentice with a cook in the Colombian village of San Agustin.
Although San Agustin is only 200 miles from where I was staying in Ecuador, getting there took me two full days. In true South American tradition, my journey was colored with confusion and mishaps, including rain, mudslides, three-hour immigration lines, lack of tickets, unpaved mountain roads, and chicken buses with no suspension that came very close to cracking my tailbone.
When I arrived at my destination, however, all of those inconveniences seemed trivial. I was about to make some artisanal blow.
Some of the wildlife on Pedro’s property.
The proprietor of the cocaine factory’s name was Pedro. He greeted me warmly on a portion of his property that served as a coffee farm, and told me our class would last about two hours.
After a perfunctory glance at Pedro’s coffee field, I was led up to his ramshackle house, and into his cocina.
A heap of fresh green leaves sat atop a canvas bag on the table. They were so fresh that the fields they were picked from must have been very close. Not wasting any time, Pedro put a razor sharp machete in my hand and told me to start chopping.
Over vigorous hacking, Pedro’s story was revealed. He had learned his trade during eight years of service in a cocaine kitchen—a kitchen once visited by Pablo Escobar himself during a casual pickup of 70 kilos of pure cocaine, fresh off Pedro’s production line.
After the leaves were sufficiently minced, I was told it was time to add a binding agent. If he had asked me to guess what this agent would be, I would have said an egg, or something equally benign. I would have been wrong. Pedro pulled out a bag of cement, sprinkled it all over our wonderfully chopped leaves, and began to knead the dough by hand.