In 1985 the Mexican military opened a small museum chronicling the history and use of drugs in the country. It started with just a few displays. Now, 25 years later, The “Museo de Enervantes” in Mexico City is packed with artifacts from the country’s battle against the drug cartels. From Mexico City, Jennifer Schmidt reports. Download MP3
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MARCO WERMAN: In 1985 the Mexican military opened a small museum that chronicles the history and use of drugs in the county. It started with just a few displays. Today the Museo de Enervantes in Mexico City is packed with artifacts from the country’s battle against the drug cartels. Jennifer Schmidt shows us around.
JENNIFER SCHMIDT: Last month the Mexican military killed one of the top drug kingpins in the country. Arturo Beltran Leyva was known as the boss of bosses. He died during a bloody shoot out with soldiers at a posh condo complex in the southern city of Cuernavaca.
After the raid, news footage revealed piles of weapons in the bullet ridden condo, including grenades, handguns, automatic rifles and a gold-tipped knife shaped like a scorpion’s tail. The knife, at least, is likely to end up in a display in Mexico City’s Museum of Drugs. The museum is already packed with an astonishing number of ornate weapons from a handgun enveloped in gold, rubies and emeralds to an AK-47 plated in silver. The arms once belonged to some of Mexico’s most infamous drug lords.
MALE VOICE 1: [interpreter] This is the museum of Narco Culture.
JENNIFER SCHMIDT: The museum’s curator is Captain Claudio Montane, a former front line soldier in the country’s battle against drug trafficking.
MALE VOICE 1: [interpreter] What is Narco Culture? Well, it’s the way narco traffickers behave, communicate, live, show off and intimidate their rivals by exhibiting power.
JENNIFER SCHMIDT: Gold seems to be at the top of the list when it comes to Narco ostentation, followed closely by precious gems. Among the items on display here is a cell phone covered in gold and diamonds. It belonged to a founding member of the Zetas, the killing arm of the Gulf cartel. Nearby is the personal gun of Alfredo Beltran Leyva, Arturo’s younger brother who is now in prison.
MALE VOICE 1: [interpreter] It’s a .38 caliber with a gold handle, artistic engraving along the sides of the weapon, which is also in gold.
JENNIFER SCHMIDT: The Collection of weapons is impressive but the point of this museum is not to impress. It’s to educate Mexican soldiers on every aspect of the drug trade. The museum is run by the military and it’s situated on the heavily guarded grounds of the Defense Ministry in Mexico City. It is not open to the public. When asked why, Montane offers a somewhat cryptic explanation.
MALE VOICE 1: [interpreter] Not all the people see with good intention.
JENNIFER SCHMIDT: But the point is clear, the military isn’t interested in showing off the material riches of drug traffickers or sharing information that could fall into the wrong hands. There is a large amount of sophisticated technology here, including a sensor that Montane can detect the presence of drugs on a molecular level. But it’s hard to beat the simple ingenuity of the traffickers. One room full of confiscated goods shows how drugs are smuggled out of Mexico in everything from submarines to doughnuts.
MALE VOICE 1: [interpreter] In wood, inside blocks of cement, in cans, books, in the soles of shoes, anything that can provide space for a concealment can be used to transport drugs.
JENNIFER SCHMIDT: Even the Virgin of Guadalupe. A print is on display. The frame has been cut open to reveal the tightly wrapped packages inside. One of the last objects in this museum is a bright orange hookah in a glass case. At first it seems odd that a museum dedicated to the eradication of narco trafficking would display a water pipe like a work of art. But it’s here, says Montane, as a reminder of just who provides the fuel for the drug trade.
MALE VOICE 1: [interpreter] Everything that narco traffickers have, everything available to them comes from the money that comes from consumers.
JENNIFER SCHMIDT: And Montane says, with the help of that money drug traffickers are threatening the security of the nation. To drive home the point, the museum has placed a large plaque just beyond the exit. It bears the names of more than 600 soldiers who have died on duty since Mexico began fighting the drug cartels more than 30 years ago. For The World, I’m Jennifer Schmidt in Mexico City.
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