Incarcerated Rarámuri Population in U.S. Doubles as Narcos Exploit the Runners to Smuggle Drugs

Lead Photo: The feet of a Tarahumara girl are seen in Guachochi November 30, 2011. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez.
The feet of a Tarahumara girl are seen in Guachochi November 30, 2011. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez.
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We’ve often written about the amazing accomplishments of Mexico’s indigenous Rarámuri (Tarahumara) runners, a community that has excelled in running competitions world-wide despite the great adversities they face in their daily lives. But like many Mexicans living in extreme poverty, they too have fallen victims to the terrible consequences associated with the drug trade.

Capitalizing on the Raramuri’s ancestral running abilities, narcos have been recruiting them to smuggle drugs across the desert into the United States. In fact, according to Mexican newspaper El Universal, the number of Rarámuri jailed in the United States for drug smuggling has doubled from 50 to 100.

The El Universal feature paints a heartbreaking picture of a community that has been preyed upon and exploited, and who are now paying the price with extremely punitive jail sentences. Consider the case of Juanito, a 15-year-old boy who was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being caught smuggling 15 kilos of marijuana in Alpine, Texas. The drug traffickers who hired Juanito promised to give him a pair of New Balance running shoes as payment and told him that he wouldn’t be sentenced to jail if he told authorities he didn’t speak Spanish.

We have seen that even successful Tarahumara runners are often neglected by authorities and society, so it goes without saying just how invisible the Rarámuri people found guilty of drug smuggling can be in both the national and international consciousness. So while this story will not brighten anyone’s day, it’s definitely worth checking out, especially as the debate about the effectiveness of the War on Drugs continues today.

Read El Universal’s full feature in Spanish, here, and in English here.