Texas Book Festival — San Antonio Edition
Interview with Hipolito Acosta
Published: April 10, 2013
I recall something about you being in a Juárez jail?
I was working a case on a smuggler by the name of Carlos Dominguez. And I had actually led the arrest of nine of his drivers the day before in El Paso. I ended up going back into Juárez because Carlos Dominguez hadn't come across. I took a chance and met up with him and got back into his confidence. Ultimately we went to do a heroin deal with individuals that turned out to be Mexican cops. Me and another agent were arrested with Carlos Dominguez and his guys and put in a Mexican jail there in Ciudad Juárez. We were actually placed in the same cell with Carlos Dominguez and all his cohorts, and while we were in there the officials decided to tell them that we were agents of the American government. Of course, that created a lot of tension inside the jail. I had a good feeling that if we did not get ourselves out of that particular situation – well, things were getting real tense because Carlos Dominguez was being encouraged by all the people with him to pounce on us inside the jail. There were quite a few of them, and just two of us.
The guards blew me off. But I finally talked to the guy in charge of the jail that night. I said, “You know what's gonna happen if you keep me in this jail in the same cell. They're gonna beat us to death.” I told him, “If we get killed inside the jail, it's gonna be on you. It's gonna be big problems for you.” He basically told me I could go to hell. And so they put me back in the cell briefly, but apparently he listened. A little while later, we got placed in a different cell, away from those guys that wanted to kill us.
The book suggests the US conducted these various undercover operations without the knowledge or blessing of the local authorities. What was the reaction of the Mexican government when they found out?
Well, we're talking about a different era. Certainly things were sensitive. We respect the sovereignty of Mexico, but we also realized that there was a lot of activity that was ongoing and that officials in Mexico knew what was going on. There was a lot of them that participated in those activities, whether narcotics trafficking or human smuggling. It wasn't a secret. So, in many situations, I wasn't going to inform the Mexican authorities that we were working in Mexico. And I understand that there's a lot of sensitivity in doing that. The incident of me being arrested in Ciudad Juárez reached the level of the U.S. ambassador in Mexico City. But they were able to work it out quietly. If that incident happened today, I think it would be huge. The Mexican government and their representatives are very sensitive about their sovereignty, very concerned about it. In my experience, though, they often used it as a way to stop our investigations.
What's the difference between coyotes, smugglers, and how they operated back when you were working and now?
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