By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
In the narco world, animals and drugs have a symbolic relationship. The late Tijuana cartel bosses Benjamin and Ramon Arellano-Félix went by their panda-like nicknames, “El Min” and “El Mon,” and their brother Javier, who is still at large, is known as “El Tigrillo.” And then there’s the animalization of the drugs themselves. A popular narcocorrido by Los Tucanes de Tijuana (the Toucans of Tijuana) is titled “Mis Tres Animals,” a reference to a common narco code: Parakeets are cocaine, roosters are marijuana, and goats are heroin. “I live off my three animals,” Los Tucanes sang, “who I love like my own life. With them, I earn my money and I don’t even have to buy them food. They are very fine animals: my parakeet, my rooster and my goat.”
It’s been suggested that in Hank’s world, the relationship between animals and drugs is as real as it is symbolic. The controversial 1999 White Tiger Report, a Department of Justice document named for Hank’s love of white tigers, linked Hank to the Tijuana cartel. “Jorge is more openly criminal than either his father or his brother,” the report read, “and is regarded as ruthless, dangerous, and prone to violence.” Though the report was denounced as inconclusive and not legally binding by Attorney General Janet Reno (and vehemently refuted by the Hank family), it nevertheless fed the long-whispered rumors of Hank’s ties to the international drug economy.
More than a decade earlier, reporter Héctor “Gato” Félix Miranda — a former friend of Hank’s — had begun looking into allegations of Hank’s shady affiliations and party-boy drug use in his popular columns for the leading Tijuana weekly Zeta. In 1988, he was gunned down. Hank’s bodyguard and a Caliente security guard were convicted of the murder. Hank was never formally charged, though every week since then Zeta editor J. Jesus Blancornelas, who co-founded the paper with Félix in 1980, has run a full-page ad accusing Hank of ordering the hit and demanding that the state governor bring criminal charges: “Jorge Hank Rhon: Por qué me asesino tu guardaespaldas Antonio Vera Palestina?” Why did your bodyguard Antonio Vera Palestina assassinate me?
When you talk to people in Tijuana about Hank, you hear this word a lot. From housewives to taxi drivers, from painters to accountants, it echoes across the city, like it’s his first name. Supuestamente Hank. The proven facts are few. The rumors are endless, and often extreme, and nobody hesitates to share.
Supuestamente Hank kills one of his tigers every three months to eat its testicles and put tiger bile in his tequila.
Supuestamente Hank didn’t steal Maria Elvia Amaya from one of his best friends, he traded a hotel for her.
Supuestamente after the Arellano-Félix assassins knocked off Cardinal Posadas at the Guadalajara airport in 1995, it was not just a coincidence that Hank was also in first class on the same Aeromexico flight back to Tijuana.
Supuestamente Hank cross-breeds his animals and keeps a liontis, a lion crossed with a tiger, on the grounds of his zoo.
Supuestamente, anyone who looks at a white tiger for too long will end up dead.
In a way, it’s perfect. Tijuana is the most mythologized city in Mexico. La leyenda negra. The donkey shows. The 18-and-over party that never ends. Sodom and Gomorrah with U.S. parking lots. The happiest place on earth.
In that sense, Hank might be the ultimate Tijuana mayor, a hybrid of myth and reality ruling a city that relies on the misunderstanding between the two for its economic vitality. Who better than Hank to rule a city that has Juan Soldado, a convicted murderer and rapist, as its unofficial saint? Who better than a gambling boss and animal trafficker with alleged narco ties to run a city inextricably bound up in NAFTA economies of drugs and tourism?
California, after all, was born of terrifying myth in the daydreaming bowels of the European imagination. In the 15th century, European cartographers believed it was an island of dread and magic, full of elephants, tigers and single-breasted black Amazonian women armed with weapons of shimmering gold. In Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo’s 1510 epic The Labors of the Very Brave Knight Esplandian, the island of California was imagined as a kind of “terrestrial paradise” populated by ferocious beasts and gangs of griffins, mythical creatures that combined the head of an eagle with the body and tail of a lion.
The current cartographic common sense is to point out just how wrong these early mapmakers who influenced Columbus and Cortes were, when in fact, they weren’t that wrong at all — California ended in a peninsula surrounded by water and tiny islands. Twenty-million years ago, water pried Mexico in two and forced an 800-mile long finger of land on its northwestern edge to break off from the hulking mainland. It hung on at the top, in the middle of the Sonoran desert, and kicked west out into one half of a dry and hilly wishbone that stretched for nearly 60 thousand square miles south.
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