Silvino is holding a trophy of a race.

The Film-Inspired Tragedy of Cross-Border Drug Runner Silvino Quimare

Silvino Cabesare Quimare - The Tarahumaran runner
Silvino Cabesare Quimare – The Tarahumaran runner – Credit: Remezcla

On October 2, 2010, Silvino Cubesare Quimare, a cross-border drug runner, arrived at Separ, a far-remote town in New Mexico. He is a middle-aged man, fairly tall, about 6 feet two, and doesn’t look fat, just robust. Also, he has a prominent chin and a bony face that in repose often makes one think of a hawk. Moreover, he has a boyish quality, along with sunburnt skin due to years of laboring under the scorching sun. At the moment, he was striding in an abandoned town with two bags: one containing 20kg of marijuana bricks and the other including food and drinks. These supplies were enough for him to last one more week in the ghost area, Mexico.

Silvino Cubesare Quimare is the protagonist of a truth-based story whose life is full of danger and challenges. The story of a cross-border drug runner describes how he dealt with difficulties in finance and how to have narrow escapes from capture or death. More than that, he could survive in the fatal moment on the path of drug smuggling. Not only is an account full of actions, but a story of emotion and pity. What is Silvino Cubesare Quimare?

The Tarahumara

Tarahumara Tribe is running in a game
Tarahumara Tribe is running – Credit:

The Tarahumara is known for being the best long-distance runner. Villages suffer from no electricity and running water but are full of ex-felons who are cross-border drug runners in Northwestern Mexico. In addition, their land and climate conditions are very severe for living on farming, and they fared far worse. In their history, the Spanish emperors arrived in this region. They had established mines in this territory and made the inhabitants slaves to work for their mines. The Tarahumara is believed to originate from the Mongolian culture.

Later, the territory split into two groups. The first one or the lower missions moved into the general Christian population, and most of them lost their original identity. And, the other went to war under the leadership of Tepóraca to expel the Jesuits and the Spanish setters from this region. Finally, the Tarahumara failed in a war against the Spanish. The failure leading to running away from the enemy developed their ability to run.

Athletic skills of a cross-border drug runner

Tarahumaran Runner in a cornfield
Tarahumara Runner – Credit@Natural Running Center

The meaning of the Tarahumara word is “runners on foot” or “fast runners.” However, this interpretation doesn’t get full agreement. With a largely dispersed community, these people improved their skills for long-distance running, up to 200 miles in two days just across their homeland. As a result, they developed the skill of running through inter-village communication, transportation, and hunting wild animals. In terms of hunting, they hunted with arrows and bows. Furthermore, they usually run down deer or wild turkeys.

The Tarahumara is well-known for its incredible running skills, which have drawn the attention of smuggling cartels. They have exploited these skills, forcing the Tarahumara people or cross-border drug runners to ferry drugs into the U.S across the border. This is a means to help these skilled runners to make money to escape from misery. However, it leads them to a guilty road, facing a life sentence or penalty in the U.S.

Traditional ritual

Silvino was born in the remote village of Huisuchi, in the far-distant Sierra Madre mountains of northern Mexico. Traditionally, villagers ran as a form of religious rituals, such as celebrating the crop harvest. The ceremony was a race in which every member of two teams kicked a little wooden ball across a rocky trail. Two teams made energy juice from corn some days before the race to use as a post-race treatment.

When one team won a game, the others hailed them as champions and treated them with a fermented drink. It was a window of opportunity for all people to drink for joy. This is a big ceremony in the year to dance, sing, eat, and drink.

A life full of ups and downs

Life in the Tamahumara
Life in the Tamahumara – Credit: Texas Monthly

One year, the village had suffered from a drought for months; the rain had not fallen in cornfields for a long time. Therefore, all the villagers and children did a ritual, praying for rain by dancing in the open air and tossing handfuls of water towards the sky. Although they earnestly asked their god for a miracle, the relief was out of their reach. By the spring, many cornfields were burned, leading to starvation in some areas. As a result, Silvino’s family had incurred misery. He had four children and a wife who depended upon his income. Because this year was in drought, he didn’t get any corn crop in the field. The family’s burden was on his shoulders. Although he had the strength and health to do hard work, nobody wanted to hire him; they were in need.

Drug cartels

Mexico arrested an alleged drug cartel boss
Mexico arrested an alleged drug cartel boss – Credit: Voice of America.

When Mexican cartels identified an opportunity for a different form of international trade, they made an effort to look for cross-border drug runners. The mission was to ferry drugs to selected drop-off points in New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. The Tarahumara tried to avoid contact with others, but poverty and hunger forced them to work for narco cartels. Cartel recruiters searched in the gas stations, plazas, and markets in Mexican towns to find cross-border drug runners. They bought some clothes like jeans and T-shirts for those being clad in traditional loincloths. Therefore, the Tamahumaran runners didn’t get the attention of the border guards. They were literal drug runners as they could not only cover unbelievable distances but were desperate enough to carry out a mission.

High-risk journey

One day, Silvino’s cousins came up with an idea to make money when everyone was in a financial problem. They suggested that he took advantage of running skills to ferry drugs across borders. It was an easily paying job for Silvino at the moment, particularly because he didn’t have any solution to feed a five-member family. In addition to running skills, he knew the canyons or river bends in space the way urban residents know every corner of a street. And he had lots of experience of ferrying drugs to drop-off points. They strongly believed he was talented enough to carry out a drug-related mission without any errors.

Experiences of a cross-border drug runner

Along with him, six cousins and nephews shouldered the same amount of drugs as his one. They were tramping quietly on an old copper mining trail, ancient railroad track, and a one-time trading post. When they took a break for rest, Silvino told his cousins that when his farmland was influenced by persistent drought, he decided to sign up to carry drugs. Only did he get paid upon the completion of a mission. The year 2005 was his first time to accept an illegal offer to throw marijuana onto the back of a truck not far from El Paso. For the second time, he arrived at a majestic hotel near Las Cruces, New Mexico.

In February 2007, while taking up the third mission to carry three backpacks of 194 pounds, Border Patrol agents identified him and two companions hiding in bushes. Without hesitation, he left his companions to run as fast as possible. It was too late because the guards made a blockage in a large area. He seemed to be a little fish in a big net. Subsequently, he was sentenced to eight months in prison. After eight months, he got freedom but couldn’t come back home immediately.

The Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Office left him in Juarez, and he didn’t have enough money to buy a bus ticket home. Luckily, he met an old friend who lent him some money to buy a bus ticket for Janos, the first town on a long journey back to his home village. He worked on a farm, picking chiles, to earn the bus fare to Chihuahua City. Finally, he got to Huisuchi after earning money by making cheese in a factory.

When going back to his home village, he promised his wife that he would never touch drugs again. By 2010, the village had suffered a drought, leading to a lack of food for the family. Even though his wife begged him to avoid this kind of business, he kept doing drug business full of high risk. The drug cartel would pay Silvino and his cousins 15,000 pesos (around $825) in just a week if they completed a job. This amount of money was worth what he earned from three months of labor on the farm.

Now they were striding through the dark in New Mexico. To escape the strict control of border guards in the mornings, they hid in creosote bushes to sleep for a while and concealed their bags within reach. They tramped north towards the freeway at night to keep away from rattlesnakes, coyotes, and particularly the patrol of guards. They came close then, only a few hours from their final destination. Ahead of them, they saw the lights of highways or a city far away. Thus, they knew they were approaching their drop-off or their final destination. At that moment, it was before midnight as they planned.

Suddenly, they saw the spotlights and dogs’ barks approaching them. The Border Patrol had identified them and made a circle of guards arrest them. Just at a wink, Silvino threw his bags into a dyke and ran without seeing behind. One more time in prison, he thought. The image of a federal prison obsessed his mind. At the moment, he did his best to escape the police capture at any cost. Also, the image of the wife and children awaiting the return of the husband encouraged and granted him more strength and energy.

A narrow escape from capture

He thought about what would happen to the whole family if he was sentenced to federal prison. With these thoughts, he ran faster and faster. Unexpectedly, an agent rode an old bike to tear after him while the rest scattered. An idea came to his mind; he headed for the mountains where the tall grey peaks and dry basins exist. It would be harder for border guards to arrest him. Looking behind, he saw his cousin following him closely but couldn’t wait.

After a while, Silvino heard the noise of the old bike fading. He knew he had a narrow escape from the guards’ capture. But to make sure, he kept on running without a stop for rest. The following day, he slept in the morning and ran the rest of the day. Crossing ghost desert valleys, he found nothing to eat, only runoff water. With the experience of cross-border drug carrying, he survived in a harsh condition. He arrived at Ascension, where he received the drugs, while his other companions gave up the hardship. He did one hundred miles alone.

An opportunity for a new life

Finally, Silvino grabbed new opportunities arising from the attention generated by a magazine. It featured the second-to-none running skills of the Tarahumara, which drew interest from marathon organizers all over the world. They received regular invitations to race. After his narrow escape from the federal sentence, Silvino wanted to change his life by taking part in many famous races. As a result, he ranked second in an ultramarathon in Austria and first in over half a dozen countries. Thanks to the competition, Silvino built a small house for his family and another for his parents and siblings in the countryside. Also, he repaired an old truck to carry his harvest to a market to sell.

Later, Silvino secured a job as a manager for chia cultivation for 400 pesos or $20 per day. He worked for 64-year-old American Mickey Mahaffey, who had worked with the Tarahumara for decades, and married Carmen, Silvino’s younger sister. Mickey had a deal with an energy-bar company in Richmond, Virginia, growing eight acres of chia. In addition to farming, Silvino wanted to attend races organized in the U. S but couldn’t due to his arrest record. He stuck to races near his homeland. An ultramarathon in Cerocahui was a four-thousand-foot ascent to a road. In this competition, two mid-twenty-age runners were his competitors in a contest for a prize worth 14,000 pesos or $765. Coincidentally, it was nearly the ongoing payment for ferrying drugs across the border.


Silvino's family life in the rural
Silvino’s family life in the countryside – Credit: Asobolife

In the morning, under the sunshine, Silvino drives low gear down a sloped hill in Urique towards chia fields to oversee a group of laborers. He listens to traditional Tarahumara songs from a USB pen connected to a CD player on a bumpy road. This is a wistful melody reserved for occasions of relaxation. He returns to the chia fields after having breakfast with his wife and children. Sometimes, thinking of his past full of high risks, dangers, or ups and downs, he can’t believe he survived and lived all in one piece up to now. And a happy life down the road in his mind.

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