Friends Can Also Betray You

Mexicans pay in blood for America's War on Drugs

* * *

In the old, faded photograph, Miguel the son is 2 years old and sits at the keyboard of a telex wire machine in the newspaper office in Veracruz.

Milo Vela spent most of his career at Notiver, the daily paper of the port city of Veracruz. He covered crime, became a columnist and edited the police section. He taught his sons to not believe in political parties, since they all lied and were corrupt. He taught his sons that news was a calling. Sometimes, Miguel and his father would simply sit in a car outside the Red Cross center, waiting for an accident to be called in. They were newsmen.

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A MESSAGE FROM MICHAEL LACEY, EXECUTIVE EDITOR OF VILLAGE VOICE MEDIA:
The American press continues to report the body count in Mexico's "War on Drugs" at more than 50,000 dead.

But Molly Molloy, a researcher at New Mexico State University, tallies more than 100,000 Mexicans killed to wage a war financed and mandated by American authorities and led by Mexican president Felipe Calderón.

The carnage has been so remarkable--mass executions, beheadings, mutilations, men, women, children--that the outgoing Calderón has announced he may leave the country lest he become a statistic.

And yet The New York Times on July 4 declared the War on Drugs a cruel failure, claiming the price of cocaine, for example, is 74 percent cheaper now than it was 30 years ago. America has spent $20 billion to $25 billion per year to stem the flow of narcotics, to no good end.

The evening news vibrates with the mayhem in Syria, where the recent uprising has cost 17,000 lives. During the 12 years of the Vietnam War, broadcasts tracked the 50,000 Americans who perished on the other side of the world. But the 100,000 Mexicans lost supplying America's thirst for drugs are, for the most part, unremarked upon. Mexico elected a new president earlier this month. Enrique Peña Nieto promises to put an end to the killing, yet his only new proposal is to create another paramilitary force--like those implicated in much of the killing happening now.

Arizona author Charles Bowden and his New Mexico partner, Molloy, have written a highly personal tale of the devastation as illuminated by the trail of murdered Mexican journalists. Survivors have gathered at a barbecue in Texas, where the story unfolds.

* * *

Ever since I was a child, I remember that my father worked all day for the newspaper, Notiver. I only saw him sleeping while I was getting ready to go to school in the mornings because by the time I got home from school, it would be the next morning before I would see him again in bed. . . . I got to know his co-workers—among them, Yolanda Ordaz [de la Cruz], who covered the police beat. Nothing kept any of them from covering any kind of news. I remember once in the 1980s, Yolanda and my father were beaten up by federal police when they went to cover an intensive operation carried out in the area near the port—apparently something to do with securing a shipment of weapons.

* * *

In 2007, a severed head is delivered to a corner near the newspaper offices. Then a video appears on YouTube claiming that Milo Vela, his reporting partner, Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz—called the "fat black woman" in the video—and the son Miguel Angel take money from the criminal group called Los Zetas and go to parties with them. Everyone but the father flees the city of Veracruz temporarily.

The family home is brick, two stories and modern, with lots of windows, two blocks from the police station. Miguel's brother Misael, 21, lives at home and works as a photographer at Notiver. Miguel lives 10 minutes away and is also a photographer for the paper. They are given to family dinners and celebrations. On June 19, 2011, Miguel and Vanessa attend a Father's Day dinner and eat salpicón made with crab and a seafood stew.

There had been signs of trouble before the dinner. Something was bothering his father, but Miguel knew better than to ask. A week before, at the funeral for an uncle, he mentioned to his father the attack against another reporter.

His father said, "Don't worry."

Miguel noticed that for the past month, his father had begun calling him early each morning and again in the evening to make sure he was okay. A few days before the dinner, his father had a loud argument with the nephew of the governor over his paper's stories, and the morning after Father's Day, he had a column coming out that questioned the reputation of two candidates for chief of traffic police in Veracruz.

* * *

During his first term at Notiver in the 1980s, Milo Vela was attacked on his way home to sleep. I don't remember the date, but I do recall that his car was shot full of bullet holes. . . . I remember asking him once about what had happened and he didn't tell me much. "Well, I was driving down the Morelos bridge and passing the factory when these dark guys pulled out like 'bats out of hell (hechos la madre)' and I realized they were chasing me, so I sped up, but I saw they were going to catch up with me so I pulled over and jumped out of the car and ran toward the beach. . . ." This is all he told me, but then he turned around and said, "But, Miguel, this is all over now."

The call comes at 6 a.m. from a fellow photographer at the paper, Gabriel Huge, a man who survived a bad accident and rides a scooter to crime scenes and walks with a cane. He is also a man who does not back down: Miguel has photographs of a swarm of federal police in flak jackets surrounding him for taking pictures without their permission. In the images, his face looks fierce and empty of fear.

Gabriel says, "You need to come to the house. Something has happened."

When he arrives, the city police have taped off the residence.

Gabriel says, "They have killed your father, mother and brother."

Miguel walks up the stairs to the second floor. His mother is outside the door of the bedroom, face-down in a pool of blood. His father is propped in a sitting position on the bed, his face destroyed by bullets. Down the hall, Misael, known as el gordo in the family because of his weight, is face-down in blood. He is wearing yellow shorts his mother had made for him because it was hard to find clothes in his size. He has three rounds in the back of his neck and head. Miguel thinks of all the times he has come here early in the morning or late at night and tiptoed down the hall lest he wake anyone. He goes back into his parents' room, sits down in front of their bodies and says goodbye. He is weeping now.

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1 comments
kmckown58
kmckown58

I get confused by articles like this. It seems to imply that the "war on drugs" should be stopped instead of talking about how the war can be stepped up so that it is a war against (the violence caused by) the drug cartels and their friends in the government and local supporters. The fact that many government offices are either on their side or afraid of them should not mean that the war is dropped and they are allowed to do their business as they want does it? The fact that many government officials and police are accomplices is terrifying, how do we fight it? Surely it is not best to turn all of Mexico over to them? Even writing this silly comment is scary here.

 
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