Friends Can Also Betray You

Mexicans pay in blood for America's War on Drugs

The police ask, "Is there any electronic surveillance or closed-circuit TV at this house?"

He says, "No."

Miguel knows what the question means: If there is a security camera, they want to know so they can destroy the evidence.

Details

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.

He helps carry out the bodies. First, his mother wrapped in sheets. Then his father—he remembers thinking as he carries him of reproaching him for not having any security measures in the house. And, finally, his brother, el gordo, the fat one, wrapped in an old red bedspread. It is very hard to get him down the stairs. Miguel breaks down sobbing. He asks himself, "What happened here?" His family has just been annihilated by 35 gunshots fired at close range. While the state police are still at the house, they tell him they will send a special team of bodyguards.

No one asks him for a statement.

* * *

At the funeral home, Miguel makes arrangements. A reporter from La Jornada, a major left-of-center Mexico City daily that both he and his father had done work for, tells him he must get out of Veracruz if he wants to live. He remains at the funeral home all day, and just before dawn, he makes a quick trip to his parents' house with Vanessa, then his fiancee, to get some clothes. The bodyguards ride with them. On the way back to the funeral home, a taxi follows them for 15 blocks. The guard draws his gun and tells Miguel to speed through a red light at a roundabout, and they manage to lose the tail. They get back to the funeral home, and it is under 24-hour guard by Mexican Navy troops wearing ski masks and Veracruz state police. At the funeral, he writes down later, "A neighbor told me that he had seen three trucks and two people who had gone into my parents' house. Another neighbor told me she had heard shots and that for about a week before, she had seen a group of people on motorcycles who seemed to be watching. . . . She had heard them talking on their radios, saying, 'We are already here guarding the spot.'"

None of these neighbors give statements to the police.

Officials are at the graveside, the caskets lowered into the sand that is Veracruz. Navy vehicles escort the cortege. State dignitaries promise an investigation, justice and punishment. The ceremony is surrounded by soldiers. This does not make Miguel feel safe.

The day after the funeral, the security detail escorts him and Vanessa to the airport, and they flee the city where his father is famous, where he has spent his entire life. Miguel ponders the military precision he saw at the crime scene and the neighbors' whispered accounts of the killings.

He remembers opening the door to his brother's room that morning and wanting to say, "Wake up! Wake up!"

* * *

Miguel goes to the Mexico City headquarters of La Jornada. The editors give him a desk job because they do not think it is safe for him to be out on the street. Simply leaving Veracruz cannot protect him.

Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz, Milo Vela's reporting partner, is found at 4 a.m. on July 26. For the past month, she had been investigating Milo Vela's murder and had gone missing two days before. The body is dumped outside another Veracruz newspaper, Imagen, her head cut off. A message left with the corpse advises, "Friends can also betray you." The attorney general of Veracruz announces that this "unusual assassination was due to the fact that the woman and single mother maintained links with criminal gangs." He asserts her murder has nothing to do with her work as a journalist.

Miguel and Vanessa are paralyzed. For three days, they cannot leave their Mexico City apartment. They have entered a new phase of exile. First, they lose their native state. Now, they feel their nation slipping away. In Veracruz, 15 crime reporters flee the city. Gabriel Huge gets a call informing him he will be killed. He flees also.

Miguel had tasted threats before, as had his father. But things began to change in 2006, when the new president, Felipe Calderón, announced that he was hurling the Mexican army against drug organizations. Strange criminals suddenly appeared in Veracruz, guys who did not even know the streets, their reckless driving causing more car accidents. And killings. Miguel is covering a crime scene or accident, and someone shoves a gun in his mouth and lectures him on how he should do his job. Death threats mount.

One night in May 2010, a cop pulls Miguel over. Vanessa is riding along. The cop is hostile but allows Miguel to drive on. A few minutes later, the street is blocked by guys with AR-15s wearing federal police uniforms. They tell him, "Right now, you are going to get really fucked-up." ("Vas a ver, hijo de la chingada.") They take him, leaving the girl behind. They go behind a hotel, beating him all the way there.

At least four more vehicles arrive, and a man with one glass eye and the look of the boss gets out and tells him that what he was doing could get him killed. Miguel asks the man if he is a Zeta, and he nods. He asks Miguel if he wants to die, and Miguel says no. The man says, "Well, you can go this time, but the next time, we will kill you." They dump him where he was originally snatched. He calls his father, who advises him to not report the incident.

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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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