Friends Can Also Betray You

Mexicans pay in blood for America's War on Drugs

Miguel explains, "In Mexico, you learn to live with fear. You see bodies decapitated; you see police covered in blood. The fear just gets bigger and bigger. You see the decay of everything."

* * *

By July 2011, when Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz is butchered, she is the seventh Mexican reporter killed that year, the third in Veracruz.

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.

On Sept. 20, during the afternoon rush hour, two trucks block the viaduct by a high-end shopping mall in Boca del Rio, a suburb of Veracruz. Drivers watch men methodically dump 35 bodies, 12 of them women. The men then leave, and no one stops them and no police come. The bodies are marked with the letter Z to suggest they are members of Los Zetas, a criminal organization that began as a special military unit created by the Mexican government and trained by the United States to fight drug organizations. The unit was designed to be incorruptible. Almost immediately, the DEA began secret payments to the group. Eventually, its members left for the better employment benefits of the drug industry and became the Zetas. The dumped bodies in Boca del Rio are bound with plastic ties at the wrists and ankles, restraints only available to the police and army.

The official story, that the dead are Zetas, holds for a while and is widely reported in the U.S. press. Then it cracks. Reforma, a right-of-center pro-government paper, talks to the families of the dead and discovers they are mainly petty criminals, drug addicts and prostitutes, if they had any criminal records at all. These facts are hardly reported in the U.S. press and soon vanish from the press in Mexico for fear of repercussion.

Miguel gets reports in Mexico City. His friend and fellow photographer Guillermo Luna has a cousin who is walking to get a bag of ice in Boca del Rio on Sept. 16, Mexican Independence Day, when he sees some adolescents celebrating in the street. Police sweep in and take the kids.

A woman goes to the police station seeking her teenage son. She is told he is not in custody. Later, she learns his body is one of those dumped by the fashionable mall. A video circulates on the Internet from a group called the Zeta Killers. They wear masks and sit at a table and claim credit for the killing. Miguel learns that they are really former Veracruz policemen play-acting.

Miguel and Vanessa spend the rest of the year in limbo. The United States usually denies political asylum to Mexican reporters because to grant it would constitute an admission about the real nature of Mexico. They return to her grandparents' in Veracruz and hide. Then they fly to Reynosa, on the Texas border, and begin the paperwork for a U.S. visa. They return to Veracruz, get their car and fling themselves into a new land.

They go to Corpus Christi and end up in a cheap motel as their tiny hoard of cash dribbles away. They cannot legally work. They yearn for Mexico. At times, Miguel can hear his mother's voice.

* * *

The years passed, and at the beginning of the 1990s, my father left Notiver . . . above all because they were censoring some of his articles and his columns. . . . Then my father ended up without a job and went to work as a taxi driver, saying he knew the city perfectly from covering the news and it would be an easy job for him. 

* * *

In Corpus Christi, Miguel and Vanessa begin to learn English. Miguel remembers his father's admonition: "You have to do before you can be." So he begins traveling down this new path in the new year. January passes, and February and March, and then, on April 28, a tremor passes through their world.

* * *

Police find the body of Regina Martinez, 49, lying in the bathtub of her home in Xalapa, the capital of Veracruz state—strangled. She writes for Proceso, the most prestigious magazine in Mexico, a publication read by the educated and powerful and generally spared much government censorship so the state can point to it and claim a free press. She covered corruption and drug trafficking, and in 2007, she had written a well-known story on Mexican soldiers raping and killing an indigenous woman. She becomes the 40th reporter killed since Calderón took office in December 2006. The government of Veracruz suggests the killing was simply a robbery because two cell phones and her laptop are missing, precisely the items one would take if looking for her contacts.

"I didn't know her," Miguel says, "but I knew her reputation and her reporting on the abuses of officials. When my family was killed, I thought nothing can be worse than this. But when Regina was killed, I thought, 'They can do anything.'"

May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. Police in Veracruz find black, plastic garbage bags in a canal. They hold the chopped-up bodies of four people, three of them press. Guillermo Luna, whose cousin witnessed the abductions in September 2011, worked as a photographer at Notiver, as did Gabriel Huge, the man who had called Miguel the morning of his family's murder to tell him of the slaughter. Esteban Rodriguez also had been a photojournalist. Irasema Becerra was Gabriel's girlfriend. The three men had fled Veracruz in 2011 but returned in 2012 because they could not find work. Rodriguez had gone to work as an auto mechanic. None of this mattered. On the day of the kidnappings, just an hour before he was reported missing, Gabriel had gone to a cousin's house to ask her to care for his daughter should he vanish.

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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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