Me and the Mexican Drug War

“The tacit but unwavering tolerance that Mexican authorities have shown for the drug trade over the years has muddled the boundaries between outlaws and officials. When Miguel Angel Martínez was working for Chapo, he says, “everyone” in the organization had military and police identification. Daylight killings are sometimes carried out by men dressed in police uniforms, and it is not always clear, after the fact, whether the perpetrators were thugs masquerading as policemen or actual policemen providing paid assistance to the thugs. On those occasions when the government scores a big arrest, meanwhile, police and military officials pose for photos at the valedictory news conference brandishing assault weapons, their faces shrouded in ski masks, to shield their identities. In the trippy semiotics of the drug war, the cops dress like bandits, and the bandits dress like cops.”—New York Times, “How a Mexican Drug Cartel Makes its Billions”

My obsession with sociological wackiness continues: First (and still, really), it was Scientology with Inside Scientology. Then I was astounded at the revelations about Mormonism in Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven. (Honestly, up until that point, I’d thought Mormonism akin to, say, Presbyterianism.) Now, having read all the feature-length articles I could find online, I find myself plowing through the life of a Mexican cartel hitman in El Sicario.

It must’ve been in the last year or so when the topic of Mexican drug cartels caught my attention. Rolling Stone did an article about a (relatively) small-time but incredibly violent American-born cartel boss called “El Barbie” (for his Ken-like looks, heh). Then there was a story in Time about narcorridos, the folk/pop songs dedicated to praising various drug lords—and often commissioned by the drug lords themselves. (And in some cases, costing the musicians their lives for being associated with one group or another.) Our plowing through five seasons of Breaking Bad probably helped fan the flames. And woven all throughout, the news stories of bodies, mutilated and displayed in horrifically creative ways. Complete and utter chaos. A nightmare, but on the wrong side of consciousness.

I think about that scene in Apocalypse Now where, in the middle of the night, they come across an isolated Army outpost on the river. There’s a protracted firefight going on, a sort of steady plod of explosions and bursts of gunfire, but in between, you can hear a Viet Minh guy somewhere in the darkness of the surrounding forest, shouting taunts at the Americans over a loudspeaker. In a foxhole, Martin Sheen comes across this soldier who’s manic with firing grenades back at the voice. Sheen finally manages to ask, “Excuse me, I’m looking for your commanding officer?” And the guy stops his whole whirlwind and looks dead at Sheen: “Ain’t it you?!”

A fascinating, horrifying madness. I dunno, I guess this is how I get my thrills instead of roller coasters.

It’s timely too, I guess: Felipe Calderon, whose presidential term ends this winter, is largely faulted for the incredible uptick in violence—more than 50,000 cartel-related deaths in six years. His military-led crackdown on the cartel leaders, which began shortly after he came to power in 2006, is said to have created violent power-struggles where before, at least, the various factions had come to a sort of grudging balance.

Now, the cartels-in-flux use conspicuously displayed mutilated corpses to show their power and fearlessness, to try to scare the other guys away. And thousands more people are killed and buried, or dissolved in acid. It’s easier to kill someone than to let them go, and anyone can be killed and proclaimed an enemy later. And everyone is fair game.

Anyway, it’s Friday afternoon, and my brain is swirling with information about Sinaloa and La Familia, Zetas and Mata Zetas, cops on the kidnapping task force who are the ones doing the kidnapping, and 12-year-olds who pose for pictures with M-16s and corpses; shootings and beheadings and some seriously, seriously fucked up approaches to torture. I’m trying to reconstruct a mindset that would allow people to live amid all of that stuff, never mind participate in it.

Um, so…yeah. That’s where I’m at. Uh…have a happy weekend! Watch out for psychopaths!

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1 Comment

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One response to “Me and the Mexican Drug War

  1. Despite living less than an hour from the border I haven’t set foot in Mexico in years. A member of my string quartet said a couple weeks ago he was headed across the border a to get a little cheap dental work done. So much wrong in that plan.

    Now I have to read that book..

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