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 wrote for Proceso, the most prestigious magazine in Mexico, a publication read by the educated and powerful and generally spared much government censorship so that the state can point to it and claim a free press. She covered corruption and drug trafficking, and in 2007 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."

An all-too-common scene in Veracruz.
Miguel Angel Lopez Solana
An all-too-common scene in Veracruz.
Miguel Angel Lopez Velasco, aka Milo Vela, his wife, Agustina Solana, and son Miguel Angel Lopez Solana
Miguel Angel Lopez Velasco, aka Milo Vela, his wife, Agustina Solana, and son Miguel Angel Lopez Solana

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.

Three weeks later, on May 31, Noel López Olguín surfaces from a secret grave in Veracruz. He'd disappeared on March 8, when men in SUVs took him away. He worked for La Verdad de Jáltipan, a rural paper in the state of Veracruz, and wrote a column exposing official corruption and often attacking drug people by name. After his kidnapping, some media in Veracruz denied he'd ever worked for them. The exhumed body is photographed, caked with dark-brown earth.

Miguel realizes he will never feel safe in Mexico again. For him, he explains, it is like a sheet of white paper that you crumple in your hand: No matter how hard you try to iron it, it will always show the wrinkles.

He says, "I no longer have trust in anybody or anything."

A few days later it is Memorial Day, and Carlos Spector hosts that party at his home in El Paso, and Miguel and Vanessa drive across Texas to eat and drink with the other dead men and dead women walking.

"I am an orphan now," Miguel says.

He clicks through photographs on his computer: his family and mother beaming; his brother, el gordo, laughing and acting out; the huge carnival in Veracruz each year just before Lent; the beach; the laughter of life.

He dreams of a family dinner, and in this dream his father looks up and says, "Miguel, it is OK to leave us behind now."


Since January 1, 2007, more than 100,000 people have been murdered in Mexico, according to the government. The last official release, in January 2012, said that "drug-related" or "organized crime-related" homicides totaled 47,500 through September 2011. Media estimates since have ranged from 50,000 to 80,000.

No one knows or will ever know the real death toll. Officially, the government says that 90 percent of the dead are criminals. Officially, the government admits it has investigated fewer than 5 percent of the deaths. No one knows what percentage of the homicides can be attributed to fighting between rival organized crime gangs, fighting between law enforcement and/or military and drug gangs, or fighting among different law enforcement and/or military groups. Many murder victims are retail drug sellers and other petty street criminals killed on the job or for other reasons. Some of the dead are disposable people — drug addicts, prostitutes, transvestites, migrants, street kids and others deemed human garbage who become victims of social cleansing, or limpieza social. A Mexican Senate document reveals the existence of government-sponsored death squads linked to some of the mass executions in recent years.

There is one solid fact: more than 100,000 new corpses. Calderón boasts that 90 percent of the dead are criminals — his government does not investigate the murders, and then it makes up reasons for the murders.

This is a characteristic of the slaughtered in Mexico: Officially, they deserved it. The bodies of dead reporters and photographers are still warm when the government begins insinuating they were actually mixed up in organized crime: "He [or she] was sucio [dirty]." Case closed.

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My Voice Nation Help
15 comments
crew
crew

Why does Mexico have an army anyway...a fear of invasion?

cesar39nt
cesar39nt

if they took up arms against their oppressors as we did in 1776 then their problem would be what do we do with our freedom, instead they run away hide and complain about the violence? and expect America to fix it? we have enough of our own problems when you fix ours begining with illeagel immigration then we might be willing to listen to your complaints

Humanbeing
Humanbeing

Was it the war on drugs that killed all of these people or was it the drug war that killed these people?

trudat
trudat like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

 @Humanbeing

 ...what's the difference?.... If the business of trading in these various commodities was legal and regulated (as is tobacco and tequila), would these gangs be viciously killing innocent men, women and children in the streets of Mexico?  The prohibition drug policies of the world have not improved our quality of life.  Instead; those who are willing to destroy peace and tranquility have been allowed to advance their agenda of death, destruction and evil. 

 

It's past time for a major change in world wide drug policies.

Humanbeing
Humanbeing like.author.displayName 1 Like

Maybe it is time for some change. But the fact of the matter is the drugs are not legal right now and won't be for in the near future. I don't see any organized movement to legalize them as of yet anyways. And until they are legal, maybe people should take an ounce of personal responsibility for their actions. The fact of the matter is that if you are currently using drugs that have come through Mexico you are the end consumer in a business model that has brutally killed tens of thousands of people. You have have blood on your hands. Everyone just goes to the "they should legalize it" line. It's a cop out and it's selfish. Take some responsibility for yourself the effects your actions have on the world.

trudat
trudat

 @Humanbeing

 Although it will not solve every problem, legalization and regulation will be a clear improvement of the situation.  And just so you know, I support legalization for the worldwide effects that it would have - not the personal/selfish effect.  I am not an illegal  "drug" user.  And if you would look around, you might find a few organizations that are having degrees of success in their legalization efforts . As a matter of fact, the Texas Democratic Party put legalization on its' party platform this year. It appears to me that somebody is taking responsibility and showing initiative in a good way on this issue.

Humanbeing
Humanbeing

 @123blowme I have no connection to the alcohol industry and I didn't single out pot users. The question is, do you think a legalized industry of hard drugs would lead to more or less deaths than the current alcohol industry. I would argue that it would be worse.

123blowme
123blowme

 @Humanbeing  Do you work for the alcohol industry?  More people die each year due to alcohol-related death and violence than all drug cartel killings combined over the past five years.   So yeah, pot users may have blood on their hands but not near as much as boozers.

AnnaGoAnna
AnnaGoAnna

Enough of the handwringing.  Legalize drugs in a regulatory fashion starting w/ marijuana.

AtomAunt
AtomAunt

 "The United States walls off Mexico on national-security grounds and then decries imaginary violence spilling north across the border".  Was a pretty good article until that kneeslapper. How's the weather in your world Senor Bowden?

trudat
trudat like.author.displayName 1 Like

Words that attempt to describe the catastrophic disaster that is taking place across the border will always be insufficient.  The problems that are coming from the mindset that brings on drug use and drug wars should be addressed by an international summit and task force.  Public policy that will turn the habits of the worlds population into assets as opposed to liabilities is necessary right now!  I am encouraged that the Texas Democratic Party has included the legalization of marijuana in its' party platform this year.  This is a good first step toward solving the problems brought on by the stupidity of drug interdiction policies. Drug interdiction policies do not work and cost too much money and waste too many lives.  Its past time that people in this country try a new approach to this problem.

devildog943
devildog943 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

One thing that could work to greatly reduce drug-related crime; legalize drugs in the US, regulate strength and purity and sell them OTC to adults, applying 'sin' taxes as is presently done to alcohol and tobacco.

This is unlikely to happen for several reasons; inertia, the money to be made by the 'justice' and penal systems from prohibition, and outright bribes to legislators to maintain the status quo.

Bitterclinger
Bitterclinger like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 4 Like

Been a Bowden fan for years. His research and writing on the morass that is Mexico today is very interesting and enlightening. What does amaze me is the utter ignorance in the States about what is truly going on in Mexico now.  I was visiting Jalisco last month, a relatively safe state, and had the opportunity to meet with Mexicans that live above the poverty line and they all said they are truly scared about the random nature of the violence. They are more frightened by the military, state and local police than they are the Zeta's or other narco's.

 

The shear volume of bodies in many of the mass killings in the last couple years is astonishing.

 

How does a band of criminals kidnap, torture and dismember 50 people and dump the body parts  on a major urban highway during rush hour with no one noticing it.

 

Hijacking full buses traveling through Tamaulipis and killing people 20 to 30 at a time. 70 migrants lined up and shot dead in a barn near San Fernando.

 

The videos of people being decapitated while still alive. The killing of innocent family members on video to extort money.

 
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