Sandra Rodriguez, an award-winning reporter in Ciudad Juárez, the city with the highest murder rate in all of Mexico, studied more than 3,000 homicide case files from 2010 and 2011. Most files contain only the forensic description of the bodies, a catalog of the ballistic remains and a note about the weapons used. If a witness is interviewed at all, the only question is, "What did the victim do?" And there is always something that will be construed as a link to organized crime and so ends the investigation. Rodriguez's study also showed that in only 2 percent of the cases were weapons found near the victims' bodies. So the state claims the dead were cartel members, but if so, they were gangsters who refused to carry weapons.

The slaughter in Mexico has several other characteristics. People hang corpses off bridges, dump bodies on busy streets, move with death squads through major cities and no one ever sees them or sees anything. The U.S. press seems baffled by these feats. Mexicans are not. They know that the only entities able to move so freely and kill so publicly are the army and the police or criminals cooperating with them. They know that many, if not most, of the killings are by the Mexican state against Mexicans. Miguel, for example, thinks that at most, 30 percent of the dead are killed by drug organizations in a fight for business.

The kidnapped are almost never reported because in many parts of Mexico, the police finance themselves through kidnapping. Those who are taken (levantados) almost never return and are not counted among the dead. The bodies that turn up in mass graves are seldom counted, either, because the government says it is too hard to assign the corpses to the proper year. In Sinaloa, the key drug state on the west coast of Mexico, the governor announced in May that he suddenly had discovered ghost villages in the Sierra Madre, apparently emptied of all human beings without anyone in government noticing.

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

All of this death is the real violence spilling across the border, and it spills south, not north. The United States sends about $500 million annually to fund Mexico's security forces through legislation called the Merida Initiative. The Mexican army, officially tasked with killing drug people, has lost fewer than 200 soldiers in about six years, while tens of thousands of other Mexicans have perished. There may be no safer job in the world than being a Mexican soldier assigned to fight the drug industry. And there may be no more dangerous job in the world than to be a reporter or photographer assigned to cover this war.


Sara Salazar watches the children play in the pool at Carlos Spector's home as the evening shadows grow and the desert heat lingers. Spector sits with a glass of wine talking to family members about what they must do to make the world know of the killing fields of Mexico. The old woman is silent. There is a famous photograph of her at the funeral of her daughter and son. The coffins sit side by side, and Sara, with her gray hair, ancient face and black trench coat, reels backward, arms outstretched over her dead. A kinsman catches her. Her mouth is open, and in the photograph you can hear the scream roll out over the valley and across the Rio Grande into the United States. Mexican reporters asked her at the time if she felt guilty for getting her children involved in politics now that they had been murdered for their activism. The press knew better than to investigate who killed her children. There were 500 soldiers at the burial, guarding the remaining Reyes Salazar family members. None helped to dig the graves.

Protest is in the family blood. The father, a baker, got involved in politics after 300 students were murdered by the government in 1968 and many more disappeared in Mexico City on the eve of the Olympics. The family became Communists or joined other facets of the left in Mexico. In 2008, daughter Josefina Reyes, a longtime human-rights activist in the Juárez Valley, protested after her son was kidnapped. She told interviewer Julian Cardona,"Now you see all these big billboards, 'We [the army] have come to help you' — but it isn't true. They have come to pillage us, to ransack our homes. They take the food in the refrigerator, jewelry, anything ... and they destroy property. It is not a secret who they are."

Josefina leads demonstrations, and eventually her son is released. But he is arrested again in 2009 and charged by federal officials in Mexico with being part of a drug organization based in the Juárez Valley. He is imprisoned in another state in Mexico and has not been tried. Another son of Josefina's, Julio Cesar, is taken a year later by unknown parties and killed. Josefina blames the army for her son's death. Rumors spread that he also was involved in drugs. Some members of the family leave Guadalupe and try to establish their bakery business in another town about 100 miles away. On January 3, 2010, Josefina walks into a restaurant in Guadalupe. Men approach, some in uniform, and shoot her multiple times. Army vehicles are parked outside. Six months later, her brother Ruben is killed. He had continued to speak out to the media, calling the military to account for the attacks on his family and others in Guadalupe.

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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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