It was the killings that initially drew me to the idea of exploring the U.S.-Mexico border. According to government figures, there were 47,515 drug-related killings in Mexico between late 2006 and late 2012, though many experts put the death toll much higher. Every aspect of Mexican life is affected by organized crime and its endless struggle for control of the distribution of marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin. Most of the drugs are destined for the United States and Canada.
I began my field work in 2011. I crisscrossed the length of the U.S.-Mexico border, from Texas to California, travelling to places such as Laredo, Cuidad Juárez and Tijuana as well as down the Pacific coast to Culiacán, Sinaloa, home base to one of the country’s major organized-crime syndicates. In just one month, I covered more than 110 murders in Mexico. There’s no way of knowing how many of those deaths involved people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was at a crime scene once in Culiacán where the killers went into a medical clinic to shoot someone and ended up killing five bystanders as well.
What I learned is that Mexico is a land of extremes. You could be having a beer on a beach while just a few blocks away someone is dumping dead bodies. I saw heavily armed Mexican police who were unable to do much but mop up after multiple shootings. One day I heard a woman in Ciudad Juárez complain to police cleaning up a murder scene: She wanted them to open the road to traffic faster because she needed to get home to make dinner. It is well-known that some cartels kill before the 6 p.m. news so their hits will make the evening newscast.
As long as its justice system allows criminals to operate with impunity – which, after all I have witnessed and everyone I have interviewed, I have concluded it does – Mexico will continue to be rocked by the drug trade and its violence, no matter what economic gains the country makes.
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