Posts Tagged ‘drug war’
I got back last week from another trip to el DF. It was warm, comforting, and just a little unfamiliar. Here’s a short piece I did for NewYorker.com on my stay there.
Photo via The New Yorker
Julián Cardona, a Mexican photojournalist from Ciudad Juarez, has become storied for his gritty yet haunting photos of drug-related violence and the effects of globalization in northern Mexico and on the U.S.-Mexico border. He has been called both an artist and a storyteller, a skilled photographer who is giving Americans and Mexicans alike an inside view of what is like to actually live in a town that has also become storied for all the wrong reasons. Some of his latest work is featured in Vanity Fair.
“This was no voyeur trying to capture the grotesque. This was no circus. This was a photographer trying to convey what his landscape was like. These were photographs of home.” – Benjamin Alire Saenz, curator of the CUE Art Foundation, on Julián Cardona
Photos via Vanity Fair
“The apparent indifference of U.S. authorities to the many accusations of torture made against Leyzaola (Tijuana police chief) is somehow less puzzling. It is essential that the police start kicking ass in Mexico, and what’s a bit of waterboarding between friends, particularly in a national-security crisis?”
–from an earlier draft of this compelling, illuminating story on Tijuana in this week’s The New Yorker by William Finnegan.
(Subscription required to read the entire piece. And, sadly, that last line was mostly cut.)
Photo via The New Yorker
Mexico is a complicated place when it comes to a lot of things, especially violence. When I passed through security at the airport in New York on my way here, the security agent looked at my boarding pass and told me to “be careful.” When I entered New York back in April from Mexico City, the customs man asked me why in the world would “I want to go to such a dangerous place.” I tried to explain to both that Mexico City is actually not more dangerous than, say, New York or Washington, DC and that most of the violence is concentrated on the border, but my words went over their heads. To most Americans, Mexico equals violence, period.
But though most of us who have lived here know the difference between the drug-related violence and normal petty crime, there are always surprises. This past week’s armed attempted robbery of a major grocery store took place in the expatriate and rich-friendly neighborhood of La Condesa, a place I love to walk and bike around. A drug-related drive-by shooting in La Condesa and the assassination of a drug case witness in a Starbucks in the nearby neighborhood of Del Valle also occurred in recent months. A friend, Nick Casey, wrote about the case of two Americans arrested in a border city. They were allegedly tortured in a situation where they claim the Mexican military planted suitcases of marijuana in their truck and then fraudulently arrested them for it.
I suppose that the point is that the line between drug-related violence and petty crime seems to be quickly blurring. Though rich enclaves will always be the target of criminals, places once thought to be relatively safe are no longer relatively safe. Being foreign in Mexico is not a bulletproof vest from being taken advantage of by a corrupt military. And, sadly, there is still no end in sight.
Photo via The Wall Street Journal
American writer Charles Bowden has spent decades straddling the U.S.-Mexico border, writing gripping stories about the myriad of people caught in the bloody, messy drug trade, from hired drug cartel assassins to brave but scared Mexican journalists.
Now he’s back with yet another book on Mexico, this time on the murder capital Ciudad Juarez. Hear him talk on NPR about Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields here. Recently, three people associated with the U.S. consulate were murdered, while numerous young people have been killed as of late in cases of supposed mistaken identity.
5,000 people have been killed in Juarez in three years. Yet, as Bowden says, the deaths have frighteningly become “part of the ordinary noise of life.”
Photo via TIME
The fiestas of Mexico’s drug lords are infamously decadent and infamously clandestine. Mexico’s most wanted narcotics king, El Chapo Guzman, still parties like he didn’t hide himself in a laundry cart and break out of prison just a few years ago.
But now a potentially innocent civilian may have gotten caught in the indulgent frenzy of the drug-rich. Popular norteño accordionist and songwriter Ramon Ayala was detained by the Mexican military after being discovered as the headline performer at a party held by the Beltran Leyva cartel, whose leader Arturo Beltran Leyva was recently killed by the army. Ayala claims to not have known he was being hired by the cartel (or he may been coerced into the gig by threats of violence — who says no to the drug cartels?), and Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission is now on the case to prevent any abuses to the Grammy Award-winning musician.
Photo of Ayala’s house in Hidalgo, Texas via Jess Merrill Photography
Over five thousand dead in the past year, gruesome beheadings, child kidnappings and murders and a helpless populace: Mexico has become consumed by a never-ending drug war. So it’s not surprising that drug violence has seeped into the work of Mexican artists, most notably the country’s current representative to the Venice Biennale. Teresa Margolles brought to Venice art that tells of a scarred story, from her upbringing in drug lord-ruled Sinaloa to her job at a morgue sifting through the bodies of battle victims.
Her work is moralistic and confrontational. Paintings in a misted room. Only later is it explained the mist is from the water found on dead drug violence victims, and the paintings are created with dipping paper used to clean bodies at the morgue. Jewelry with centerpieces that are actually shattered — the broken pieces are taken from cars at score-settling crime scenes. Margolles says her art is macabre because so is the rising death toll in her home. And now she’s back with a new exhibit at LABOR Gallery in Mexico City.
In the photo above from the Tate Liverpool Biennial in 2006, Margolles’ piece “Untitled” represents a post-mortem examination table.
From the description of the work: “An internal element heats the top surface of the metal sculpture while a device suspended from the ceiling intermittently releases drops of water onto the boiling hot surface below. The droplets, formed by water used to wash bodies in a morgue in Mexico City, hit the surface with a sound like gunshot, instantly evaporating and surrounding the viewer in their vapor.”
Photo via the Tate
In a story about the perilous lives of narcoabogados (narco-lawyers) last week, the LA Times briefly mentions a fascinating legal technique called “amparo.” Amparo is commonly known in Mexico as a get-narcos-out-of-jail-free card. Here’s why:
Technically, amparo is a way to protect individual constitutional rights and is embedded in the legal systems of several Latin American countries and the Philippines. But some Mexicans believe the broad reach of this human rights protection technique prevents the government from adequately going after drug cartels. Originally intended as a Habeas Corpus-type right and to protect average citizens from abuse, it has also become a tool used by drug criminals to avoid detention and arrest by buying them time to cover up evidence or escape arrest. Since drug lords have tons of dirty money and corrupt politicians at their disposal, amparo is only icing on the cake.
On top of that, Mexican police have very limited powers of arrest. Under a principle known as flagrancia, police officers are confined to a set of rules for any arrest they make without a specific warrant — drug lord investigations included. Much has been written on Mexico’s flawed criminal justice system, but the irony of amparo is begging for more investigation.
Photo by Brian Frank
As illustrated by this stunningly brutal photo essay, shit is going down in Guinea-Bissau with that country’s catastrophic drug business. And as can be further seen in these uncensored, even more provocative photos by the same photographer, that shit ain’t pretty.
A double assassination of the country’s president and army chief last spring and a spiraling out-of-control cocaine trade has turned Guinea-Bissau — one of the poorest countries in the world — into Africa’s first narco state. It’s the middle stop in the long journey of moving drugs across the globe since it has no real penitentiary system and open ports. And Hezbollah, al Qaida, European cocaine consumers and Latin American cartels are all clamoring to get in. The crack addiction rate is on the rise, and so is extreme violence, abductions and prostitution. The question now is: is there any hope left for this drug-addled nation?
Photo by Marco Vernaschi
Mexican journalists are dying at an alarming rate in Mexico — the country is the deadliest place in the Americas to be a journalist, and among the deadliest in the world. The Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York, says at least 24 have been killed since 2000, and seven have vanished in the past three years. (That number has surely risen.) Many of the victims had reported on police ties to cartels. Some are suspected of accepting drug money, but it’s difficult to determine because the killings are barely investigated. Of the 24 cases, the committee said, only one had been solved. Some gunmen attacked specific journalists, and others entire newsrooms.
The war on journalists — both by thugs and police negligence — has changed the way most border publications do their work. Stories on drug casualties and corruption run with no bylines, and only the bare facts run without further investigation. A few brave teams based in Mexico City still travel up to the border to report on drug-related violence, but their trips are becoming less and less frequent. A friend told me that a team of photographers returned to Mexico City from a trip last year to Ciudad Juarez the very next day.
All of which makes this story by gifted writer Charles Bowden even more shocking. I always assumed drug cartels and corrupt police were Mexican journalists’ most viral enemies. Turns out, we need to add the Mexican army to that list, too.
And here, an earlier Human Rights Watch report on Mexican army torture allegations.
Photo via TIME