Amexica

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9781847921291: Amexica

With a New Afterword

In 2009, Ed Vulliamy traveled two thousand miles along the frontier from the Pacific coast to the Gulf of Mexico, and from Tijuana to Matamoros, a journey through a kaleidoscopic landscape of corruption and all-out civil war. He describes in revelatory detail the dreaded narco gangs; the smuggling of people, weapons, and illegal drugs; and the interrelated economies of drugs and the ruthless, systematic murder of young women in Ciudad Juarez. Amexica takes us far beyond today's headlines. It is a street-level portrait, by turns horrific and sublime, of a place and people in a time of war as much as of the war itself, "an impressively rendered, nightmare-inducing account" (Kirkus Reviews, Top 25 Books of 2010).

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About the Author:

ED VULLIAMY was the New York correspondent for The Observer from 1997 to 2003 and spent many years as an international correspondent for The Guardian. The author of Seasons in Hell, Vulliamy lives in London and Arizona.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Amexica
1LA PLAZAMy friend Jorge Fregoso and I were drinking a beer at a bar in a labyrinth of quiet alleyways away from central Tijuana one Saturday afternoon in September 2008 when the latest shooting started. It targeted an art deco mansion in the sedate Misión del Pedregal suburb. Federal army trucks arrived to its left, state police shock troops to the right. Few shots were fired from inside the building, it seemed, but a deafening fusillade of fire was aimed at the villa. Only the next day was it revealed to have procured, for the authorities, Eduardo Arellano Félix--"the Doctor"--chief of the clan trying to defend the plaza of drug traffic between Tijuana and California for his Arellano brothers' syndicate from the raiding Sinaloa cartel. Misión de Pedregal is clearly marked, on a sign adjacent to Arellano's house, as a "Vecinos Vigilando," neighborhood watch zone. Yet, says a woman cleaning her porch opposite Arellano's, "I didn't think there was anyone living in that house." What followed the announcement were seventy-two hours of carnage, extreme even by Tijuana standards, which took the year's death toll for the city to 462 and caused even the local El Sol de Tijuana newspaper, accustomed to such things, to run the headline BAÑO DE SANGRE, bloodbath.Fregoso, a reporter for the local Síntesis TV news channel, and I receive our first alert shortly after 3:00 p.m. on Monday, when we are called to Colonia Libertad, where a corpse lies slumped in the dirt beneath steps made of tires. A crowd of young people arrives to observe the busy forensic aftermath in a disconcertingly knowing silence, punctuated by the odd giggly joke or mobile phone call, while some thirty yards away is theborder with the United States, the old fence made of metal landing sheets used by the U.S. Air Force from Vietnam to Iraq.Three young women from the forensic team (wearing identical gray shirts, black jeans, and ponytails) take careful photographs and notes, but like the accompanying trucks full of balaclava-covered federal police, they are soon ordered to speed off to a different location, Mariano Matamoros, and a major artery on the city's outskirts where another corpse lies, visible by the green light of a PEMEX gas station. The windshield of the victim's Ford Explorer (with California plates) is pitted with three bullet holes, and he seems to have made a run into the street, followed by twenty-five more shots, each shell casing marked by a blue number on a yellow card. Before the forensic women have even finished here, we are summoned across dirt tracks--zigzagging between cement buildings--to a crossing of backstreets in the Casablanca district, and a lifeless body beside the doorway of a corner shop painted with yellow flowers. When the ninja-clad cops pull back the sheet, we see a teenager shot at point-blank range in the face, blood oozing onto the flagstones, and a girl watching turns away to weep into her mobile phone. But now the night really begins.Fregoso, with his access to police communications, receives the news so fast that we hurtle our orange Volkswagen between the fourth and fifth jeeps of a machine-gun-toting police convoy (to the hooting fury of jeep number five) heading for the next slaughter. The cordon of plastic tape reading PRECAUCIÓN is not even in place yet outside the 9/4 minimart in Villa Floresta, in theory selling "Vinos y Licores," where a blanket covers the remains of the security guard, with two more dead inside. There is wild wailing from the womenfolk as this body outside is revealed. His flesh has been grated into something like raw kebab meat by fire at point-blank range from a Kalashnikov, or cuerno de chivo, goat's horn, as an AK-47 is known around here. Further screams follow the sight of those killed inside the store, brought out on stretchers and loaded into the white DFI forensic department truck now carrying five former people. The shop, says the rustling whisper through the crowd, was a stash for drugs being loaded for export aboard two cars, presumablyintended to join the sixty-five thousand that cross from Tijuana into San Diego every day, but that the police now tow away. Meanwhile, heavyset men in sharp suits arrive to look from a slight distance, embracing each other in a way that suggests burdensome comradeship and solace, but little sadness. Any attempt to speak to them is rebuffed with menacing silence and a glare. One of them goes over to console a young woman clutching a baby, in paroxysms of grief, beneath a mural advertising Viper auto alarms.Yonkes--repair yards for fixing up cars with secondhand parts--are a hallmark of Tijuana's byways, and next morning another group of sicarios--or maybe the same squad--returns to Villa Floresta in brazen, broad noonday light, past the murals of a girl in a bikini sprawled over an SUV and into gate number one of Yonke Cristal, killing one man whose body, wearing a red shirt, is visible through the bars of a red gate. Two other corpses are hidden behind a white van, the skeletal metal frames of the vehicles all around, detached wheel hubs like prying eyes, and JESUCRISTO EXCELSIOR carved into the hillside above. This is now Tuesday, and on Wednesday morning Tijuana awakes to the news that while the city slept, three bodies were found in an abandoned van and one in a car. The van has been dumped in a quarter called Los Álamos, at a meeting point between ramshackle hillside colonias, a smart gated community, and an electronics factory, and the dead men have been tortured, mutilated, and strangled--one of them handcuffed. People killed and dumped in vehicles are known in this war as encajuelados, literally entrunked. The body in the car is that of a police officer called Mauricio Antonio Hernando Flores. It is his personal car, and the officer had parked beneath a great statue of an open-armed figure of Christ, presiding over Tijuana in imitation of Rio de Janeiro, with its engine running, just past 1:00 a.m., apparently awaiting someone. Whoever shot him, leaving his body to be discovered slumped in the blood-soaked driver's seat, knew him and was apparently expected at the scene.There are two kinds of cop killings in the narco war. One was illustrated in January 2008 when the narcos crossed some line in the etiquette of drug warfare. The sicarios' car pulled off a main road onto thedirt track into the wretched Colonia Loma Bonita. They would have parked next to the "Swap Meet" hangar and walked to what is now a vacant lot for sale, marked by a white wooden cross, where Officer Margarito Zaldano lived. They entered the house and executed not only Zaldano but also his wife, Sandra, and twelve-year-old daughter, Valeria. Zaldano's crime? Being a cop and doing his job trying to arrest criminals who were protected by his own police force.The other kind of slaying of police officers--la chota, as it is known on the border, the fuzz--involves those who become embroiled with the narcos, working for them or adding to the income of their day job by moonlighting for the cartels, often with the same uniforms and weapons. These officers get caught out if they charge too much for their services, oversights, or information; renege on a deal; or if their work for one cartel becomes irksome to another. Mexicans joke that a police officer is offered a simple career choice: plata o plomo, silver or lead, and many, while they can get it, inevitably opt for the former. After the killing of Officer Flores, the authorities, in contrast to their outpouring of tribute to Zaldano back in January, refused to fuss much over this latest execution of one of their colleagues by a single tiro de gracia, a mercy shot to the head. In Tijuana, as elsewhere, the municipal police can be working for one cartel, the state police with another, and the Federales with yet another. None of this happens in a vacuum. 
 
 
Like every war, this carnage has a history, and we need to understand the history of the narco cartels' business lest the war appear to be the senseless bloodletting it is not. Or, at least, was not at first. Indeed, one needs to know one's Mafia history as much as that of any major player in the global economy and polity, because the syndicates are more powerful, more astute, and handle higher turnovers than most multinational corporations, as well as fuel our society with their products. The drug cartels were prototypes and pioneers of globalization; the Neapolitan Camorra was the first multinational into postcommunist Eastern Europe, harvesting Kalashnikovs produced under Soviet license. The Camorrawas also among the first capitalist enterprises to penetrate Communist China, dealing in textiles and drugs coming into the port of Naples. Now that the "legal" global economy is in crisis, narco cartels respond to their own crisis within that economy in their own--but by no means separate--way.Unlike their Italian counterparts, the Mexican cartels cannot trace their origins to the eighteenth century, but they were dealing drugs before the Italians. The smuggling syndicate based in Ciudad Juárez was not only the first narco syndicate run by a woman, Ignacia "la Nacha" Jasso, but also was among the first to trade in heroin to the United States, after the market for supplying America with alcohol, during Prohibition, came to an end in 1933. The Mexican heroin-growing and opium market in Sinaloa gained impetus during World War II, when the United States signed an agreement to buy opium to meet its wartime medical needs.1 The Mexican narco smugglers did start dealing in drugs on a major scale at the same time as the Italians, toward the end of the 1960s, when it became clear that demand from the United States and Europe was insatiable. "The narco economy," wrote Guillermo Ibarra, an economist at Sinaloa State University, "and family remittances from the United States actually keep our state on...

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