Murder, Inc., Wholesale

     I’m not one of those guys who blames The New York Times for everything – for anything, actually. But as the most influential newspaper in the world, I think its editors have a responsibility to see that they are not publishing bullshit, day after day – and that is what the Times is doing in its stories about Mexico.
     Thirty thousand people have been murdered there in the past 4 years, thousands of them in and around a single city, Ciudad Juarez.
     The Times reports, day after day, that the murders are the result of a war that the Mexican Army and the Federal Judicial Police are waging against cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and the country’s drug cartels.
     That’s incorrect.
     That is a fantasy.
     The Mexican Army and the Federal Judicial Police are fighting for their piece of the drug traffic.
     Sometimes they fight the State Judicial Police. Sometimes they fight municipal police. Sometimes they fight the drug cartels. Often they murder innocent witnesses to their other murders.
     None of those powerful institutions – the Army, the Federal Judicial Police, the State Judicial Police, or whatever Mexico’s latest crime-fightin’ guys are called – are fighting against drugs. They are fighting for their piece of it.
     The best exposition of this is in Charles Bowden’s latest book, “Murder City,” the third book Bowden has written about Juarez.
     I lived in Mexico as a reporter, and was a city editor on the border for years. I know people on both sides of the drug trade, on both sides of the border.
     Here is a cram course on drug smuggling. In the 1980s, as Colombia was disintegrating from cocaine violence, Mexico was not. That’s because the Colombian government let the cartels run loose, but in Mexico senior members of the government always took their cut – so the government kept the violence under control.
     When I lived in Mexico, every time I mentioned on the phone that the government was involved in the drug traffic, the line went dead. Every single time. I am not the only reporter this happened to. The Mexican government knows who runs the drugs, and they know where they are. It could roll them all up tomorrow if it wanted, with great loss of life, but no more loss of life than is happening anyway. But the government will not do this because too many people are making too much money from the system as it is.
     U.S. sheriffs along the border are making money from it too, and so is the Border Patrol. I could tell you how, but I’d prefer to die of old age.
     Smuggling goes both ways. Mexicans and Gringos smuggled guns into Mexico for their 1910 Revolution, and after World War II we smuggled electronic appliances down there in war surplus airplanes. Mexicans wanted our hi-fis and washing machines, and didn’t want to pay Mexico’s 100 percent tariff on them.
     The drug violence escalated when the United States developed a gigantic Jones for marijuana, and some genius realized there was no reason to send those planes back empty. So they started filling them with marijuana. This was sometime in the 1960s.
     When they started filling the planes with cocaine, in the early 1980s, things got out of control. For one simple reason. Cocaine is one of the few easily obtainable substances on this planet that is worth more than a similar volume of $100 bills.
     Back in the late ’80s and ’90s, when I was reporting from Mexico, every Mexican with any expertise in the subject warned, over and over, not to get the Mexican army involved in the drug wars. Because drug wars corrupt, and in a poor country, whose army is staffed with poor people, poorly trained, poorly paid, poorly educated, poorly equipped, an army whose generals earn, officially, less than a plumber in the United States, regular contact with drugs is simply an invitation to corruption.
     But of course, pressed by the United States, Mexico did throw its army into it. And the result is what Bowden describes in “Murder City” – a lawless region where killing has become a way of life – killing for the right to sell a dime bag.
     Mexican cops have been killing one another for years for control of the drug traffic. Throwing the army into it just made the violence explode.
     A friend of mine, a Marine Corps veteran, worked security for the Federal Judicial Police back in the late ’70s and early ’80s. He rode shotgun on C-130s full of tons of marijuana, and held off the State Judicial Police as the Federal Judicial Police unloaded it and drove it away.
     Let me be clear: He shot up State Judicial Police cars with a machinegun, and kept the cops pinned down, from the cargo bay of a C-130, because the state police wanted to steal the dope from the federal police. And this was before the cocaine wars began.
     In the ’90s, a commander in the State Judicial Police told me about the training he received in the United States from the FBI and CIA. They didn’t teach him anything he didn’t know about drug traffic. “All they did was teach me how to torture,” he told me. He showed me a few things, with a thumb and one finger. The CIA taught him well.
     None of this is news. What’s news is that President Obama has asked Congress for another $410 million for Plan Mérida, “drug fighting” foreign aid to Mexico on which we already have wasted $2 billion.
     All that Plan Mérida has done is provide the Mexican Army and police with more weapons, more communications equipment, more ways to murder their own people wholesale.
     I am not blaming all the Mexican police and army veterans for this, any more than I blame the New York Times reporters for their inaccurate articles. There is a tremendous amount of money involved, and powerful people who are willing to kill anyone to protect it.
     But the New York Times’ top editors are safe in New York. They do not have to buckle to the pressure from powerful people in this country, and the other one, to write fairy tales about the continuing mass murders in Mexico.
     The Times’ editors are either cowed or ignorant, or both.
     I can understand fear; it is nothing to be ashamed of. But there is no excuse for the New York Times to spread ignorance, to report fantasies, and to do it for years, day after day. And that is what the newspaper is doing in its stories from Mexico.

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