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***

In Corpus Christi, Miguel and Vanessa begin to learn English. Miguel remembers his father's admonition: ''You have to do before you can be.'' So he begins traveling down this new path in the new year. January passes, and February and March, and then, on April 28, a tremor passes through their world.

***

Police find the body of Regina Martinez, 49, lying in the bathtub of her home in Xalapa, the capital of Veracruz state ― strangled. She writes for Proceso, the most prestigious magazine in Mexico, a publication read by the educated and powerful and generally spared much government censorship so that the state can point to it and claim a free press. She covered corruption and drug trafficking, and in 2007 had written a well-known story on Mexican soldiers raping and killing an indigenous woman. She becomes the fortieth reporter killed since Calderón took office in December 2006. The government of Veracruz suggests the killing was simply a robbery because two cell phones and her laptop are missing, precisely the items one would take if looking for her contacts.

Veracruz photographer, Gabriel Huge, on the job. Gabriel was later murdered and his body parts were dumped along with three other Veracruz journalists on May 3, 2012. Slide show: Mexicans Pay in Blood For America's War on Drugs.
Miguel Angel Lopez Solana
Veracruz photographer, Gabriel Huge, on the job. Gabriel was later murdered and his body parts were dumped along with three other Veracruz journalists on May 3, 2012. Slide show: Mexicans Pay in Blood For America's War on Drugs.
A Veracruz crime scene. Slide show: Mexicans Pay in Blood For America's War on Drugs.
Miguel Angel Lopez Solana

''I didn't know her,'' Miguel says, ''but I knew her reputation and her reporting on the abuses of officials. When my family was killed, I thought nothing can be worse than this. But when Regina was killed, I thought they can do anything.''

May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. Police in Veracruz find black plastic garbage bags in a canal. They hold the chopped-up bodies of four people, three of them press. Guillermo Luna, whose cousin witnessed the abductions in September 2011, worked as a photographer at Notiver, as did Gabriel Huge, the man who had called Miguel the morning of his family's murder to tell him of the slaughter. Esteban Rodriguez also had been a photojournalist. Irasema Becerra was Gabriel's girlfriend. The three men had fled Veracruz in 2011 but returned in 2012 because they could not find work. Rodriguez had gone to work as an auto mechanic. None of this mattered. On the day of the kidnappings, just an hour before he was reported missing, Gabriel had gone to a cousin's house to ask her to care for his daughter should he vanish.

Three weeks later, on May 31, Noel López Olguín surfaces from a secret grave in Veracruz. He'd disappeared on March 8, when men in SUVs took him away. He worked for La Verdad de Jáltipan, a rural paper in the state of Veracruz, and wrote a column exposing official corruption and often attacking drug people by name. After his kidnapping, some media in Veracruz denied he'd ever worked for them. The exhumed body is photographed, caked with dark-brown earth.

Miguel realizes he will never feel safe in Mexico again. For him, he explains, it is like a sheet of white paper that you crumple in your hand: No matter how hard you try to iron it, it will always show the wrinkles.

He says, ''I no longer have trust in anybody or anything.''

A few days later it is Memorial Day, and Carlos Spector hosts that party at his home in El Paso, and Miguel and Vanessa drive across Texas to eat and drink with the other dead men and dead women walking.

''I am an orphan now,'' Miguel says.

He clicks through photographs on his computer: his family and mother beaming; his brother, el gordo, laughing and acting out; the huge carnival in Veracruz each year just before Lent; the beach; the laughter of life.

He dreams of a family dinner, and in this dream his father looks up and says, ''Miguel, it is okay to leave us behind now.''

***

Since January 1, 2007, more than 100,000 people have been murdered in Mexico, according to the government. The last official release, in January 2012, said that ''drug-related'' or ''organized crime-related'' homicides totaled 47,500 through September 2011. Media estimates since have ranged from 50,000 to 80,000.

No one knows or will ever know the real death toll. Officially, the government says that 90 percent of the dead are criminals. Officially, the government admits it has investigated fewer than 5 percent of the deaths. No one knows what percentage of the homicides can be attributed to fighting between rival organized crime gangs, fighting between law enforcement and/or military and drug gangs, or fighting among different law enforcement and/or military groups. Many murder victims are retail drug sellers and other petty street criminals killed on the job or for other reasons. Some of the dead are disposable people ― drug addicts, prostitutes, transvestites, migrants, street kids and others deemed human garbage who become victims of social cleansing, or limpieza social. A Mexican Senate document reveals the existence of government-sponsored death squads linked to some of the mass executions in recent years.

There is one solid fact: more than 100,000 new corpses. Calderón boasts that 90 percent of the dead are criminals ― his government does not investigate the murders, and then it makes up reasons for the murders.

This is a characteristic of the slaughtered in Mexico: Officially, they deserved it. The bodies of dead reporters and photographers are still warm when the government begins insinuating they were actually mixed up in organized crime: ''He (or she) was sucio (dirty).'' Case closed.

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