By Michael Roberts
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By Michael Roberts
Sandra Rodriguez, an award-winning reporter in Ciudad Juárez, the city with the highest murder rate in all of Mexico, studied more than 3,000 homicide case files from 2010 and 2011. Most files contain only the forensic description of the bodies, a catalog of the ballistic remains and a note about the weapons used. If a witness is interviewed at all, the only question is, ''What did the victim do?'' And there is always something that will be construed as a link to organized crime and so ends the investigation. Rodriguez's study also showed that in only 2 percent of the cases were weapons found near the victims' bodies. So the state claims the dead were cartel members, but if so, they were gangsters who refused to carry weapons.
The slaughter in Mexico has several other characteristics. People hang corpses off bridges, dump bodies on busy streets, move with death squads through major cities, and no one ever sees them or sees anything. The U.S. press seems baffled by these feats. Mexicans are not. They know that the only entities able to move so freely and kill so publicly are the army and the police or criminals cooperating with them. They know that many, if not most, of the killings are by the Mexican state against Mexicans. Miguel, for example, thinks that at most, 30 percent of the dead are killed by drug organizations in a fight for business.
The kidnapped are almost never reported because in many parts of Mexico, the police finance themselves through kidnapping. Those who are taken (levantados) almost never return and are not counted among the dead. The bodies that turn up in mass graves are seldom counted, either, because the government says it is too hard to assign the corpses to the proper year. In Sinaloa, the key drug state on the west coast of Mexico, the governor announced in May that he suddenly had discovered ghost villages in the Sierra Madre, apparently emptied of all human beings without anyone in government noticing.
All of this death is the real violence spilling across the border, and it spills south, not north. The United States sends about $500 million annually to fund Mexico's security forces through legislation called the Merida Initiative. The Mexican army, officially tasked with killing drug people, has lost fewer than 200 soldiers in about six years, while tens of thousands of other Mexicans have perished. There may be no safer job in the world than being a Mexican soldier assigned to fight the drug industry. And there may be no more dangerous job in the world than to be a reporter or photographer assigned to cover this war.
Sara Salazar watches the children play in the pool at Carlos Spector's home as the evening shadows grow and the desert heat lingers. Spector sits with a glass of wine talking to family members about what they must do to make the world know of the killing fields of Mexico. The old woman is silent. There is a famous photograph of her at the funeral of her daughter and son. The coffins sit side by side, and Sara, with her gray hair, ancient face and black trench coat, reels backward, arms outstretched over her dead. A kinsman catches her. Her mouth is open, and in the photograph you can hear the scream roll out over the valley and across the Rio Grande into the United States. Mexican reporters asked her at the time if she felt guilty for getting her children involved in politics now that they had been murdered for their activism. The press knew better than to investigate who killed her children. There were 500 soldiers at the burial, guarding the remaining Reyes Salazar family members. None helped to dig the graves.
Protest is in the family blood. The father, a baker, got involved in politics after 300 students were murdered by the government in 1968 and many more disappeared in Mexico City on the eve of the Olympics. The family became Communists or joined other facets of the left in Mexico. In 2008, daughter Josefina Reyes, a longtime human-rights activist in the Juárez Valley, protested after her son was kidnapped. She told interviewer Julian Cardona, ''Now you see all these big billboards, 'We [the army] have come to help you' – but it isn't true. They have come to pillage us, to ransack our homes. They take the food in the refrigerator, jewelry, anything…and they destroy property. It is not a secret who they are.''
Josefina leads demonstrations, and eventually her son is released. But he is arrested again in 2009 and charged by federal officials in Mexico with being part of a drug organization based in the Juárez Valley. He is imprisoned in another state in Mexico and has not been tried. Another son of Josefina's, Julio Cesar, is taken a year later by unknown parties and killed. Josefina blames the army for her sons death. Rumors spread that he also was involved in drugs. Some members of the family leave Guadalupe and try to establish their bakery business in another town about 100 miles away. On January 3, 2010, Josefina walks into a restaurant in Guadalupe. Men approach, some in uniform, and shoot her multiple times. Army vehicles are parked outside. Six months later, her brother Ruben is killed. He had continued to speak out to the media, calling the military to account for the attacks on his family and others in Guadalupe.