Longform

Mexicans Pay in Blood for America's War on Drugs

Editor's note: The American news media continues to report the body count in Mexico’s “War on Drugs” at more than 50,000 dead.

But Molly Molloy, a researcher at New Mexico State University, tallies more than 100,000 Mexicans killed to wage a war financed and mandated by American authorities and led by Mexican president Felipe Calderón.

The carnage has been so remarkable — mass executions, beheadings, mutilations, men, women, children — that the outgoing Calderón has announced he may leave the country lest he become a statistic.

And yet on July 4, the New York Times declared the War on Drugs a cruel failure, claiming that the price of cocaine, for example, is 74 percent cheaper now than it was 30 years ago. America has spent $20 billion to $25 billion a year to stem the flow of narcotics, to no good end.

The evening news vibrates with the mayhem in Syria, where the recent uprising has cost 17,000 lives. During the 12 years of the Vietnam War, broadcasts tracked the 50,000 Americans who perished on the other side of the world. But the 100,000 Mexicans lost supplying America’s thirst for drugs are, for the most part, unremarked upon. Mexico elected a new president earlier this month. Enrique Peña Nieto promises to put an end to the killing, yet his only new proposal is to create another paramilitary force — like those implicated in much of the killing happening now.

Arizona author Charles Bowden and his New Mexico partner, Molloy, have written a highly personal tale of the devastation as illuminated by the trail of murdered Mexican journalists. Survivors have gathered at a barbecue in Texas, where the story unfolds. — Michael Lacey, executive editor, Village Voice Media




Children play in the pool, hamburgers and hot dogs sizzle on the grill. The exiles will be here shortly after their year in flight from a house full of dead people. Everyone at the party has dead people murdered in Mexico by the Mexican government with the silent consent of the U.S. government. There are 100,000 slaughtered Mexicans now. These gatherings will grow larger.

Carlos Spector hosts this fiesta. He is an American immigration lawyer in El Paso, but in the past four years his practice has been taken over by seekers of political asylum, Mexicans with no money fleeing a Mexican government that wants to kill them. He also is a product of Mexico and spent a lot of his childhood on the other side of the Rio Grande. Now he cannot go there, because the Mexican army would like to kill him, too.

Like everyone here, he had planned a different life. His father came down from New York, fell in love with a Mexican girl, and raised a family across the river, in the village of Guadalupe. When Carlos left the U.S. Air Force, he studied sociology, but gave that up because "it was too slow. I didn't want to study the state, I wanted to smash it."

An old woman sits silently at the party. Sara Salazar, matriarch of the Reyes Salazar clan, is about 80 years old and from Guadalupe. Carlos Spector knew her people as a child. They killed some of her grown sons — one, two, three, just like that — and two daughters, also.

The woman in the blue blouse with the bangs and the ponytail worked as the police secretary in Guadalupe "before they killed everyone," she notes. The man in the green shirt — he was a city councilman before he fled for his life. The man with the sober face — he is the sole surviving son. He was a baker before the killing got bad. Then they burned the house down; the family library of 3,000 books perished in the flames. In his bakery, he always had someone reading out loud while everyone worked. The same day the house burned, the crosses vanished from the graves of murdered family members and were deposited against the Mexican army barracks in Guadalupe. In their little town of 3,000 people, 250 have been murdered.

Saul, the baker, the surviving brother, says, "Sometimes I start to cry. I lost half my family, my job. What more can I lose? Sometimes I worry even here in El Paso, but if I am murdered here, at least it will be investigated."

He has a book where he has carefully written down the names and dates of all the dead because he thinks someone should remember what has happened to his town and his nation and someday tell it, lest the lies become the history. Martha Gellhorn, the fearless novelist and reporter portrayed by Nicole Kidman in the recent HBO series Hemingway & Gellhorn, came out of her wars and wrote, "If nobody puts it down on the record anywhere, then the monsters win totally."

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Charles Bowden & Molly Molloy