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Written by reporter Tomas Bravo. Republished with permission from

“The memory is still fresh. I close my eyes and I can feel the tension. First the explosion . . . then the screams. . . then the silence . . .

The trickles of blood on the concrete make their way as small, red rivers to form a puddle, quickly dried by the sun. The bodies lie there, surrounded by police tape, waiting to be checked by forensic technicians. The prying eyes of the neighbors are fixed on the laughing police officers and the reporters who are speculating on the reasons for the execution.

Moments later the bodies are bagged and placed in a van, ready for their penultimate destination. If they are lucky they have family members who will recognize them at the coroner’s office and are able to give them a burial. In the worst cases, they will end up in a mass grave, next to others without names but similar in their wounds and histories in a parallel world.

Once the forensic experts and police officers are gone, only murmurs uttered by the curious crowd are left. A girl dressed in a school uniform looks at the blood on the pavement in horror, at the impact of the bullets on the wall surrounding the school and at the signature the killers left behind to make sure everybody knows who are responsible for the killings: “Z”

When I was offered the job of covering Monterrey and the so-called “Narco Wars” I had no idea what was coming. I arrived in March 2007 to a thriving city, stained only by isolated cases of violence. But in 2011 the 1,000 executions in the previous 12 months had been surpassed and the situation was out of control. People’s behavior and their routines had changed drastically. Night life was prohibited; no one wanted to be a victim.

The attacks on bars, executions of civilians and police in broad daylight and shoot-outs between rival gangs led to a rude awakening from the dreams of progress and welfare. Covering Mexico’s northern border also changed my life dramatically. Previously I lived in Guatemala and Honduras where what I had seen made a deep impression on me but nothing had prepared me for this.

It was a challenge and I committed mistakes in the beginning – mistakes that luckily didn’t have fatal consequences. I wasn’t the only one who had to live up to the changes. My colleagues who used to cover the occasional guy killed in a bar brawl or those who perished in a car accident were going through the same experience.

Threats became real and a few weeks after my arrival, hitmen kidnapped local journalists Gamaliel Lopez and cameraman Gerardo Paredes, both from TV Azteca, while they were leaving the University Hospital. Their bodies were never found and the guild would never be the same again. There was no margin for errors.

According to Reporters sans Frontières (Reporters without borders) and Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries to work as a journalist. Colleagues from all over the country have suffered abuses while working, either from gangs or authorities and in the worst cases they have disappeared or have been executed. State and federal authorities rarely act in defense of journalists; there are neither investigations nor arrests made. Simply nothing.

While on assignment on the northern border I witnessed the worst human miseries: children killed or injured by stray bullets during clashes between rival gangs, headless corpses strung from bridges and overpasses, chopped off body parts thrown onto the street with threatening messages from one gang to another or to the government.

These deaths are just numbers for some media outlets, and for a large part of Mexican society, they are numbers that swell the statistics but have no face or name. Nobody was really interested.

People would say that those killed probably had something to do with it, that they “were involved somehow.” The conjecture above reason and the stigma annihilated logic, only the families left behind knew of the struggle.

The stress was huge. You live literally from day to day and the price is high. Threats, death and post traumatic stress disorder come with the job. For some of us it’s just a bitter experience, whereas others fare worse; they are kidnapped, tortured and killed, sometimes in front of their families, sometimes along with them.

The job has become Russian roulette but you don’t have the control of the trigger. Others do. To feel the cold metal of the muzzle pressed against your head, listening to the simple question “Do you value your life?” is something I don’t wish on anyone.

It’s hard to remember the most difficult situations. There’s always a lump in my throat or a lost tear, and the ghosts continue to be there, drunk on the adrenaline of the assignment.

I have always walked hand in hand with those who have allowed me to photograph them – their pain is often mine. Frequently I had to control my emotions at a funeral or at a crime scene, holding back the tears, gathering the strength to keep going.

I’d be lying if I said that my mind is okay after a little more than nine years covering the violence. I’d like to believe it is but every coverage leaves its mark; some difficult to get rid of. The tears of the people who cry for their loved ones, the threats, the adrenaline, the errors, and the shreds of the soul are left at each step.

Seeing the emptiness in the eyes of those who await the return of their loved ones back home, already knowing that such a return is impossible, is the emptiness I feel inside of me.

Now, since I’m living in Mexico City, everything looks so far away. It’s like I’ve woken up and the nightmare is finally over. I don’t hear the gunshots, the shooting blocks away from my house, nor the grenade attacks, nor the constant coming or going of sirens that break the silence of the night, nor crying or screaming.

But I know the problem is still there, fueled by corruption and disinterest of the authorities – the reality of a society that has been humiliated and oppressed forever.

I express my love and appreciation to all my friends and colleagues with whom I have shared moments of tension and journalistic joy, the exchange of experiences and solidarity in complex times. My respect for those who were threatened and also to those whose lives were blinded by bullets, hatred and stupidity. I share solidarity with those who have left their homeland, have been chased away by threats and left without the support of the media they work for.

Words or pictures do not stop bullets, and in the end, a story is not worth a life.”

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    • You cannot remove the motive to make a profit. You can bring commerce under the rule of law, where prosperity is the result. Mexico does not suffer from the profit motive, which is universal. It suffers from the lack of rule of law, which has resulted from a corrupt government combined with the enormous profits available to the drug cartels because of the insane war on some drugs.

      • Not forgetting the fact that the government has disarmed its citizens despite their constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

        • And all the criminals will get jobs picking lettuce, right?
          To suggest that legalizing all drugs (yes, you can’t stop at pot or coke, it has to go all they way) would solve the problem is an overly simplistic way to look at it.
          It’s going to take a lot more to overcome the lack of empathy and evil they exist with.

        • Roger that. The rivers of blood in Mexico are just one more demonstration of the compassion of gun control.

          The government will protect you? I have a number of friends in Mexico, and pretty much every one has a friend or a family member who has been touched in some way by a murder or a kidnapping. It’s hard to hear that people you’ve known all your life were shot, or chopped up and thrown into a dumptser. Or their already poor families bankrupted to pay a ransom.

          “Even the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel,” said Solomon. Forcing people to be defenseless: Pretty, flaming cruel.

      • That would entail preventing our current government from selling any more guns to the gangs in Mexico as the average citizen in Mexico can no longer obtain guns legally for themselves.

      • Mike, Mexico has some of the strictest gun laws around. How much have those laws stopped criminals from having them available and using them?

      • 1) You already know criminals don’t obey laws
        2) You want to make guns illegal so that law-abiding citizens can’t get them
        3) Criminals will disobey gun laws
        4) Criminals will still have guns.
        5) What don’t you understand about this?

  1. All the more reason to take our boarder back and close it off to this Narco-Terrorism. I grew up surfing and hanging out in Baja California. A short, but always interesting drive during the old days in Tijuana before the Super Highway was built. Our time there as kids was made special by how nice and friendly the locals were to us. I feel so sorry for them having to survive through this nightmare.

    Thank you Robert for bringing us your perspective, get some rest!

  2. Time to end the drug war. We lost, time to come to grips with that and legalize sale and production. After 40 years and over 1 trillion dollars spent it’s time to stop wasting our tax dollars. Alcohol prohibition did not work and was repealed in 13 years….why has it taken us so long to end this?

    • Legalize crack, PCP, cocaine, etc. and you will see far more lives destroyed north of the border.

      Again, I ask only that you visit your local skid row before trumpeting the cause of legalizing drugs.

      • I should have been more specific. Legalize Marijuana. Over 65% of the cartels money comes from Marijuana…. lets take those profits.

        • Right, they won’t know how to make money from coke, heroin, pills, etc. No profit there.

        • Just like in prohibition, you cut the money supply that goes to corruption then you can take on the gang activity. When prohibition ended the gangs still made money other ways, but not enough to bribe all the public officials they needed to. The bigger issue here is we have spent over $1 trillion dollars…..for what?

    • the war on drugs was profoundly effective, for the CIA, wall street, and security-industrial complex. for the american people and people of foreign countries, it has been a disastrous infringement upon personal liberties.

  3. This was the only part that stuck sideways for me: “State and federal authorities rarely act in defense of journalists; there are neither investigations nor arrests made. Simply nothing.”

    Is he claiming that authorities are giving journalists special (negative) consideration by not investigating their deaths (in a manner like to that of normal citizens), or is he complaining because the authorities AREN’T giving journalists special (positive) consideration and and failing to adequately investigate their deaths (thus treating them like normal citizens)? The former is a concern, for sure. I would be more ambivalent about the latter; why would the deaths of journalists be more important than “regular” citizens? Maybe I’m reading too much into it.

  4. Why does the so-called war on drugs continue? How is it not like prohibition? The powers-that-be liked alcohol. Example: When Philadelphia hired Gen. Smedley Butler to rein in prohibition crime, they fired him when he had the nerve to raid the Union League, one of the city’s relatively elite clubs. But the PTB have gained something from the war on drugs, and that is justification for the vast increase in police forces and all the peripheral expenses of data surveillence and equipage. The BTB now have their dream, huge loyal domestic soldiers who will do the bidding of the leadership because most of their pay will only be delivered in retirement, i.e. they can’t take the money and run. They’re bought. So the very rich can rest assured that they are safe from THEIR enemies foreign and domestic, relative to the situation in the fifties and sixties. I would guess they are happy with the results. It isn’t a conspiracy in fact, but a natural alignment of interests. This is the big difference between the top voting 10% and the bottom 50%. One looks after its interests while the other looks at TV. And hey, if you are rich you can get someone else to take the risk for you, buy your week or coke. No reason to go legal on the whole thing.

    • Agreed. If Wall Street were to oppose the war on drugs, it would lose an immense money-laundering revenue stream. Pharmaceutical interests would not be served by legalizing drugs. Law enforcement, the judicial system, and the prison system would all lose revenue if drugs were legalized. Politicians would lose a huge, hypocritical bully pulpit.

      The 50% TV group, or however we the majority are categorized, will be exploited either way but MikeB’s notion we would suffer less with less gun availability is absurd. My common sense meter indicates the negative consequences of gun availability pale compared to the destruction wrought by the self-serving moneyed interests. When their long running Ponzi schemes ultimately fail; whether it be health care, law&order, or 401k’s and pensions – I’ll prefer to be armed.

    • Very astute, RD. Too many powerful people and institutions have a vested interest in keeping the drug business just the way it is. The narcos, the politicians, political parties and judges who are bought and paid for, the gigantic paramilitary police organizations here and abroad, their labor unions, street-level dealers, the list goes on and on.

      I’d love to see the situation reversed, but it’s never going to happen.

      • The difference between the U.S. and Mexico is ‘la mordida’, the little bite is more open and public in Mexico. In the U.S. it is institutionalized. Look at your speeding ticket the next time you get one. Send in the money by a certain date and it’s dropped to ‘Driving a Defective Vehicle’ and the points are lowered from 4 to 2. Fight the ticket and you will pay more, even if it is only in your time. Easier just to pay. In Mexico, you keep a fifty or hundred peso note paper-clipped to your license. Cop stops you, you hand him the license, he hands it back without the money.
        The ‘narcotraficantes’ are a much larger and deadlier problem but the corruption is the same, just gigantic in scale.
        This all goes back to the discussion we had earlier. All businesses love repeat customers. When the business works hand-in hand with the government or IS the government, the people have little hope of being anything other than repeat customers. From tires to prisons, same economic model.

    • Alcohol is more forgiving and less addictive than hard drugs, that’s how. I realize that I’m making my comments short, but I’ve never seen any “responsible use” of methamphetamine, PCP, crack, etc. Not once. I’m basing this on the local skid rows of every major city I’ve ever been in (particularly Los Angeles) and association with numerous drug recognition experts. Easing the sale of addictive narcotics is not a helpful thing.

      I’ll ask this: do any of y’all know people who are responsibly using hard drugs? Would you want your son or daughter trying any of these drugs that you want to make legal?

  5. I need to noodle this over – Mexico is a nation that is utterly traumatized and I want to be somewhat sensitive – but what I see missing is the “Live Free or Die” mentality.

    May I never be tested, but I hope I would have the courage to stand up and risk everything, to study war so my children can study other things.

    The default condition for the human spirit is to accept tyranny in any form and hope that the deprecations do not happen to me and mine. That the government and the drug lords have become so oppressive is at least as much a product of the people of Mexico tolerating it – loving the life lived under tyranny more than loving liberty.

    Liberty or death requires an enormous amount of courage. Until there are “gangs” of citizens who are willing to wage war for their liberty – however shape that war might take (in America, campaigns are waged with TV ads and leaflets) – they will have both tyranny and death.

    • If you were a Mexican and “waged war” against the Narcos, you’d last about five minutes. After that, you’d be dead, your wife and children would be dead and it would be as if none of you ever existed. That’s the way it is.

      The people of Mexico do not lack for courage. It’s War of Independece lasted 11 years. Later, Mexico was invaded by the French and fought them for six years. Then came the Mexican Revolution, during which ten percent of the country died. Later still, Mexicans defended their republic during the counter-revolution known as the Cristero War.

      Appreciate the position of the average Mexican. They have been disarmed by their government and have no means of self-defense. They are oppressed by the narcos, who are in cahoots with certain members of the government. Now, what are you going to do — challenge all that firepower with a table knife?

  6. Thanks for sharing this article Robert.
    The US can continue to put it’s head in the sand over this issue, but I don’t think we can much longer. This is a clear and present danger to the US. I feel horrible over the victims in Mexico, but this is going to spiral out of control, and as we get more and more restrictions on gun ownership in the US, it will only enable the cartels to work freely like they do in Mexico here as well. CA is ripe for the taking if the cartels want it.

    • CA is only moderately ripe. AR-15’s are flying off the shelves in SoCal. Ammo is relatively scarce, and demand is huge. I’ve helped a half dozen friends purchase AR-15’s, and another dozen purchase concealed carry handguns in the last year. Gun show attendance is respectable, despite the fact that the best goodies (hi cap mags, silencers, tracers, etc.) are not even close to legal for non-LEO’s.

      If CA were dumb enough to accept and implement a complete assault weapons ban, and disarm themselves completely, then it would indeed be ready to be taken over. I’ll support the 2A here as long as I can, but I definitely will retire someplace else. Fighting liberal ideologies is frustrating and tiresome.

      I will not support the legalization of hard drugs, however. I see no benefit whatsoever to hard drugs in my line of work.

  7. I know this isn’t a popular opinion but it’s mine, I don’t give a shit about Israel or anything in the middle east for that matter, these people are our neighbors and need our help, I’m not implying putting troops on the ground in Mexico but there are things we could do to help, obvious things like cut 70% of the drug cartels money by regulating cannabis, lobbying Mexican government to allow it’s people to protect themselves with arms, allow political asylum to those who deserve it among other things, for a Christian nation we sure don’t know how to treat our neighbors, Jesus said a few things about that didn’t he.

    • “…for a Christian nation we sure don’t know how to treat our neighbors, Jesus said a few things about that didn’t he.”

      I wouldn’t go so far to call the USA a “christian nation”. A large percentage of our people are of other faiths, or are of no particular faith. That aside, we are, for the most part, a nation of moral persons.

      To fix our situation we need a few things righted.

      1. Legalization of drugs. Too long have persons of affluence tried to regulate what we put in our bodies. Look to the recent push in NY to ban the sale of softdrinks over 16oz. Prohibition does not work. They are focusing on the symptom, not the disease. The enforcement of these nonsensical laws have become very lucrative for the wrong reasons and an easy way to strip citizens of their rights.

      2. Repeal policies that are dangerous to liberty. The Patriot Act (brilliant naming convention), NDAA, and other policies are unconstitutional and a threat to the foundation of our nation. Such acts cannot be allowed to pass without a thorough review by the citizenry and open discussion of it’s details before we allow our elected officials to sign them into law.

      3. Immigration process review. The time it takes for a immigrant to obtain citizenship is too long and is bottlenecked with too many policies that make the process expensive to the taxpayers and the would be citizens. When the process becomes so mired in red tape that illegal entry is preferred, you know there is a problem.

      4. Make being a citizen mean something, again. When the rights of a US citizen are given to non citizens, you make it trivial. A burden on our systems of healthcare, the safety net of social security, public education, and countless other facets of our society are slowly dragging us down and must be stopped. It is high time we push for deportation of violators and reform the system to give them a chance for citizenship.

      Forgive my lack of detail. I just wanted to communicate my general view on this subject.

      • According to recent surveys, the majority of Americans (76% to 80%) identify themselves as Protestants or Catholics, accounting for 51% and 25% of the population respectively.Non-Christian religions (including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism etc.), collectively make up about 5% of the adult population.Another 15% of the adult population claim no religious affiliation.When asked, about 5.2% said they did not know, or refused to reply.
        Sounds pretty Christian to me. Don’t believe the main stream media. They lie like old rugs.

        • the US is not a christian nation. re-read the 1st amendment. The US is predominantly christian by the individual faith of its citizens but the government doesn’t align to the christian faith officially.

          and for people proclaiming themselves as christians, americans are hypocrites. these self proclaimed christian politicians speak of abiding by the teachings of christ, though are quick to wage war and be influenced by special interest groups. again, hypocrisy.

  8. This is right off the top of my head, but perhaps this is one of the instances where California‘s rebel ways can lead to a national change for the better.

    While I hate the idea of legalizing all narcotics, the reality around me shows that it’s the lesser of the evils. The federal government, through its abuse of the commerce clause, has preempted the states by declaring which drugs will be illegal.

    California has legalized medical marijuana, and there is a push to legalize marijuana for any and all uses. Marijuana is one of the drugs that is easily grown and distributed entirely within the state, nullifying the Feds’ use of the commerce clause. Not that the Feds would ever admit that, but I can see a CA-Fed headbutt going to the Supreme Court where, with any luck, the SCOTUS would pare down the Federal Regs to apply only to foreign and interstate movement of narcotics.
    From there it would be up to the states to define what they will and will not allow.

    I don’t have the foresight to speculate as to what the reality of such a change would look like. What do you all think, would drug-related crime get better or worse? Would drug cartels be castrated or would they just move their operations into the states?

    • Drug related crime is a direct result of their legal status. When rival distributors have a disagreement, they have no legal means to dispute them. Hence violent acts over “turf” and suppliers break out. Remove the illegal status of drugs, and you will immediately see a drop in the associated violence. The feds will save money by dissolving the DEA and other departments within agencies that focus on this.

  9. I read Borderlinebeat daily, good people trying to do a good thing over there. Thanks for giving them some exposure.

  10. The calls for legalization, or decriminalization (as Portugal implemented ten years ago), are a reasonable solution to drug violence here and in Mexico.
    First, there is an assumption that legalization of Heroin and other hard drugs will result in increased usage. Really? Who knows someone that is itching to try heroin but does not try it only because it is illegal? If you treat it like tobacco, you may actually see a decrease in use, not increase.

    Second, legalization would likely decrease related crime. The DEA announced two weeks ago a record bust of meth here in SLC. They arrested a mule whose only connection to the source is a guy in Mexico named Juan. So, no lead on the source of the meth, but a big cut on supply in Utah. What will that do? Likely increase the price for meth- which means more robbery and other crime to support the habits of meth users. Demand for meth wasn’t affected by the bust.

    The only real way to affect a win in the Drug War is to diminish demand by helping people make better choices through therapy and treatment, just as we’ve done with tobacco. Until we stop strict enforcement of a prohibition on use, how do we expect people to come out of the shadows to be treated?

    In the meantime, make sure you’re ready to defend your home and loved ones from the growing drug war fueled crime and violence in our communities.

    And if you are hiking in Utah’s back country, prepare for encounters with cartel grow operations and armed bad guys.

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