Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Drug war ghosts

By Tomas Bravo

The memory is still fresh. I close my eyes and I can feel the tension. First the explosions… 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.


  1. .
    WOW, impressive post with all those high definition fotos and the write up that tells the story: Boderland Beat, you are THE WINNING TEAM in reporting on Mexico's situations, the Drugs Wars, the players involved, etc etc.

  2. It really is an injustice to Mexican society what drug consumption here in the States has met for that country.

    1. It's not drug consumption That is distroying Mexico, it's corruption on both sides of the border

  3. If you think drug use is not big here in mexico, think again. Kidnapping and extortion has skyrocketed. It's not just drugs.

  4. You wont hear the morons bragging about which cartels they support at the bottom of stories like these. This is the reality, not the juvenile gang life they boost about. Time to grow up you wanna be kingpins are polluting your country and the minds of innocents. Maje a difference not a disaster.

  5. Shame what has happened to Mexico, especially cities like Monterrey - once Mexico's beacon of light in the not so distant past.

  6. First picture is aftermath of a cdg hit not zetas. its signed CDG.

  7. Drug consumption is only a fraction of the blame. You honestly think, if drugs are legalized the killings will stop? If the flow of drugs stop these sick bastards will keep on killing. That's what they do; the killing of innocent people has irreparably become who they are. Stop they're main source of money and they will find other ways to feed they're greed for money and quench they're thirst for blood. What do you think the attack on sabritas was for? The CT are desperate because they're drug route is minimal compared to the rest, thus creates the need to extort major companies like this one (just a theory). Yet, the refusal to pay up, leads to they're trucks burned up. Take away the drugs and they go after the oil that Mexico produces, or whatever they can get their hands on. Wake up people, this is far beyond drugs. But hey, what do I know right?

  8. @4:51 it wasnt extortion. So yeah to use your own words against ya, WHAT DO YOU KNOW...right?
    And legalization of drugs would have a tremendous impact of the way drugs are looked at,Its only because of religious lobbyists and right wing politicians+ corrupt governments who DONT want drugs legalized,They claim its a bad idea on some moral rubbish point of view but the fact of the matter is its been 100 years of prohibition and ITS A TOTAL FAILURE, we have LEGAL Drug substitution treatment programs allover the world for dependence that most of the time only puts the habit on HOLD until more money can be found to purchase illegal drugs,Its like the government says DONT BE AN ADDICT TO ILLEGAL DRUGS,TAKE OUR NAZI DEVELOPED SYNTHETIC LEGAL DRUGS AND BE ADDICTED TO THOSE PLEASE!!!!We accept that alcoholism is a disease but drug addiction still is surrounded in fear mongering,propaganda and stigma due to lack of education/insight. The first half of the 20th century saw periods of prohibition of alcoholic beverages in several countries and they all realized what a total WASTE OF TIME it was:

    1900 to 1948 in Prince Edward Island, and for shorter periods in other locations in Canada
    1914 to 1925 in Russia and the Soviet Union
    1915 to 1922 in Iceland (though beer was still prohibited until 1989)
    1916 to 1927 in Norway (wine and beer also included in 1917)
    1919 in Hungary (in the Hungarian Soviet Republic, March 21 to August 1; called szesztilalom)
    1919 to 1932 in Finland (called kieltolaki)
    1920 to 1933 in the United States

    YET ITS BEEN ALMOST 100 YEARS FOR MOST NARCOTICS/MARIJUANA,the drug wars a money making scheme for governments and police forces to SPEND MORE. i wish people would do some research before flappin their fingers on a keyboard and expressing their opinion based on wha??MORALS.

    Bagman was here --->

    1. Okay the attacks weren't extortion but does the motive matter? Point is there's a problem in Mexico and again drug consumtion by the US isn't the biggest issue. That's why you don't see American drug consumers digging and putting bodies in mass graves in the USA, attacks against major corporation in the USA, you don't see the Army or Marines fighting criminals in the streets of America. Drugs should be legalized I agree, but what good is it if only USA legalizs drugs and not Mexico? Violence is still there. Last I checked calderon is fighting a war on drugs because drugs are illegal in Mexico too, not just in the states. Americas drug consumption shouldnt be mexicos excuse to not fix its problem.

    2. Legalizing drugs would kill more people due to consumption than the war being fought in Mexico, yell drug consumption has killed more people since 2006 than this drug war has. But people dying over substance abuse isn't a big deal as long as they aren't dying by the gun because guns are bad right? And guy who doesn't care about morals, why care about legalizing drugs? Wouldn't that be the 'moral' thing to do over fighting a drug war?

  9. Thanks for a fantastic article, Pulitizer quality in my mind. Be strong, keep up the brave work. Only journalists like you are shedding light on this horror.

  10. wow... amazing article.. thank you.

  11. Whining like little girls again.
    Stop talking shit,we all know who's fault this is.
    It has nothing to do with drug consumption,and everything to do with endemic corruption that is on a scale unimaginable in other countries.
    Stop the drug supply north,and you people think the killings would stop?You know quite well that it would continue.The US blame game is about hatred,racism,jealousy,and antagonism to the perceived gringo.It is Mexicans brutally killing Mexicans,how does that equate to the US?Sad losers keep bangin on about the US,its all they have.

    1. It isn't just against the GRINGO... It's against anybody that wants change and is willing tp speak out. There are more than just gringos in the usa. Im mexican all my family is mexican. And at our fam get togethers there is never a shortage of drugs im sad to say.. If you wanna help mexico stop doing drugs and blaming the gabachos.. Avemos chingo de paisa que usamos droga.

    2. Marijuana or better yet cannabis since marijuana was the racist name the gringos gave it. Has never in the history of plantet earth has ever..ever...EVER!! Killed anyone and you can research that.your self, legalizing cannabis will btake these cartels. Who's gonna wana shoot heroin or snort coke when you can get an ounce of weed for 10 at a local corner store. They can't keep killing cuz they ain't gone have income to support their narco army. Thats when the Mexican military comes in and just serve justice to those that have caused harm

  12. Wow you people are naive,NOBODY in the history of this planet died from smoking weed,And if you want to talk about hard drugs then?Howmany people in america die from overdoses of OXYCONTIN and LEGAL synthetic opiods???howmany housewives are addicted to PRESCRIPTION NARCOTICS like pecocet,oxy etc etc in the u.s.a,I could overdose on asprin if i DONT FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS.There are RULES TO USING ILLICIT DRUGS and some are too stupid or uneducated to follow them.What causes people to die from drug abuse?When theres a shortage of drugs stingy dealers and startups will cut coke/heroin with whatever they can find,Thats WHAT KILLS PEOPLE,Changes in purity that the buyer isnt aware of cause he/she is naive or has been in withdrawels so long they are in a rush to use and do not take the time to do a purity test(SEE RULES OF USING ILLICIT DRUGS),Depression causes drug users to Overdose intentionally and quite often the depression is due to the attitudes of people who put them down simply cause they get HIGH.People are dying in the hundreds of thousands from alcahol/tobacco abuse. Wake up and smell the propaganda nub.Tell me how decriminalization of drugs would cause MORE deaths than the status quo? LOOK @ SWEEDEN and their prescription heroin laws,look at portugal and tell me overdoses have risen? hate repeating myself but FCK IT BUGS ME WHEN PEOPLE TALK ON SUBJECTS THEY KNOW NOTHING ABOUT!and yes there is no point in one country legalizing,it needs to be a worldwide effort since its a worldwide HEALTH PROBLEM.
    Quote from Anonymous said...
    "Legalizing drugs would kill more people due to consumption than the war being fought in Mexico"
    easily one of the dumbest things ive witnessed on the internet and ive seen alot of DUMB over the years. congratulations you're a moron, find some evidence to back it up. ever heard of the kings kross injecting room in sydney australia? probably not since im sure youre one of the people who thinks the country you live in is the ONLY one that counts.fool.

    Bagman AGAIN attempting to EDUCATE. =)

  13. June 1, 2012 3:20 PM
    "It isn't just against the GRINGO.
    Hermano i here what you sayin,but drugs are all over the planet,yet you do not see the brutal murders goin on in these different countries.
    You get fed up listening to the"its all the fault of the gringo and the US bullshit"
    You know the US and here peoples dont want to see Mexico like this.
    Anyway hermano Saludos to you.

  14. "cannabis since marijuana was the racist name the gringos gave it"
    What the fuck are you goin on about?
    Medication time,for you pendejo.

  15. the weed from mexico is weak as fuck anyone hwo buys thats shitty dirt weed is fucking stupid let the shit grow right and age properly yr weed sucks big fuckin balls the shitiest and nastyist weed comes from mexico if yr weed sucks dont even bother sending it up north


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