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

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Crossing Drug Cartel Territory from Pacific to Gulf

Borderland Beat
Crossing drug cartel territory from Pacific to Gulf, highway carves a path to Mexico's future

The Associated Press
Associated Press writers Martin Duran in Culiacan and Karla Tinoco in Durango contributed to this report

 ESPINAZO DEL DIABLO, Mexico –  Lavender-blue peaks of the western Sierra Madre jut as far as the eye can see, the only hints of civilization: a tendril of smoke from burning corn residue, a squiggle of dirt road.

Then out of nowhere, a flat ribbon of concrete runs like a roller coaster over giant pylons, burrowing in and out of the mountainside until it seems to leap midair over a 400-meter (1,200-foot) river gorge via the world's highest cable-stayed bridge, called the Baluarte.
The Durango-Mazatlan Highway is one of Mexico's greatest engineering feats, 115 bridges and 61 tunnels designed to bring people, cargo and legitimate commerce safely through a mountain range known until now for marijuana, opium poppies and an accident-prone road called the Devil's Backbone.

Even those protesting the project say the 230-kilometer-long (140-mile) highway, expected to be completed in August, will change northern Mexico dramatically for the good. It will link port cities on the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific by a mere 12-hour drive, and Mazatlan with San Antonio, Texas, in about the same time. The highway will eventually move 5 million vehicles a year, more than four times the number on the old road, plus more produce and goods from Asia to the Mexican interior and southern U.S.

Sinaloa state tourism officials predict an "explosion" for the resort city of Mazatlan, hard hit by drug violence in recent years, as the new road gives 40 million Mexicans in interior states an easy drive to the beach.

"It will change the landscape of this part of the country," said Tourism Secretary Francisco Cordova. "It's an opportunity to develop these areas and diversify the local economy."

But it remains to be seen if the $2.2 billion highway will pull the towns of wood and corrugated-metal shacks in rural Sinaloa and Durango away from their historical ties to drug trafficking. In Concordia, the municipality that abuts the Baluarte Bridge in Sinaloa state, nine people were ambushed and killed last December as they ate their Christmas Eve dinner. The prosecutor blamed the attack on a war for control of drug trafficking.

The public security chief in Pueblo Nuevo, on the Durango side of the bridge, was gunned down a year ago by armed commandos as he walked down a street in daylight.

Government officials say the new road will bring legitimate economic activity to a troubled area. Locals say it may improve access, or take what little honest business they had as trucks and buses bypass towns altogether.

"It could leave some of the communities even more isolated," said Jose Luis Coria Quinones, spokesman for 1,800 communal tree farmers, who have an injunction suspending construction on the Durango side near the bridge while a court considers their case. They say that the federal government hasn't paid them sufficiently for access to their property during the construction and hasn't repaired the damage caused to pine forests, water supplies and endangered species habitat.
From a distance, the Baluarte Bridge and its triangular web of steel cables are both spectacular and wildly out of place, a Golden Gate Bridge in the middle of a moonscape. While shorter than the Golden Gate, the Baluarte crosses a canyon deep enough to fit the Chrysler Building.

Engineers pump their fists when asked who designed it: "Puros Mexicanos." All Mexicans.

A team of 60 to 80 experts started about 15 years ago in the Secretary of Communications and Transportation offices in Mexico City, said supervising architect Alberto Ortiz Martinez, using horseback, mule and helicopter to scope out possible routes. The entire road took 130,000 tons of steel and more than 20 times the concrete of an Olympic stadium.

Some 1,200 workers on the bridge lived for four years in a nearby encampment.
"The most complicated problem was getting there, to locations totally inaccessible, and bringing huge quantities of materials," said engineer Jose Refugio Avila Muro, a federal subdirector of highway projects for Sinaloa state. He compared the topography to an electrocardiogram: "Lots of peaks, and you have to find a way to get to each peak from below. You just keep going, one by one, to each new point of construction."

The new highway will cut the drive between Durango and Mazatlan to 2.5 hours from the current six hours of hairpin turns, few guard rails and the Devil's Backbone, a stretch of road along the spine of a mountain with drops of hundreds of meters (feet) on either side.

Coming around a blind curve, a driver may suddenly have to negotiate passage between a semitrailer barreling downhill and a handful of cows tiptoeing along a narrow shoulder. Deadly accidents are common. A bus carrying mostly retiree tourists to Mazatlan plunged off the road a year ago, killing a dozen and injuring 22.

But the old highway is not the most forbidding part of the landscape.

From December 2006 until September 2011, when the federal government stopped providing numbers, Sinaloa and Durango on either side of the Baluarte Bridge were among the deadliest states in terms of drug-related killings. Mazatlan ranked 8th among Mexico's more than 2,400 municipalities and Pueblo Nuevo, the municipality on the Durango side of the highway, was 35th most violent up to the end of 2010.

The U.S. State Department discourages travel in both states, except for specific tourist zones of Mazatlan.

The killings spiked in townships near the new road as a group known as the Mazatlecos and the Zetas battle for territory controlled by the Sinaloa Cartel, named for its home state and headed by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the world's richest and most-wanted drug lord. A series of attacks around Concordia, Sinaloa, in late 2012, including the Christmas Eve massacre, caused some 250 families to flee their communities, said Concordia Mayor Eligio Medina. They have yet to move back.

Medina said the new highway could change the criminal dynamic, bringing tourism to colonial Concordia, founded in 1565 by the Spaniards as a way station between the coast and the gold mines. It's also one of the most biologically diverse townships in the world, he said, noting that a new species of plant, the ageratina concordiana, was recently discovered there. He envisions everything from bird-watching to bungee jumping in Concordia's Chara Pinta ecological preserve.

"The road will increase jobs and keep people busy," Medina said. "When there is social mobility, criminal groups are more limited."

Medina said the area is quiet again, with the Mexican military patrolling the towns that were attacked. Mazatlan tourism officials say killings there have dropped from 307 in 2011 to 43 so far this year. Latin America security expert Samuel Logan agrees the new road could be a boost to tourism and commerce, and but also to illegal transport.

"Maybe Concordia will grow and there will be a Holiday Inn Express there," he said. "Will there be running daytime shootouts on this highway? Not likely. But will there be convoys of eight to 10 trucks going 90 mph (140 kph) filled with guys with guns? Probably."


  1. Whats this gotta do with the price of rice in china?

  2. wow, the bridge looks SPECTACULAR

  3. Use this highway tourist and get robbed, kidnapped or murdered...Mexico is no more a tourist attraction.

  4. Not all progress is good progress,indeed it can be harmful,especially nowadays,when every consideration is overlooked in favor of the supposed wealth and job creation that is the usual manta,a manta that is usually a lie so a thing can be pushed through.Already,locals were ignored,wait and see what comes of it.

  5. Excellent a nice new highway and bridges for the nar os to move their product weapons and sicarios thank u pri

    1. Shut the hell up they probably paid fpr.that shit

  6. Chapo flexing his muscle's again fucking greedy bastard!

  7. If Mexico has billions to build bridges. Then they should have billions to make new jobs and give future generations better lives instead of them looking for better life's in narcomenudeo which is a bunch of lies and where they'll execute people end up in jail or dead on the side of the road chopped up into ground beef! Just my opinion Mexico! Think about your people first....

  8. Para despertar crudo en Mazatlan me la curo con unos mariscos, y pa la tarde la segimos pistiando en el oro dgo. Nos vemos en Octubre si dios quire puente baluarte.

  9. Whats this gotta do with the price of rice in china?
    Very smart guy!!
    Think, just think a little bit!!!

  10. @steven rodriguez mexico has a growing middle class and doesnt have the debt that the u.s has... 50 years from now, mexico will still exist....not so sure about the u.s, the way we are printing money. the fact of the matter is, the future generations in mexico would be much obliged if we did something about our demand for drugs...but thanks for your opinion, malinche

  11. Fuck yeah.. puro Dgo!

  12. I bet narcos throw people over the bridge when they low on bullets.

  13. Mexico is tooo big of a country for the govmt system . It needs to be broken up. Am i wrong? It has failed the needs of its people.This bridge should have been done a long fucken time ago. Once u get out of Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterey ur most likely being ignorred by the corrupt one sidded govmt. The people in rural country side are living as poor as their ancestors did 200 yrs back. Im not lying. Im not racist, i like the rancho lifestyle. Im just saying this bridge is nice, important for the growth of a better Mexico but how much more improvement is needed to unite the people to feel pride in their govmt. At what expense? Lies , fat fucks lazy mofos like Gordillo steal money from public funds.

  14. I can say from experience that the span bridges around the Colima Volcano turned a 30 hour trip full of gnarly switchbacks down to 19 hours from Texas. It seemed more of a secure trip on the toll road than the free road with fewer stops, speed bumps, donkeys, and suspicious looking people.

  15. This is stuff Mexico is capable of and makes me proud to see.Our country has so much potential.It will be a long time til this narco war calms down but I'm sure when this bridge was planned it wasn't with the intention on being used by narcos.

  16. July 2, 2013 at 4:48 PM
    "@steven rodriguez mexico has a growing middle class and doesnt have the debt that the u.s has... 50 years from now, mexico will still exist....not so sure about the u.s"
    Another soft twat turning it into us v them again?Never learn.He was making an observation not condemning Mexico you fool.

  17. "Another soft twat turning it into us v them again?Never learn.He was making an observation not condemning Mexico you fool."

    yeah, that observation is mexico is at fault for dropping money into their infrastructure (which creats jobs) and not spreading the wealth around in social programs. mexico has paid a steep price for helping america fight its drug war. if you dont think its us vs them, youre the fool... why is the supply demonized yet the demand is ignored? why have thousands of mexicans died in america's drug war yet mexico is still faulted for not doing enough? why do they pass laws calling it immigration reform when theyre only talking about mexicans? i dont even want to get into the racism in the us that ppl of mexican ancestry put up with on a daily basis... never learn? yeah some mexicanos never the ones that sided with the gringos during the mex-american war only to have their descendents robbed a generation seems their descendents are still with us. theyd sacrifice their only child to save a gringo but wouldnt cross the street to help their own kind.

  18. July 3, 2013 at 3:43 PM
    "yeah some mexicanos never the ones that sided with the gringos during the mex-american war only to have their descendents robbed a generation later"
    Dude,fuck off with your racist ass,i just been on FB and saw some of your compadres"fuck niggers and whites"all over,all we ever see on here is racist Mexicans so fuck off with your bitter ass.Dont ever say Mexicans aren't racist,they are the most racist people of all,you add being a liar.Your talkin about shit that happened before you and i were born,fuck off your a bore and a loser racist,start a race militia like the KKK or some shit,just go away to BDN,and please stay in Mexico.

  19. at 3:43 PM
    Yeah man,La Raza,La Raza,the Spain robbed all kinds of wealth from us,oh,and France,and the UK?Well what can we say about them,and the US,they didn't even live here,they came here and stole the whole world 150 years ago,by rights they should give us the whole continent back.And then the Alamo,and then the Portuguese,they tried to take some,and now China have started doing things to us,and Russia,and Canada,and Japan,Indonesia,Iraq,Iran and on and on,i,m going asleep

  20. at 3:43 PM
    What are you babbling about?Have you got a picture of Hitler on your wall ?Dayum boy you is a cretin

  21. The more i see of Mexican attitudes and outlook on here the more i understand where a lot of peoples pre-conceptions come from.

  22. The bridge is an engineering wonder.The connection of the Pacific ocean ports to those of the Mexican and Texas gulf coasts will be in direct competition with the chinese controlled Panama Canal.With the impending oil/natural gas reserves being opened up in Northern Mexico ,like in south Texas,to the newer extraction technologies the entire region is about to be too valuable to world energy markets to leave in the hands of the traditional drug trafficking cartels the most likely scenario is they will go onto the payroll of the multi-national conglomerates as "security" much like the Ternium corporation employs the Caballleros Templares in Aquila Michoacan for security in order to continue mining on lands that are not theirs.

  23. " the price of rice in China" u smart ass... whats the price of a kilo of coke in USA? Thats more relavant. US of Addicts is gonna get the magic white powder quicker with this new road improvement.

  24. Rode my bike over the old road to Maz a couple of years ago. I worried less about the narcos and more about getting struck on one of the hundreds of blind curves. With the new road in place and siphoning off the truck traffic, the old road will be an even better ride. Cant wait to go again!


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