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Nuevo Laredo: the border town on the frontline of the drugs trade

Amexica: War Along the US-Mexican Borderline

Ed Vulliamy  Sep 26, 2010

For decades as a traveller, and 10 years as a reporter, I have been repelled and compelled by the charisma of the US-Mexican border – its seduction and its horrors, its firelight sun and occult shadows – to the point at which I had to write a book and give it the name that should, really, be that of the place: Amexica. That land of paradox and dichotomy astride a frontier that is a land unto itself, both porous and harsh, belonging to both the United States and Mexico, and neither: a place of opportunity and poverty, promise and despair, love and violence, wonder and fear, sex and church, family and hard grind. A border along which the US now builds a stockade against migration and violence – yet which is also the busiest commercial border in the world, across which a million people travel every day to shop, go to school, do business or visit relatives. And a place, above all, of boundless beauty and infinite sky.

A savage but strange war now rages along the border, and throughout Mexico: on the surface of things, a fight to the death between narco-trafficking cartels that has claimed 28,000 lives since December 2006. The carnage called me back, to write not so much about the war as a place in time of war. And to find that the war was in part rooted in the border's daily life of exploitation in sweatshop factories and battles for domestic drug-dealing turf, and also in general themes of globalised markets and trade, hyper-materialism and consumerism that hallmark any post-industrial, post-moral society in collapse.

Last year, to write the book, I travelled the length of the border for only the second time, from its western end where the sun sets into the Pacific between Tijuana and San Diego, to the Rio Grande delta between deep south Texas and tropical Tamaulipas, Mexican fortress of the terrifying paramilitary Zetas cartel. A journey through acute fear and laughter-until-tears, ready smiles and cowed silence – and resilience, both in acts of courage and of normality. The length of the border is 1,970 miles, but the journey was nearer 11,000.

The first story I ever wrote about the border was in 2001 – not about cartels, but trade over the busiest border crossing in the world: between Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. It concerned a quickly abandoned proposal by President George W Bush to allow Mexican truckers to drive across the line and all over the United States. Four years after the scheme was scrapped, the present war began in Nuevo Laredo, for criminal control of the truckers' corridor, because where the global economy moves, so do the drugs and contraband – along with tens of thousands of illegal migrants, mostly aboard the railcars.

'I was not an executioner. I was an assassin'

The headlights aimed along Highway 85 coming in from Monterrey throw bedazzling beams through the dust kicked up around truck stop Veintiséis – 26 – so that the encampment of drivers, roadside cafés and police officers at their checkpoint is coated in a thick, illuminated mist of powdery dirt. Although the trucks are parked up like a military column, many of their drivers have kept the engines running so the dust is also heavy with noise and fumes, chugging Volvo and belched Pemex diesel. There is no daytime or night in the truckers' world, only daylight and darkness; there is no clock apart from that which measures pick-up and delivery times, delays. North of the border, the commandment is set in stone and monitored by tachometer, an accord between the teamsters' union and haulage companies: after 10 hours' driving, you rest 10 hours. But this side, in Mexico, things are more flexible. Or maybe not so flexible, there's just a different kind of rule: you drive all the hours God gives, pep yourself up with chemical cocktails to do so and make as much money – that is, drive as many kilometres – as you are physically capable of, devil take the consequences. But even a Mexican trucker must eat, sleep a little and do other things while off the road.

Veintiséis is the name given to the truckers' republic that has sprung up around the customs post and police checkpoint 26km south of Nuevo Laredo, the city that, with its twin on the US side, Laredo, makes up the gateway to the last, industrial, leg of the border journey. The bridge between the two downtown areas of each city is called the "Gateway to the Americas", because this is the border's commercial fulcrum, at which you arrive either by freeway up from Monterrey in the south or down Interstate 13 from Dallas to the north. Or, of course, as I did: along the flat border road from Eagle Pass, Texas. The railway bridge and three other road bridges between these cities form the umbilical cord of trade connecting Mexican and Latin American freight, and Chinese exports, with North America. Some 40% of all trade between the US and Mexico – totalling $367.4bn in 2008 – crosses the Rio Grande here every day, loaded onto thousands of rail cars and 10,000 trucks crossing daily in both directions, converging from all over the US and Mexico to transfer their payloads to shuttle-trucks at vast freight-forwarding yards on either side of the border. More than a million barrels of crude oil a day cross the line here, along with 432 tonnes of jalapeño peppers, 16,000 television sets – all this and more through a town that on the Mexican side didn't light the streets until recently and on the US side was a sleepy cowboy town famous for the song "The Streets of Laredo". Now, neither side can mix concrete fast enough. Los Dos Laredos, as the twin cities are called, form a commercial demilitarised zone full of freight containers as far as the eye can see. Along with goods come the people: the deserts of Arizona and the trade corridor between Los Dos Laredos are the two main routes taken by desperate refugees from poverty across Mexico and Central America, bound for what they believe to be the promised land of plenty. Many of those who cross into Laredo do so by riding or "surfing" the freight wagons that rattle and thunder their way into the US across the so-called "Puente Negro" railway bridge from southern Mexico, from the capital or the port of Lázaro Cárdenas.

Laredo, Texas, is the fourth biggest port in the US, by value of trade, after New York, Los Angeles and Detroit. Some 5,000 trucks a day cross north, and 5,000 south, over the busiest bridges in the world. But here's the rub: an estimated 3% of the transported goods are contraband – invariably drugs northbound, guns and cash southbound – making this the principal crossing point for narco-cartel exports. And these drivers are their witting or unwitting transporters. The cartels' war – which began here in earnest in 2005 – was for the prize corridor, the most important plaza (turf) of all. The authorities' war is against a simple logic: the more trade that comes through Veintiséis and across the border, the more drugs come with it.

Behind the rays of the headlamps at Veintiséis are other lights, the pale yellow or bright fluorescent lanterns of the comedores, places to eat, each marked with a hand-crafted sign. Approaching night, the place is all bustle and hustle, exhausts farting, brakes screeching, reverse gears grinding and the drivers checking out the deals in the comedores. In the Comedor Johanna, Juan Gabriel Morales from Tabasco comes in and orders coffee. He has seen the highways change, he says, especially of late, since the drug war began. "The timing is stressful. You have your load, your deadline and delivery date. If you fuck it up, you don't get paid. After five years, I think I know every trick, and suddenly: new checkpoints, new hassle. And it gets scary," though Juan Gabriel seems ashamed to admit it, for Mexican truckers are supposed to be unacquainted with fear. "You're coming out of San Luis Potosí towards Saltillo and there's a checkpoint that wasn't there before. You've no idea who it is. If it's the army, you can usually talk your way out of it, even if you have to pay. But what if it's the police? Or the police working for the bad guys from here who are big in that area? You just have to get the papers out and give them what they want – you can try, but the company won't pay it back."

We walk back to the parking area, past the police checkpoint, behind a very different eating joint that amalgamates Church's Chicken, Subway and Daily Roast. Along the way, an entire village has been built up around the Veintiséis, with houses where comedor owners, cooks, dishwashers, waiters and waitresses, used-clothing dealers, prostitutes, engine repair mechanics and their children live, and yards where rangy dogs, cats, cows, goats, pigs and rats cohabit with them. The Comedor La Güera – the blonde – also operates a full service market for detergents, shaving gear, batteries, penknives and knock-off audio and video equipment, while the Restaurante Jalisciense is attached to a garage fixing up cars and exhausted engines. And all along the way, the ground is littered with discarded little aluminium packages that once contained pills, the overnight dosage of downers to sleep and amphetamines to get you going again. There are hundreds of them strewn across the dust, but they are only the slightest micro-shaving off the great block of narcotics pulling up at Veintiséis and moving on through.

The drugs are aboard the trucks, in bulk, heading straight into the United States of America. There is no reason why, if 40% of cross-border trade moves through here, 40% of the drugs shouldn't either, if not more. That is why the drug war began in Nuevo Laredo, and that is why the Gulf cartel and Zetas made sure to win it.

The battle for Nuevo Laredo was the beginning of the current phase of Mexico's agony. It announced a new level and a new kind of violence: some 2,000 were killed in 2005 across the country. The Sinaloa cartel sent a lieutenant, born in Texas, called Edgar Valdez Villarreal, aka La Barbie, to lead its siege of the Laredo trade route. He used the internet to show videos of four Gulf cartel killers being beaten, ending with one being shot in the head. After one firefight late in 2006, the dead "lay in pools of blood flowing into the Rio Grande", after which men with assault rifles picked up the bodies of the victims, threw them in the back of pickup trucks and headed out of downtown.

In June 2005, President Vicente Fox sent in a token military force, which he called Operation Secure Mexico, but as a commander of the police department, Enrique Sánchez, said when asked by journalists where the soldiers were during the fighting: "That's a good question. Where are they?" It was a barbed remark, with Mexican federal officials at the time briefing that the Nuevo Laredo's police department was at the disposal of the jailed Osiel Cárdenas, leader of the Gulf cartel and founder of the Zetas. At the same time, Alejandro Domínguez Coello, a former federal law-enforcement official and president of the chamber of commerce, became chief of police in Nuevo Laredo. He was honest, unaffiliated to the cartel – and assassinated seven hours after taking office. Within days of the police chief's murder, the US government closed its consulate, comparing Nuevo Laredo to Baghdad. It was a city of "bazookas, grenades and machine guns", said a businessman after watching a 20-minute battle. Throughout, the cartel hung their narcomensaje banners, one reading: "What else could you want? The state of Tamaulipas, Mexico, the United States, the whole world – territory of the Gulf cartel."

But the war has now abated. Nuevo Laredo is calm, or has the appearance of calm that could blow at any moment. When human rights campaigner Raymundo Ramos Vázquez shows off a narco villa in the exclusive Madero neighbourhood whose owner switched loyalty to the Sinaloa cartel five years ago – attacked with bazookas, incinerated and still empty – he does so as though it were both a cautionary tale and a tourist attraction. But Nuevo Laredo lives the peace of the tomb, or what in Italy would be called Pax Mafiosa. "There has been a truce," says Ramos. "I don't know the details, and I don't want to know, but the Gulf cartel has won, the Sinaloa cartel has lost, and they have reached an accord. I can only guess that Joaquín Guzmán [head of the Sinaloa cartel] pays some kind of tax to use the corridor, if he uses it at all. The Gulf cartel controls the corridor again, and the federal army patrols every block of the city, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This has had the effect of stopping the war."

It has also had the effect of producing a society in which no one dares speak the word Zeta. In every town under their control, the Zetas have another name in everyday parlance, a codeword used as a vain insurance policy by the few who dare speak of this subject; here it seems to be el pirámide, or just the generic "bad guys", as everywhere else. It is an absurd charade – anyone who talks about the Zetas is at risk whatever they call them – but the shying away from the word is fundamentally important. It shows that the faux-mystique of the Zetas works and intimidates; that their name has become an evil talisman, and to avoid uttering it is a primal act of superstition. To speak it, on the other hand, feels like self-condemnation. Ramos talks about the Gulf cartel, but never uses the Z-word.

When I return to see Raymundo Ramos a year later, in 2009, the "peace" is one year older, the town almost buzzing, such is the façade of the Pax Mafiosa and the determination of these people to live as best they can. Raymundo and I convene in the front room of the house of a friend of his. He is an intriguing man – secretive about his life, but boldly forthright in his utterances and analysis. He runs the beleaguered Nuevo Laredo Committee for Human Rights, but his casework mainly involves complaints against the army – he stays well clear of problems caused by the Zetas.

"The difference between here and [Ciudad] Juárez," he begins, "is that there, the plaza is still contested – a battle between gangs, cartels and the army. Here, we don't have that problem. The plaza is tranquil, it's peaceful now compared to three years ago. Here, there's one cartel and the army. But the volume of traffic going through Nuevo Laredo doesn't change. All it means is that the accord between narcos at the highest level must be holding." But, he warns: "Laredo is the main crossing point for trafficking throughout all the USA, we're right in the middle of the distribution network here, and no one wants to give it up entirely. The Gulf cartel and Zetas hold the terrain, and anyone else must pay a tax. The army is here, but that doesn't affect the traffic either: you notice that President Calderón is fighting a war against the narco traffickers, but not the narco traffic! It's a strategy to control the traffic, not to eradicate it.

"But things have changed. Before the war, the narco was granted impunity, so he thought he was the boss, but actually the politicians and the police were the bosses of the narco. Now, after the war, the cartel in this state has become a parallel structure; they are not subject to the political parties, they are a parallel government. Before, the policeman and politician were the bosses of the narco. Now, the narco is the boss of the policeman and politician, and does what he wants."

Ramos was once a journalist for the local paper, El Mañana, with a reputation for fearless reporting on the narcos. But, he says: "I just couldn't carry on. It became too dangerous to be a reporter here. What would be the point risking it? The papers can't publish the news – it's too dangerous for them to do so." In imploding Juárez, people bandied around the words "Línea" (a branch of the Juárez cartel) and "Guzmán" with relative ease in public, for all the raging violence. Here, barely anyone speaks and in the local press, nothing. As any visiting reporter trying to cover Nuevo Laredo – and all Zeta or Gulf cartel territory – knows, this terrain is harder and more frightening than Juárez. Juárez has a functioning, albeit assaulted, mass media; a visiting journalist has reason to be there. In Juárez, there are press conferences, interviews and articles about the violence.

The tabloid arm of the Diario newspaper, PM, made a point of getting to the latest atrocity first, for a gory front-page photo – until last week that is. Last Sunday, the quality El Diario – one of the last dailies on the border to rigorously report the carnage in its city of Juárez – published an extraordinary editorial following a machine-gun attack three days earlier on 21-year-old photojournalist Luis Carlos Santiago, who was shot dead, and an intern who was wounded as they left the office for lunch. Headlined: "What do you want from us?", it was directly addressed by the paper to the "leaders of the different organisations that are fighting for control of Ciudad Juárez", and petitioned them: "We ask you to explain what you want from us, what we should try to publish or not publish, so we know what to expect." The attack followed the murder of El Diario's leading crime reporter, Armando Rodriguez, shot in November 2008 while warming up his car to take his daughter, sitting in the back seat, to school. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 30 Mexican journalists have been killed or have disappeared over the past four years.

In Nuevo Laredo, the opposite prevails – the press has been bludgeoned into silence by the Zetas. Nuevo Laredo is one of those towns in which the local paper is a local institution. The executive editor of the paper is Ramón Cantú, an impressive man, something of a good-living rake, charming, clever, forceful and unreliable in his appointments. But the doors of his newspaper are protected by a bullet-proof, bomb-proof screen, atop which is an understated memorial plaque commemorating an attack on the paper by the Zetas with grenades and guns in February 2006, targeting and injuring a veteran journalist investigating narco smuggling and conditions in the maquiladoras (factories), Jaime Oscar Tey. Two years previously, in March 2004, the editor, Roberto Javier Mora García, was stabbed to death in his SUV, outside his apartment.

Ramón Cantú defends his ground with estimable tenacity, though takes care to do so on the US side of the border, on the public occasion of a "war on drugs" conference in El Paso. In private, he confides: "I'm sick of the whole thing. I want to talk about something else, about the future of this place, trucks and trade." But on the conference podium he bites the bullet: it was made clear, he says, "that we should not use the word 'Zetas'. And I took the view that the lives of our staff are more important. This war is not going to be won by a newspaper or magazine. We have to be aware of our safety as well as benefit the community. We spend a lot of time looking out for our own safety so as to avoid more complicated situations. We're censoring the… newspaper, because we have to get our children to school. If we get some anonymous tip or call, we have to decide what's correct and what's incorrect. These people," he reminds his audience in case it urges him to brandish the sword of truth at all costs, as many do, "they just kill you. They don't make up a slander that you're having an affair, or taking money from the mafia. If they don't like you, they kill you. We have to be very calm. Yes, I've received complaints: 'Why don't you publish this or that?' And I try to explain that I feel bad that we're not doing our job, and then a lady calls, and we must report something. Next day, they call and tell me that two of my reporters have been kidnapped, and advise me to keep silent. I'd like to say I had a bit of courage, but these are innocent reporters covering social affairs – what am I going to do?"

Other journalists in Nuevo Laredo do speak what they cannot write – off the record. One editor says of the crossings into the United States: "The Mexican government can put all the money it wants into the customs and inspections posts, it's all useless. A customs officer is as afraid of organised crime as anyone else. What are they to do when a convoy of 15 SUVs pulls up at the forwarding yard or even at the bridge? And men get out wearing paramilitary uniform and ski masks, carrying AK-47s. If it's a forwarding yard, they're told to open the truck. If it's on the bridge, they're told just to let a truck through across the river. They're not asked, they're told. What do they do? They move to one side. They open the door. They let the truck cross, they don't ask or say anything. They just look the other way. Who wouldn't? This is a military unit; they wear hand grenades in their vests. They don't need to ask people to co-operate. This is what happens here, this is how it's done."

He balances his weight in the shade of a walnut tree, through which dappled sunshine falls. "Oliver" is a big man. He moves slowly, and wears a yellow T-shirt and grey tracksuit trousers. One would like to be able to say that he had the keen, darting eyes of an executioner, but he hasn't. Like him, they are slow but not languid, they are considered. They do, however, have a certain extinguishment in them. He was, so his employer had said, a member of a gang affiliated to the Gulf cartel, and a sicario – an executioner – though Oliver doesn't like the word. He prefers asesino.

For all its importance and size, Nuevo Laredo lies in a far north-west corner of the state of Tamaulipas, the Zetas' home territory, but it is not their bastion – that lies further downriver. And it was in Nuevo Laredo that the war showed how little sense of brotherhood there really is within the cartels, happy to kill out of factional greed within the same organisation. Guzmán's attack on Nuevo Laredo in 2005 was an opportunist push several years after the arrest and extradition of Osiel Cárdenas, but the arrest led also to an internal struggle within the Gulf cartel. Cárdenas's power base was Matamoros and his soldiers were the Zetas he founded, with Nuevo Laredo far away and run by an old guard in the Gulf cartel, some of them loyal to Chava Gómez, whom Cárdenas killed to assume supremacy. They had their own deals with the local police and, crucially, with the haulage industry, and needed subjugation by the Zetas from down the valley. Oliver's gang served a network that the Zetas from Matamoros needed to bring to heel, but his faction fought its ground. (There are reports that a sudden burst of violence across Tamaulipas in early 2010 was a resurgence of this internecine battle between the Zetas and the Gulf cartel's old guard.)

Oliver won't say for whom he worked, only that he was one of Los Tejas, which he sometimes calls Tejanos – Texas and Texans. It was, he says, "a gang" ("pandilla", he calls it). Oliver had been a truck driver in the US, and a drug addict – he is now a born-again Christian. "I looked up the Tejas guys there in San Antonio while I was trucking over there," he says. "I was taking some heavy stuff, and suffered mental problems. I got deported." Back in his home town of Nuevo Laredo, in need of work, Oliver hooked up with the gang again, by now formally affiliated to the Gulf cartel. The "truck driving", it seems, had involved distribution of drugs. "We were in the colonia [neighbourhood]; we were safe in the colonia, but only in the colonia. Outside of that, you don't know who you're dealing with. You don't know who's armed and who isn't. So you work for the organisation and they work for you. First, they get you dealing. Then they get you dealing a little more. But if you're good, the real money is in killing." How much? Silence. Oliver stares back, waiting for another question. He could just get up and go, but he doesn't, he just sits and waits. There are other people around; his boss isn't far away. It's not easy to talk – Oliver is on probation for promotion at work – back to a post he held, but lost. He wants it back a lot more than he wants to talk to me.

How did it start? "It started with fights against the gangs from other colonias. They were creating problems. We got told they were shaving the product, or going over to the guys from Matamoros who were coming in [the Zetas]. I killed one guy in a parking lot. I shot him." And? "And he died."

Until 1994, says Oliver, "the organisation was straightforward. I wasn't involved in smuggling. Most of the drugs were going through the POEs [ports of entry], and they were taking care of that, but some of the gang would organise for distribution with people we knew on the other side in San Antonio. What they needed to make things run smoothly was enforcement." What's enforcement? "Enforcement is getting problems off the cartel's back." There's another silence, which Oliver finally fills of his own accord, heaving his huge frame from one side to the other and rolling his eyes. "I killed a guy on orders – he was drogado." Here the slang kicks in: in border street talk, drogado can mean "in debt" as well as "drugged". "He hadn't paid, he was moving stuff and he wouldn't pay back what he'd sold. He died." Where? "In his house." Why? "For the money he owed the cartel." That is all.

The reason I am at this place, a medical institution, is not to talk to Oliver, but to his employer about the wonderful work he does with drug addicts. Oliver was doing well, and about to become one of the manager's top assistants, but went back to his friends in the gang, and to drugs again. Then he returned, like the prodigal son, desperate to get back to where he was, said the employer. "But it had to be on my terms. 'I'll take you back,' I told him, 'but you'll have to start at the beginning.'" "It's hard," Oliver says softening, almost confiding, "always that temptation. I never tortured anyone, like they do now."

Oliver speaks in short phrases; his breaths do not accord with the beginning or the end of a sentence. As he speaks, he rolls his heavy head back. "I ran a guy down with my truck," he says. "I made a big mess." There is no point fishing for details. 'This'll only stop when people stop taking drugs," says Oliver. The body language is a strange mixture of sloth and strength, like a drowsy animal that can become dangerous in the blink of an eye. "I was never part of the people who were cartel and police," he goes on, at last exhibiting some pride in himself. Oliver says he played no part in the war between the Zetas and Guzmán between 2005 and 2007; he had begun his road to recovery from drugs by then. But memories are long and the danger remains, says his employer. "He's a threat to us all. He was a sicario, he was one of the gang affiliated to the Nuevo Laredo faction, and the Zetas could come for him any time. Which is dangerous for all of us." "I was not a sicario," insists Oliver. "I was an asesino. I didn't kill enough for a sicario, and I didn't get the money a sicario gets. I did other things. I was an asesino – an assassin, but not an executioner."

In ancient Mexican lore, there lies behind the sun that shines a black sun that leaves this world to shed light upon another, beneath. The Mexica believed the black sun was carried by the god of the underworld, and was the maleficent herald of death, though not death as finality. The Mexica lived in a condition of expectation of calamity and catastrophe, yet their preoccupation with death was a blend of fear and devotion to the moment of reunion with their ancestors, in the land upon which the black sun shines. And behind the sunlight of the deserts of Amexica – which turns to fire during eventide – there is some maculate, black light that gives nothing back; unshining behind the eternities of space and sky, or the bustle and music in all those labyrinthine streets lined with hot peppers and pistachios tumbling from every open storefront.

And one feels the rays of that dichotomous black sunshine especially after talking to Dr Hiram Muñoz, of the forensic autopsy team back in Tijuana, where all this began. Dr Muñoz defines his work as: "spending my life trying to scientifically interrogate people who cannot talk, who have suffered terrible pain, but now feel nothing. They can only communicate silently through the terrible things that have been done to them. I have to look for a cause, not a result. I have to rewind the movie, work out what was done, and why." Why did he choose this job? "Because I love medicine, and I love the law. And because I lost my father when I was eight years old, and in his last words, he told the doctors: 'Whatever you do, do it freely, but with exactitude.'"

Muñoz is a man of courtesy and exceptionally good humour. After discussing the various mutilations and their significance, he says that: "The principal message is to the other cartels. They want respect, they want to say, 'This is what we do', and sometimes they say it in written messages, too, perhaps a joke, like the emergency number to call. There's also a message to their own people, of course: 'Toe the line, or we will do this to you.'"

Things are different now. "In what I would call normal times, I kill you and make you disappear. Now, they are shouting it, turning it into a kind of grotesque carousel around their territory. In normal conditions, the torture and killing is private, now it is a public execution using extreme violence, and this is significant, I think. We need to say one thing first, however: these people are drama queens. They think what they do makes them powerful, masters of the universe. But they're not. Ultimately, what they do is pathetic. We have to remember that. They keep saying they're poor people – well, they're poor in culture, that's what they are. They have no culture. The narcos in the old days had been to school. They knew that to be kingpins, they had to provide light, hospitals and schools. That way, they could keep a low profile, win respect, and protect themselves."

Can one be nostalgic for the golden age of corruption? I ask. Dr Muñoz retorts with another question: "Do you prefer it like it is now?" Dr Muñoz considers what this war means in historical terms I had not expected this conversation to comprise. "Consider how all the great civilisations fall, the marks of their last days." He cites ancient Rome, and "the terrible nature of public execution in its final phase". Torture and violent public execution had also marked, he says, "the end of the middle ages and the Spanish Inquisition, as they gave way to the Renaissance and science. There are these great moments of civilisation, of science, but they try to be bigger and better than they are, and when they fall, they resort to grotesque public execution. And I think we are now in a moment of crisis, in the culture of global business. Look around you: recession, crisis, factories closing. The narco is in the same position as everyone else, and everyone else is in the same position as the narco. You must keep supremacy, you must keep control. The narco-traficante is the most global of all global businessmen, and now he must make you loyal or afraid. And he must do these public executions involving mutilation as a demonstration of power, as all these cultures do, in their final phases."

This is an edited extract from Amexica by Ed Vulliamy (Bodley Head, £20)

Amexica: War Along the US-Mexican Borderline
Source: Buy the book from the Guardian bookshop

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