The man on the screen wears a long black veil. His voice is penetrating, his hands are strong with thick fingers. He is telling of his work, killing people for money, a trade he pursued with some success for 20 years. Another man watches the film with rapt attention. He is a fugitive from Mexico who now lives in the United States. The reason he left is simple: He had to pay a $30,000 ransom for his 1-year-old son, this on top of the $3,000 a month he was paying for simple protection.
I don’t ask him whom he was paying because he probably does not know. People with guns, maybe drug people or simple criminals, maybe the police or the army. People with guns inspire belief because he knows of others who failed to pay and then died.
He stares at the screen and says, “I know him. He’s a state policeman.”
The man talking on the screen was recruited by the drug industry in Ciudad Juarez, sent to the state police academy, where he got around $150 a month as a student and around $1,000 a month from the drug industry as their sponsored law enforcement person. He was also trained by the FBI in Tucson, Ariz., (he told me the training was very good) and headed an anti-kidnapping squad in Juarez. And he also kidnapped people, almost all of whom died once their families were drained of money.
I helped make the film the man is watching, and he knows this. He is mesmerized by the man talking. And he is angry at me, because I know such a man, someone like the killers who took his son and sold him back for some money. Fortunately.
If the press reports this sort of thing, it is framed as part of a War on Drugs that must be won. These stories are fables at best. There is no serious War on Drugs. Rather, there is violence, nourished by the money to be made from drugs. And there are U.S. industries whose primary lifeblood comes from fighting a war on drugs. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, has 225,000 employees and a budget of $42 billion, part of which is aimed at making America safe from Mexico and Mexicans. Narcotics officers in the U.S. cost at least $40 billion a year. The world’s largest prison industry would collapse without the intake of drug convicts, and, in recent years, of illegal Mexican migrants. And around the republic there are big new federal courthouses rising that would be cobwebbed without the steady flow from drug busts and the Mexican poor coming north.
The border now is a bundle of issues: drugs, terrorists, violence spilling across, illegal aliens, free-trade economists insisting on open borders, humanitarians calling for no more deaths. On the ground, this hardly matters. The giant wall being slowly built across the southern flank of the U.S. hardly matters. In the Altar Valley south of Tucson, the wall was barely in place before gates were cut, the hinges facing the Mexican side.
What is happening is natural. And like some natural things, deadly.