Posted by Irresponsibility
As statistics go, this is a real stomach-turner: “The Mexican government has been trying to crack down on the drug cartels, an effort that has left more than 10,000 Mexicans dead in the last 18 months.”
What makes it even more absurd and awful is that it isn’t even the point of the story. Just a fact tossed casually in, several paragraphs down, in a New York Times article about Mexican cartels recruiting American kids as hired guns. We are not meant to be impressed. 10,000 dead Mexicans is an aside.
America’s War on Drugs has called down a holocaust on Mexico and the USA’s unapologetic disregard for human life is subtly justified by the tone of James C. McKinley Jr’s sensationalist front-page story, literally demonising his subjects. Nineteen-year-old convicted killer Rosalio Reta is pictured, black ink licking up his face: “he paid a fellow prisoner to tattoo flames and horn shapes on his face, giving him a demonic look”. Actually, he looks more like a badly made-up mime.
Instead of asking sensible questions like: why might kids who “grew up with nine brothers and sisters, living in a tiny wood house, propped up on cinder blocks” or grew up with “an abusive, alcoholic father” be tempted by the prospect of fast money and the power that comes from holding a gun in your hand? The NYT revels in ridiculous, gory detail. An ‘investigator’ is quoted recounting that the accused: “collected the victims’ blood in a glass and toasted La Santa Muerte, a personification of death worshiped by some Mexicans”.
It is a memorable, gruesome and totally unverifiable detail that serves only one purpose: to paint Mexicans as blood-drinking savages. Why? Because it justifies the carnage. It whispers they’re not like us. Mexico, captured in this light, is not a perfectly ordinary place full of ordinary people but a dark-hearted hinterland crouched slavering at the border of (white, Protestant, American) civilisation.
The facts of the story limp along under the weight of the necessity to create Mexico as a monstrous threat to all that is right and true in America’s national character. Reta is quoted as saying that some of the assassins “sleep as peacefully as fish”. It is supposed to illustrate his callousness but is so obviously plagiarised from a half-remembered gangster film it is sad rather than ominous. His family’s report, to the police, that he “described killings in Mexico that he had witnessed and, in some cases, participated in. He sounded so excited when he talked about all these things” suggests not a cold-blooded professional killer but the braggadocio of a marginalised teenager desperate for a whiff of the macho cool denied him by his cinderblock shack upbringing.
The problem is not, as the article invites us to believe, that the sinister lure of the black-soulled South (“Most of the American youths were recruited in a discothèque, the Eclipse… a darkened dive where teenagers go to drink, dance and flirt while reggaetón thunders”) but the crisp indifference of the North to its lost children. America reserves its love for the rich, powerful, successful, well-educated. Dirt-poor kids with names like Rosalio don’t figure in its plans.
Detective Garcia, who with his partner in the Laredo Police Department, Carlos Adan, helped put Reta and his friend in prison, is on the mark when he says the Mexican cartels “wave that power, that cash, the cars, the easy money” that America’s children are taught to believe is their birthright. But he misses the point when he adds: “these kids all have that romantic notion they are going to live forever.” That’s not it at all. The problem is that the Rosalios and Gabriels growing up in grinding poverty along the US-Mexico border know they won’t live forever; know, in fact, their lives are worth nothing at all.