"You know what happens in Mexico if I start talking. You know what they will do [to my children]."
The story of Mexican cartels in the United States is not news but the Los Angeles Times April 17 report, written by Richard A. Serrano of the Times Washington Bureau, fills in some blanks and underscores that the cartel operations are by no means limited to U.S. southwestern border cities. This excerpt from the report conveys the scope of the Mexican cartels' reach in the United States:
Atlanta has become a major cartel hub, where cocaine is stored in lockers, storefronts and homes, then trucked to cities such as Columbia, according to federal officials. The Tijuana cartel has set up shop in Seattle and Anchorage, they added. Elements of the Juarez cartel have been busy in four dozen cities, including Minneapolis. The Gulf cartel has reached into Buffalo, N.Y.The FBI is going to many need more fingers to dam the tide of Mexican cartels operating stateside. In Mexico, the crime syndicates retain their power through a code of silence, enforced by a reign of terror. In the United States, a code of silence is enforced by a reign of unacknowledged, unofficial censorship in the American news and film industries, which refuse to portray Mexican society as it really is.
When the FBI started looking into the South Carolina drug trade, agents never imagined the investigation would lead them to a Mexican cartel. In all, the effort here has led to charges against 116 people in eight separate indictments, 33 firearms seized, four vehicles impounded, 27 wiretaps approved, and $600,000 in cash and well over $1 million in drugs confiscated. So far, 111 of the defendants have been convicted, while one suspect awaits trail and four fugitives are on the loose.
No one believes Columbia has become drug free, but the city is the first in the nation to have successfully disrupted a cartel that was so deeply ingrained in a U.S. community. The success is being hailed by law enforcement officials as a major victory. "We've been standing at a dam and putting our fingers in the holes," said lead prosecutor Asst. U.S. Atty. Stacey D. Haynes.
The only major-release film in the United States to show the real Mexico was the 2004 Man on Fire. On one level the film is a revenge tale that's so stomach-turning it makes Death Wish, the 1974 classic revenge flick, look like a school picnic. On another level Man on Fire is the only clear-eyed portrayal of Mexico to make it into movie theaters across the United States in the modern era. Yet the film couldn't be produced today in America because it shows in graphic fashion that Mexican civil society is itself stomach-turning.
Even Mexican-American and Mexican immigrant criminal gangs have been scrubbed from Hollywood's list of acceptable film topics. The 2005 remake of John Carpenter's 1976 Assault on Precinct 13 had to switch the locale from Los Angeles to Detroit and substitute a group of corrupt white police for Carpenter's zombie-like gang and its clear reference to Mexican-American gangsters.
The chickens came home to roost on Sunday night when the Hollywood superstar couple Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore admitted to CNN's Piers Morgan that they'd had a hard time garnering support among their circle for the foundation, which they started this year to combat the child sex trade.
Even after a CNN graphic flashed on the screen showing that 63 percent of child sex slaves were in the United States, and even after Kutcher had described how the U.S. Department of State had taken Moore and him to the Mexican-U.S. border to let them see firsthand the victims of the cross-border trade in kidnapping children for sex, Kutcher's dicussion skated around any allusion to Mexico. Even the innocuous name for their foundation and its vague mission statement ("DNA Foundation, which stands for fundamental right to freedom for every person because it's within our DNA.") skirts the issue of Mexico's role in the child sex, kidnapping, and slavery trades that have spread like cancer into the United States.
So while DNA Foundation stands for the fundamental right to freedom, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore are not free to publicly discuss the role of Mexico in human trafficking. Not with all their wealth, not with all their international fame and star status are they free, not unless they want to risk being blacklisted in Hollywood and watch their foundation become untouchable.
Thus, one of the most painful interviews I've watched on national cable television, as Piers Morgan patiently waited for an answer while Kutcher cast around for a reason to explain reluctance on the part of many Hollywood celebrities to support DNA. The transcript for the interview doesn't fully convey Kutcher's discomfiture; only the video (not yet posted to the CNN website) of the interview shows it. But the reason he finally summoned is painful enough to behold:
MORGAN: The campaign, obviously, has been gathering a little momentum and you launched it big time this week with a big series of videos involving lots of famous people. It wasn't the easiest sell reading some of your comments [at Twitter] about this. A lot of people, famous friends of yours, didn't want to get involved.For Ashton Kutcher's benefit, see STRATFOR's May 2010 map showing the drug routes and also human smuggling/slave trafficking routes.
Why was that, do you think?
KUTCHER: Well, I think that there's -- I think that there's a subsect of what we're looking at it and it's sort of dangerously bleeds over into something that people are very accustomed to. You know --
KUTCHER: Right. So what we're focusing on is child sex slavery. Right? And when the line bleeds into prostitution, people have a little bit of trepidation because they say to themselves, what, if you're 18 years old, 19 years old, 20 years old, and you decide that this is what you want to do with your life, you should be able to choose that.
And none of us are sitting here saying that that's not -- that we don't respect someone's right to choose that. But at the same time, when you look at it and you say, all right, if the average age of entry is 13, what 13-year-old girl is choosing this as their profession and does a 13-year-old really have that choice? [...]
As for the American news media, last year CNN eased out Lou Dobbs after his relentless daily reporting on Mexican drug-war violence brought forth a crescendo of complaints from organizations purporting to represent the "Hispanic vote."
CNN's investigative report, Murder in Mexico: What Happened in Falcon Lake, premiered on April 16, goes nowhere near confronting the realities in Mexican society that underlie and fuel organized crime in the country.
As to reports on Mexico's child kidnapping industry it was left to NPR, which is not a mainstream news outlet, to do the heavy lifting in its report about the missing girls in Ciudad Juarez. (H/T Caledoniyya) But that was two years ago.
The last time a major American press outlet clearly addressed racism in Mexico, a topic which is masked in the Mexican and American news media by references to 'poverty,' was in 1995. I would be surprised if the topic has ever made it onto American national television. Wikipedia has a very short article on the topic although it does manage to scratch the surface:
Almost uniformly, people who are darker-skinned and of indigenous descent make up the peasantry and working classes, while lighter-skinned, Spanish-descent Mexicans are in the ruling elite. Because of this, many of the Mexicans of indigenous descent in poverty are left to join one of Mexico's drug cartels as their only means of survival. [...]Not to understand Mexico's racism and that the country simply never transited from its Spanish colonial era is to understand nothing about the forces that shape Mexico's criminal culture and the code of silence that supports it.
A government can only do so much; until the U.S. news and filmmaking industries do their part to educate the American public about the real Mexico, the U.S. federal government won't feel enough pressure to really stand up to Mexico's government. It will continue to resist U.S. state governments that want to take stronger action to limit cross-border human and drug trafficking. And it will continue to uphold a code of silence in the United States that allows so much horror to work itself into the fabric of American society.
I realize breaking the code of silence in the American news and entertainment media would take courage, including a willingness to endure boycotts. But maybe, if the editors of the major newspapers, producers at the major cable and TV broadcast networks and heads of major film studios sat down together in a room, and said, 'Let's do this,' there would be a little safety in numbers.
This unified approach would help all concerned withstand the wrath of the Mexican government, the U.S. Treasury and Department of State, U.S. Congress, the most powerful labor unions and 'humanitarian' and immigrant activist organizations, the American agribusiness and construction industries, major American banks doing big remittances business with Mexico, the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.
To help shore their determination, the standard-bearers of American journalism could watch Man on Fire and focus on Mariana Guerrero, a newspaper columnist for Diario Reforma, and AFI Detective Miguel Manzano. Whether or not the characters are based on real people or composites of such, Mexicans of almost superhuman courage and tenacity really do exist and make it their calling to stand up to organized crime. To maintain the code of silence in American journalism about the real Mexico is to betray such Mexicans and the profession of journalism.
If American television wants to start its reports on the real Mexico with a less incendiary topic than racism, it could investigate the remnants or evolution of Mexico's old camarilla system, inherited from Spain, and try to determine how the present-day cliques feed into government corruption supporting the crime cartels. To my knowledge no open-source investigation has dealt with this very important and complex subject.
The best information available in English on Mexico's camarillas and ways they might have evolved in the past two decades is found in David Ronfeldt's admittedly dated examination in the late 1980s. (H/T Zenpundit)
Ronfeldt spent 20 years working on U.S.-Latin American security issues with emphasis on Mexico and Cuba; he believes that what remains of the camarillas, or what they morphed into, could explain the country's amazing ability to keep lurching along despite the rule of the crime cartels.
Scroll past the updates in Why Mexico May Not Fall Apart (which contain several excellent discussions of Mexico's present security situation) to get to Ronfeldt's discussion of Mexico's camarillas.