Sunday, April 19, 2009

A good series on Mexico's gangs

CNN recently published a three-part series of articles on Mexico's gangs and its crime problem. They make very interesting reading.

Part I looks at the unwritten rules that govern gangs.

"Jose" explains there is a clearly defined set of narco-rules that must be followed. A small-time Latin American cocaine trafficker I've known for years introduced me to Jose.

Jose is old school. He tells me he's been in the cocaine trade since the early 1980s almost since it began, has worked internationally and done a stretch in prison

"From the outside it might look like the cartels are just going around killing people. But on the inside there's a code of conduct, rules. You might not want to kill somebody but you have to because it's all about respect," he said. "This cannot work if there's no respect. Above all, the capos use logic to solve the problems."

Part II examines how gangsters are honored in death.

A baseball cap dangles from a cement cross. The slogan on the hat reads "power, money, respect." On the brim there's the logo of the classic gangster movie "Scarface."

Etched on the gravestone, the words: "Jesus Guadalupe Parra. 12 December 1986 to 25 August 2008."

"Lupito," as friends and family knew him, went down in a hail of bullets before he reached 22. Authorities said he died alongside three others in a gunfight with a rival drug gang high in the Sierra Madre mountain range that is the backbone of Mexico's Pacific coast state of Sinaloa.

A printed banner draped over his tomb offers a deeper insight. It shows a photo of him alongside a marijuana plantation and an AK-47 assault rifle fitted with a 100-round ammunition drum.

Part III shows the grim impact of Mexico's gangs on society.

Lucio Soria [is a] photographer for Juarez's main newspaper, El Diario de Juarez, and its sister paper, PM.

PM is a perfect example of Mexico's so-called "red press," newspapers that specialize in covering violence. Soria seems like a perfect ambassador.

"I've gone for a week and a half without taking pictures of dead people. I was thinking 'Hell, what am I going to do?' At this rate I'll end up taking pictures for the social pages," he said.

Soria realizes snapping pictures of blood and gore may seem heartless. But he stays cheerful, cracking dark jokes with colleagues, all while listening to police communications on a radio scanner and searching for clues about where to find the next drug war victim.

"It might seem ugly, but that's our job," Soria said.

Recommended reading, all three parts.


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