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Stinking Badges

EDITOR’S PICK--“Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges.I don’t have to show you any stinking badges”— Mexican bandits to Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of Sierra Madre 

For long, dreary months CNN, MSNBC and most other news channels have violated me by refusing to report anything other than what’s easy, boring and accessible, the lunatic primary races.  Aside from the Flint water poisoning scandal and snow storms outside their offices, that’s it.

So, because I need sometimes to get a whiff of the real world’s oxygen I step outside my door into the sweaty, chattering, roach coach world of Durango, Chiapas, Jalisco, Michoacan and Zacatecas – home states of the immigrant workmen and women– gardeners, tree trimmers and dry wallers, nannies and housekeepers – who way outnumber Anglos any weekday in my neighborhood.   They work fiercely hard and depart at sundown in their pickups.  We don’t know their names except they work cheaper than the original, now-aging Japanese American gardeners whose own kids prefer white collars to leaf blowers.

In any real sense Los Angeles is a Mexican town – sorry, Donald! – with an added mix of Central Americans looking for jobs or dodging MS13-style murder or both.  In LA alone there are tens of thousands of Mexican gardeners; on building sites round my corner “American” is a foreign language.  Without them southern California would implode.

Their home country is two-and-a-half hours down the I-5 South of San Diego to Tijuana, Baja California and deep into Cartelia.   But as far as most of my mainstream news outlets are concerned Mexico might be located in Tibet or at the bottom of the Bermuda Triangle.   I know more about Mosul in Iraq or Kiev in the Ukraine than I do about anything south of my border.

What I do know is that  Mexico is North America’s ISIS, a raging war with itself.

And that the drug cartels are effectively Mexico’s shadow government, exerting control at every level from village to Presidential palace.  98% of murders go unsolved, few people report crime to the police who themselves may be the criminals.

All I have to do is flip over to a Spanish-only TV channel and even without knowing the language it’s perfectly clear who actually runs the country.  Images tell the story.  Multiple beheaded corpses and bodies hanging from bridges, thousands of youngsters “disappeared” (43 in one small town Iguala alone), uncountable mass graves, 100 local mayors assassinated in the past decade.

We shrug.  “Oh, Mexico – what can you expect? corruption is as old as the country itself,” and ignore the inescapable fact that the Sinaloa, Zeta, Los Rojos and Knights Templar drug rings are moving on from shaking down government to boldly taking over the apparatus.  Their own mayors, their own governors and police chiefs.

Forget the Hollywoodized “capture” of El Chapo.  Some triumph! Every time our DEA and Mexico’s “elite Marines” nab or kill a “kingpin”, it gets worse because his underlings splinter into even more predatory gangs.  That’s how we spend our $300 million a year in “drug war aid” to the fabulously corrupt Mexican federal government which turns over much of the money to municipalities which are forced to hand it over to the criminals.  Thus, our epidemic craving for cocaine, heroin and Mexican weed, and our “war on drugs” tax money, feeds the head-choppers and torturers.

Although star TV anchors like Rachel Maddow and Anderson Cooper have abandoned their posts by ignoring the al-Queda-like war in our nearest southern neighbor, no blame to the Mexican media whose reporters, editors and photographers daily risk their lives just by going to the office.

If you work as a Mexican journalist you accommodate to the sicarios, the hired (often teenage) killers, or pay a terrible price not only yourself but your family.  So you check with the gangsters first who brazenly have their own media directors.  Some drug bosses love publicity, and some will burn you alive for it. 

In the past ten years four journalists have been killed at El Manana,one of the leading papers along the US-Mexican border that must print different editions for different places depending the good or bad will of cartel psychopaths like El Chapo.  Grenade and fire bombings are routine; likewise kidnappings.  

Self censorship is like a Kevlar vest, as necessary to a reporter as armor is to a battlefield soldier.  At least 88 journalists have been murdered since 2000, and more to come.

Come on, Rachel and Anderson, get off your duffs and do some leg work on the Syria so near to us, so far from God.

(Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Hemingway Lives.  This piece was posted first at CounterPunch.org.) 

-cw