Thursday, 27 June 2013

Midnight in Mexico": A reporter's journey through a country's descent into darkness. Review and comment.

Alfredo Corchado's reports as the "foreign correspondent" in Mexico for the Dallas Morning News have long been must-reading for those who track the progress and set-back of the narco-war in Mexico. His personal contacts and sources in Mexico cover an wide-range of the social spectrum - ordinary Mexicans subject to the whims and vagaries of a roller-coaster economy, those eking out a living within or on the edges a shadowy underworld, double-agents and informers from inside the cartels, lawyers who have chose to serve the drug-lords,  intelligence agents who are tracking the moves of narco lieutenants and money launderers, U.S. ambassadors to Mexico, insiders in the Mexican Presidential office (Los Pinos), fellow journalists in Mexico City who are well-respected in their own right (e.g. David Brooks, NY Times), and even the Presidents of Mexico (Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderon). Two of his important sources and one of his good friends died in the fiery plane crash that killed SEGOB Juan Camilo Mouriño in Mexico City, and several other of his informants have been murdered or disappeared.

Alfredo is responsible for reporting many important stories such as the gruesome youtube video where 4 Zeta foot soldiers were executed by Police or Army personnel working directly for the Sinaloa Cartel, and where the doomed men fingered officials within Los Pinos (Santiago Vasconcelos) who was also one of Corchado's contacts and possible betrayers. His reports in 2003 and 2004 were the first to regularly refer to a gang of brutal thugs in Cd. Juarez known as La Linea, and they directly threatened with harm for violating the code of "never mentioning their name. He was also directly threatened and intimidated by one of the most brutal sicarios in Mexico when he reported about Los Zetas activity in Dallas, and in Laredo/Nuevo Laredo (Miguel Treviño Morales - El Z-40).

But the fourth time he was directly threatened was the most frightening because he didn't know its source and it finally forced him to leave Mexico for a "sojourn" back in his native USA (El Paso, and a fellowship at Harvard). The book begins with events that unfolded after receiving a phone call from an American intelligence agent warning him to "get out now" because some unknown person had issued a direct warning that an American journalist was about to be killed. Mexican journalists are regularly threatened, kidnapped, tortured and murdered — but foreign journalists (especially American) were relatively unscathed. Instead of fleeing immediately, Corchado bravely or foolishly decided that he need to know more about the threat - Why?  Why him? Was it because he reported about a rumoured truce organized by representatives of the government and the cartels? Who made the threat? Was it one of the cartels or all of them? Was it the Police? Was it the Army?.

This book is not fiction, but describes events that would easily serve as dramatic engines for any number of true-crime or even horror novels. The four threats against Corchado are revealed in the course of this book - beginning and ending with the one that drove him out of the country and back to the US. The other three are described while Corchado takes the reader along for a review of the history of narcotraffic and the developments in the drug wars (most specifically beginning with the sexenio of Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon).

There are four "narrative" tracks in this book - the threats made by the cartels or perhaps by government officials, the concise description of the history of powerful cartels and their increasing influence, the difficulties and dangers of doing journalism, and Alfredo's personal struggle to understand his identity and role by describing his relationship with his "bracero parents", Mexican and Mexican-American relatives and with his long-time (and long-suffering) partner Angela Kocherga (also a journalist).

The title is intriguing - Midnight in Mexico. Corchado describes how he began his journey as a type of optimistic rediscovery of  Mexico precisely when there were rising expectations that it was poised to join the modern world (when the PRI was peacefully ousted by PAN). But those dreams proved illusory as Mexico gradually sank into a morass and as the cartels and drug lords gained ascendancy and corruption invaded all institutions. But there is a note of hesitant optimism at the end of the book in sections where Alfredo describes the incredible strength and "reconciliatory" spirit of the families of the 14 teenagers brutally slain in Salvarcar, Cd. Juarez. The desire of these ordinary people to carry on and work on the unfilled Mexican dream are strong and moving testimonies to the resiliency of the Mexican people, and a reminder to Corchado of the things he had hoped to find when he first went to Mexico in search of the Mexico his parents had left behind.

An important book for journalists, those trying to understand Mexican and Chicano identity, and those who want to know why the story of the bloodshed in Mexico has been sadly downplayed and under-reported.

Available from as a hard copy or kindle edition 

and at 

1 comment:

Gregory H. Bontrager said...

When Texas district attorney Mike McLelland and Kaufman County, Texas, prosecutor Mark Hasse were brazenly gunned down earlier this year, a chill colder than jagged steel tore through the heart of the American law enforcement community.

It was widely believed that these demonic murders were retaliation for the recent convictions of upper-echelon Aryan Brotherhood gang members and that the killings bore a striking similarity to Mexican drug cartel assassinations.

A disgraced Kaufman County magistrate appears to have been the perpetrator of the murders. The disturbing thing is that, with the porous southern border, these assassinations could easily have been carried out by Mexican murder squads that could have walked across the border in broad daylight. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has reported that Mexican cartels are currently setting up shop in American cities, controlling wholesale drug distribution across the nation.

The question is: When will these Mexican narco terrorists, many of whom were trained by U.S. special forces, bring their grisly brand of violence to the main streets of America, and will we deal with this threat in the same corrupt, spineless way as the Mexican government?

Sealing this porous southern border with Mexico should be our first priority in safeguarding the American people from terrorist threats from Mexico and around the world. With a fraction of the money and effort expended in the Afghan war, this would be an easily obtainable goal. The question is: Do U.S. leaders have the political will to safeguard their citizens from terror by closing this wide-open border with Mexico? My hunch is they don't.