For 20 years, Melissa Del Bosque has re­ported on the nar­co­traf­fick­ers along the US- Mex­ico bor­der, risk­ing her life by ven­tur­ing into car­tel coun­try to ex­pose in­sti­tu­tion­alised cor­rup­tion, dev­as­ta­tion and shock­ing lev­els of ex­treme vi­o­lence

Real Crime - - Contents - Words Ben Biggs

We speak to writer Melissa del Bosque about the dan­gers of re­port­ing the il­licit ac­tiv­i­ties of the vi­o­lent drug car­tels along the US- Mex­ico bor­der

Mex­ico has been a haven for the nar­co­traf­fick­ers for decades, ever since the power shifted from Pablo Es­co­bar’s Medellin car­tel in the 1980s. Be­fore 2006, an un­easy truce be­tween the Juárez, Si­naloa and other car­tel af­fil­i­ates meant that, while cor­rup­tion and vi­o­lence still ex­isted as a part of bil­lion- dol­lar nar­cotics in­dus­tries, most peo­ple knew where they stood. Then, Si­naloa de­clared war on Juárez and a kind of hell broke out in the Mex­i­can bor­der­lands that only some­one who has lived through the worst civil wars could re­late to. This wasn’t just crim­i­nals shoot­ing it out in the streets like Pro­hi­bi­tion gang­sters. The power and wealth the car­tels wielded meant the cor­rup­tion ran deep, through lo­cal law en­force­ment, gov­ern­ment and even the army. Po­lice­men and politi­cians were as­sas­si­nated, bod­ies hung by the dozen from bridges, peo­ple dis­ap­peared and mass graves were dis­cov­ered as en­tire vil­lages were emp­tied to clear the way for the car­tels.

The Juárez Val­ley fell un­der mar­tial law but as the Ze­tas, who were aligned with the Juárez car­tel, were made up of for­mer Mex­i­can spe­cial forces op­er­a­tives, they were able to cor­rupt the army. Draw­ing on their mil­i­tary con­tacts,

It’s a con­flict that has a lot to do with or­gan­ised crime and pol­i­tics be­ing one

and the same in Mex­ico

they ap­proached com­man­ders to se­cure large caches of mil­i­tary- grade weapons, rocket launch­ers and ex­plo­sives. In re­turn, the Ze­tas could be re­cruited by the army for dirty, ex­tra­ju­di­cial jobs. This para­mil­i­tary force of black- masked, highly trained and ex­pe­ri­enced killers now dis­tin­guish them­selves with their ex­treme bru­tal­ity among the car­tels al­ready known for em­ploy­ing tor­ture and mur­der as a part of their busi­ness model.

Melissa Del Bosque’s ca­reer as a re­porter in­ves­ti­gat­ing crime along the bor­der has fol­lowed the es­ca­la­tion in nar­coter­ror­ism, oc­ca­sion­ally tak­ing her into the car­tel heart­lands and ‘ the dead­li­est place in Mex­ico’.

Where does your in­ter­est in crime across the US- Mex­ico bor­der come from?

I’ve been writ­ing about the US- Mex­ico bor­der for the last 20 years, and when the drug war started get­ting re­ally bad… I mean it re­ally started in 2006, es­pe­cially on the cities just on the other side of the Texas- Mex­ico bor­der – Juárez and Nuevo Laredo. You’d have heard a lot about Juárez but Nuevo Laredo is quite bad. That is due to these guys, the Ze­tas who I write about, be­cause that’s their home turf.

I’m orig­i­nally from San Diego [ in Cal­i­for­nia], an­other bor­der town, but I’ve been here in Texas for the last 20 years. So when the vi­o­lence started spik­ing and get­ting re­ally bad, as a bor­der re­porter I started hav­ing to cover it. And that’s how I started writ­ing about the drug war and writ­ing about crime in Mex­ico. It was just un­avoid­able at that point be­cause there was so much fight­ing go­ing on.

How much crime spillover is there from the Mex­i­can bor­der towns into the US? Does it feel like a fron­tier?

This is some­thing that sur­prises peo­ple a lot, but there isn’t much spillover. The cities on the US side have very low crime, be­cause one rea­son is there is a lot of law en­force­ment there. An­other rea­son for the vi­o­lence in Mex­ico is that it’s po­lit­i­cal. Po­lit­i­cal par­ties con­trol­ling ter­ri­tory, and politi­cians be­ing in bed with or­gan­ised crime. It’s like a mafia sit­u­a­tion, like you’d see in Si­cily or some­thing. It’s a homegrown con­flict that has a lot to do with or­gan­ised crime and pol­i­tics be­ing one and the same in Mex­ico. Cor­rup­tion’s a big rea­son for a lot of the prob­lems there.

Right A gold and sil­ver medal­lion seized from a Ze­tas mem­ber, em­bla­zoned with the car­tel logo, is on dis­play at the Mex­i­can Sec­re­tary of Na­tional De­fense head­quar­ters inMex­ico City above $ 10,000 or more in cash has to be de­clared at the US- Mex­ico bor­der, so many mul­ti­ple cash drops had to be made for the Ze­tas to get money into the US. The FBI was able to pho­to­graph some of these drops tak­ing place

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