By Sergio Ramírez
Norteño corrido singers announce the glory of drug-trafficking hoodlums, gentlemen of the knife and gallows that also elect the beauty queens, who, once enthroned, turn out to be hunting trophies. Droit de seigneur. They are the new feudal lords who also own silence, because they silence those who dare inform on their crimes with death.
They inherited the extravagant tastes of the Colombian drug lords, patrons of the Cult of the Divine Child, now replaced with the Cult of La Santa Muerte. And they learned their obsession with private zoos, sitting on toilets made of solid gold, and making pilgrimages to Jerusalem; the same extravagances, and the same cruelty, but perhaps even more refined, because they prefer decapitations to head shots.
The settling of accounts between drug dealers from rival gangs, revenge killings perpetrated against federal agents’ families, executions in the presence of victims’ children. Bodies that appear on the streets, cruelly tortured. The kidnapping and assassination of journalists: over eighty, men and women, have been assassinated this decade so far, and some newspapers choose to close when threatened, like the daily Cambio Sonora.
This year the list of murdered journalists keeps growing, already reaching fourteen: shot getting out of their cars, their bodies thrown into black water ditches, surprised by hit men from their own departments. On another occasion, a judicial functionary’s head was thrown in front of the daily Tabasco Hoy’s building, in Villahermosa, while his decapitated body showed up elsewhere in the city. The daily had already been attacked with bombs and fragmentation grenades, and one of their reporters disappeared, kidnapped after the publication of a series of articles about drug distribution in the city.
Horror and terror that the corridor songs don’t mention. Alejandro Cossío’s photographs, published in the weekly Zeta of Tijuana, tell this bloody story better than words. A pile of corpses abandoned on a vacant lot, a body swinging like a pendulum from a bridge, a sign around its neck. That’s what most abounds in Tijuana today, as in Juarez, or in whatever other city along the border with the United States. Corpses. Corpses hanging, decapitated, quartered, stacked in piles. Crime and fear darken the newsrooms. To be a reporter, or correspondent, demands supreme bravery.
A bloody umbrella that is opened over the entire country and covers murders, kidnappings of the rich and poor, as in the case of Central American immigrants, the trafficking of women, money laundering, corruption of authorities, penetration of the police force, and the sale of protection that extends from large businesses to small shop owners. Not even in Dillinger’s or Al Capone’s wildest dreams.
In one of Cossío’s photos there is a close-up of a thick-linked chain worked from fine metal, perhaps silver, that once hung from a hit man’s neck, and which features an image of La Santa Muerte, scythe in hand, as a charm. La Santa Muerte, the dug-traffickers’ preferred deity, is now worshiped as an everyday cult. The chain of this dissolute piece of luxurious jewelry spills out over the butt of what appears to be a rifle, or a shotgun. La Santa Muerte, enemy of the Holy Word, which accosted journalists defend with bravery, from near anonymity.
The corpse hanging from the urban bridge, about to be unhitched by the firemen, continues to be like the deposition from the cross. There is another covered head to foot, by a white sheet, like a shroud; the wide multitude of bodies, with their hands tied behind their backs, abandoned in a dump, like the crucified at Golgotha. But there is more. On the breech of a silver pistol, also confiscated from a narco, two sculpted scorpions face each other off to the death. A symbol of the times.
In Juarez they murdered Luis Carlos Santiago, a 21-years-old photographer who had worked for just six months at the newspaper, on a fellowship. And he wasn’t the first. Before that Armando Rodríguez, who wrote the daily count of La Santa Muerte’s victims on a chalkboard, fell, riddled with the drug cartels’ bullets, his name added to the list.
We have no right to forgetfulness, nor to silence.
(Translated by David Shook)