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Dispatch / The Mexican Drug War / October 29, 2009
By Pancho Montana

mexican drug war

MONTERREY, MEXICO — Another day, another shootout. Forget about the tropical storm that hit the Pacific just now, it’s raining bullets in this biatch.

It seems that every day there is another firefight in this or that part of the city, and frankly I’m getting sick of it. Every day, a copy of a copy of a copy. It’s tiring, exhausting—that’s what the drug war is beginning to feel like. A drag, kinda like the Iraq war for you gringos.

Ok, so today’s shootout was in the Alfonso Reyes neighborhood, also known as “La Risca” to us natives. This is a BAD neighborhood, one of our favela-looking, crime infested, Tony Montana-worshipper-producing hoods in the cerros.

It all started around mid-day when someone fired at the local cops from the top of a hill. The obvious suspect: organized crime gangs. This, naturally, led to what we call a “mobilization.” The army and the federal cops swarmed the area and cleared it shanty by shanty until they captured the criminals.

So who were these dangerous, fearless fighters? Turns out just a bunch of kids test-firing a new gun. Who better to target practice on than a gaggle of cops, right? You gotta simulate real-life situations. . .

So at the end of the sweep, a tattoo-coated cholo was taken in by the verdes (green means soldiers) along with two 16-year-olds. While you Americans get Dodges and Fords for your sweet 16, kids out here get M-16s. (Who has more fun with their gifts? I don’t know.) It was reported that the gun was brand-new and probably bought at the border. From the pictures, I could see it was a nice looking R-15, with the scope and all . . . I wondered how much it cost them?

So the kids were testing it out and Monterrey’s finest got all worked up about it. Not really news around here, but I guess the cops don’t like being treated like moving targets, like those exploding clay targets, except redder and more liquid. I don’t blame them.

The second interesting case comes from another shithole here in Monterrey: Apodaca. The Zeta second-in-command and chief CFO for the plaza there was captured with the standard narco happy meal combo that should be familiar to you all by now: weapons, cellphones and drugs (weed, coke and crack, for them curious peoples). But also in his possession were two electronic money counters (Yes, they earn THAT much money…and most of them don’t even know how to read or count right, I mean just look at the “narco-messages” they leave, thats some disgusting spelling. These idiots are sometimes the only image of Mexico that the rest of the world gets, and they project us as illiterate fucking cowboy goons.)

Going back to the action, the more interesting item in the Zeta’s possession—his name, by the way, is “El Borrado” or “the Erased”—was a book containing information on payments to members of various criminal organizations in different states, as far away as Chiapas and Oaxaca. The Zetas may be illiterate, but they got the best accountants money can buy in Mexico and the records were detailed as all hell, dated and geo-coded. But a few in particular grabbed my attention: they were labeled “caídos,” which means “fallen” in Spanish. These denoted the monthly payments made to the families of deceased and detained members. (“Payments” are called “pensiones” in Spanish, and that is exactly what these records for “caidos” were: pensions paid out to relatives of fallen narco soldiers, just like what your government does for its young heroes suckered into serving in the military.)

I knew about this practice, but in this time of shortages, confiscations and balls-out conflict, I didn’t expect the cartels—and much less the Zetas—to honor this very generous tradition. You gotta give it to Mexican narcos, they still have a little bit of honor, if at least to their own, even the asshole Zetas. Hell, the government in the US doesn’t want to give its people basic access to doctors. But then the Zetas are not the US government…

But the media here is all caught up in the mini-Zetas case: how Mexican children are de-sensitized by the everyday violence, how we’ve got a Lord of the Flies society and that everyone should lock their doors and hide their daughters. . . While it’s not a lie, it’s not really new, either. You might remember Rosalio Reta, our original mini-Zeta from way back (who also happened to be an American)? This is just their excuse to put pressure on Mexico’s newly ascendant government, the party we all love to hate, el PRI, to get tough on crime.

Yeah my paisanos if you’re thinking of traveling back to the madre patria to visit the relatives then hold on to your wallets and purses because the PRInosaur seems to be making a come-back, to our misfortune . . . or not?

Maybe the retrograde move to PRI signals that Mexicans are thinking our fiesta-loving asses were “better off” with a semi-totalitarian government like the last PRI presidency was, 70-plus years in power. Some say that PRI was “the perfect dictatorship.” It was most definitely corrupt to the bone. I mean, every politician in Mexico steals, but the PRI goes much lower. They are corrupt scum even by our standards, and we don’t set the bar too high on “fair government.” And that just makes those pensions paid out to fallen Zetas by the Zetas seem that much more progressive.

Pancho Montana is an eXiled Special Mexican War on Drugs Correspondent. You can reach him at montana [at]

As a native of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, located in northern Mexico, Mr. Montana lives in Gulf Cartel territory. That means the streets belong to the Zetas, a paramilitary organization trained by the Yankees and hired by the Gulf Cartel to keep things civilized and business booming.

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  • 1. The Dark Avenger  |  October 29th, 2009 at 11:16 am

    In the book, you write that pirates had set up their own early versions of constitutional democracy, complete with separation of powers, decades before the American Revolution. Was that only possible because they were outlaws, operating entirely outside the control of any government?

    That’s right. The pirates of the 18th century set up quite a thoroughgoing system of democracy. The reason that the criminality is driving these structures is because they can’t rely on the state to provide those structures for them. So pirates, more than anyone else, needed to figure out some system of law and order to make it possible for them to remain together long enough to be successful at stealing.

    So did these participatory, democratic systems give merchant sailors an incentive to join pirate crews, because it meant they were freer among pirates than on their own ships?

    The sailors had more freedom and better pay as pirates than as merchantmen. But perhaps the most important thing was freedom from the arbitrariness of captains and the malicious abuses of power that merchant captains were known to inflict on their crews. In a pirate democracy, a crew could, and routinely did, depose their captain if he was abusing his power or was incompetent.

    You write that pirates weren’t necessarily the bloodthirsty fiends we imagine them to have been. How does the invisible hook explain their behavior?

    The basic idea is, once we recognize pirates as economic actors, businessmen really, it becomes clear as to why they wouldn’t want to brutalize everyone they overtook. In order to encourage merchantmen to surrender, they needed to communicate the idea that, if you surrender to us, you’ll be treated well. That’s the incentive pirates give for sailors to surrender peacefully. If they wantonly abused their prisoners, as they’re often portrayed as having done, that would have actually undermined the incentive of merchant crews to surrender, which would have caused pirates to incur greater costs. They would have had to battle it out more often, because the merchants would have expected to be tortured indiscriminately if they were captured.

    Pirate economics 101

  • 2. chugs  |  October 29th, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    it would seem to me that all systems have a purity of their essence which generally would result in a benefit to society and hence their attraction.

    who could deny that fanatical islam if possible would result in the sort of a perfect society (in their context of war, death, and enslavement).

    The same for democracy, communism, and many other systems.

    Yet all of those systems begin to fail when the purity of their concept is corrupted, usually by those who purport to be their biggest proponents. Yet it vulnerability that all systems that have that is absolutely required.

    Unless the system can be overwhelm by force of arms there must be a mechanism that will lead ot their downfall. Otherwise these systems would operate in perpetuity and what an awful thought, an incorruptible system.

    Imagine if Nazism had been able to maintain their forces and was incorruptible?

    Corruption is as critical as the air we breath. The thing about these mexican drug gangs is that weakest point is their purity of essence (whatever that maybe). The moment its players start corrupt that purity (whilst saying otherwise) is the day their system will collapse.

  • 3. jim beam  |  October 29th, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    Sounds kind of like Hamas in Gaza. These guys have everything necessary for nice and bloody a guerrilla war, except perhaps a really weird ideology.

  • 4. Paladin  |  October 30th, 2009 at 11:09 am

    Hey, Pauncho –

    In that lead pic, izzat a Remington 870 … Benelli SuperNova 12Ga with an 18″ barrel … a Mossberg 590 with the Front tritium nightsight, SpeedFeed 4-s buttstock,
    Ergo 3 rail forend, Surefire G3 w/ z49 tail and z32 head, VikingTactics offset flashlight mount, Magpul covers, and KAC vertical grip … or just a goddam Daisy Red Ryder? Call me. We’ll do lunch.

  • 5. brian  |  October 31st, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    Sounds like Richmond/Oakland, CA

  • 6. Plamen Petkov  |  November 1st, 2009 at 8:24 am

    to chugs: there is a rule on the internets you might not be aware of: if you mention Nazies/Hitler in your argument you automatically lose the argument. Too bad because your writing up to that point was one of the MOST interesting I have read anywhere in a long time. I will be thinking about what you said too. Can you somehow find a way to contact me? You seem to have some insights I want to hear and learn more. Leave a message at my blog or something? thanx.

  • 7. chugs  |  November 1st, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    6. Plamen Petkov

    oh indeed I am aware of Godwin’s law.

    but then again i’m not exactly arguing or using it to counter a prevailing point.

    I just wanted to explain (badly) however that the universe in abstract, physical from the micro and to the macro seems to be made of never ending change. that nothing, even the universe itself, seems consigned to stay the same for ever. That it, before it all ends, seems destined for never ending change. Transformation of one system into another.

    Therefore built into this are the mechanisms to which instigate change. Perhaps change is the only consistency to inconsistent universe

  • 8. Jacob  |  November 5th, 2009 at 12:52 am

    I hope John Carmack incorporates the image above into the artwork of the next version of Doom or Quake.

  • 9. Stuart Graves  |  November 6th, 2009 at 9:48 am

    as an ex-pat englishman living in the states this narco war is like another world. but it’s real, i know that. thanks for reporting it and kudos to you my friend – tu es muy fuerte…

  • 10. supertrukr  |  November 7th, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    @Paladin:looks like a mossberg and confusing concealment with cover

  • 11. Ibn McVeigh Lives On!  |  November 13th, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    As a Dietary Advisory, I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to the thick, pool of deep-red blood that has pooled under the body of the fallen gunman: this young man was OBVIOUSKLY fond of the chili-pepper which can cause excessive blood-thinning and facilitates bleeding! Had this man NOT consumed hot spices excessively he might STILL be with us today. Well, THAT and had he NOT been shot 37 times too.

    As an orthopedic sidenote: sleeping with your head propped-up with a high powered rifle CAN and WILL cause SERIOUS neckpain.

  • 12. Mike G  |  May 24th, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    It’s AR-15, not R-15.

  • 13. tony  |  August 29th, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    Rot in your own violent demise. Ha Mexico is killing itself and its funny.

  • 14. ross peroting  |  October 20th, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    >Tony; you are ridiculous gringo..ever spoke about others, and always you are problem in house….its funy…

  • 15. MichaelT  |  November 27th, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    I’m one of the gringos to whom you refer, married to a wonderful Mexicana, and I have family there in Monterrey and scattered all around Mexico. I love Mexico, and I really enjoyed your writing up to a point. I, too, appreciate satire and wry humor, but you denigrate your point when you use stupid comparisons. The situation in Mexico is horrific, so don’t trivialize it.

    The slams at the US are idiotic. “Hell, the government in the US doesn’t want to give its people basic access to doctors.” You have the audacity to say this when the emergency rooms at our hospitals are awash with Spanish speakers (and others) who are always treated whether they can pay or not? I took a neice (having a miscarriage) to a Social Security hospital there in Mexico one night to find the waiting room jammed and in bedlam — because someone had taken the irate admitting nurse’s ink pen. Her (OLD manual) typewriter ribbon had worn completely out, so she had started writing admissions — until her pen disappeared, so she was adamantly refusing to admit ANY of the frantic people in the emergency room. My wife was livid (and she is not a shy violet), but her attacks were going nowhere. Then a well-dressed man in a leather jacket carrying an obviously ill child elbowed his way to the counter beside us to demand what the hold-up was. The nurse heatedly told him tha NO ONE was going to be admitted until her ink pen was returned. At this he became even more upset and he pointedly brushed the front of his jacket to one side to reveal a huge pistol, saying his son would be admitted NOW! Amazingly, an ink pen suddenly appeared and admissions began. (His son was first; my neice second.) I have no idea if the man was “law enforcement”, narco, or “other”. I only know he was seen as a saviour by the people trying to get into the emergency room. (My wife then refused to allow my neice to be placed on the blood-stained sheets on the bed in the examining room. She demanded clean sheets, finally to be taken to the linen closet where she dug through several stacks of sheets until she finally found one that appeared halfway clean.) This was in a major capital city in Mexico, not in some pueblo. (One the other hand, the private hospital Angeles del Carmen in Guadalajara is one of the very best hospitals I have seen anywhere in the world.)

    You make a total jerk of yourself when you write “‘Payments’ are called ‘pensiones’ in Spanish, and that is exactly what these records for ‘caidos’ were: pensions paid out to relatives of fallen narco soldiers, just like what your government does for its young heroes suckered into serving in the military.)” At this point you lose all legitimacy.

    Enrique Camarena Salazar was one of those heroes “suckered” into serving in our military — where his older brother died. However, Kiki had seen the devastation on his barrios caused by drugs, so he joined DEA to combat that evil — only to be betrayed by “law enforcement” in Mexico, kidnapped, tortured, and killed.

    Your article was otherwise excellent but for such juvenile inanities. I hurt for the good people of Mexico, especially for the clean cops, military men, judges, and politicians who don’t know whom they can trust even among their superiors and colleagues. Even worse, they are well aware that their families are at as much risk as they are. They truly are heroes. And I know how traumatizing life is for ordinary Mexicans. Several of my wife’s relatives (legitimate business people) have been kidnapped for ransom, they have had to defend property from narcos who wanted it, they have been brutalized and victimized by corrupt cops, and they live lives of fearful uncertainty. I have been shushed for comments I have made, being warned that I never know who might overhear, and NO ONE ever drives alone. Anywhere. I have had my family held at gunpoint at an apparently legitimate military roadblock on a “libre” because my wife was taking a picture of an old campesino approaching that same roadblock leading a burro loaded down with wood. Apparently, the soldiers thought she was taking pictures of them, so they confiscated the film. I have been threatened by a corrupt customs agent (who wanted to charge us import tarrifs several time the retail value of our goods); I appealed to his superior who told him we were fine and to let us go — which he did, but only after whispering to me that he should “put a bullet in your head” and promising me that he wouldn’t forget me.

    You don’t even touch on Mexico’s ban on the death penalty. Drug dealers, gun runners, money launderers, and corrupt officials should be executed. Whoever and whereever they are. Period.

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