Welcome John Gibler, and Host Sam Quinones (website)

To Die in Mexico: Dispatches from Inside the Drug War

Host, Sam Quinones:

Mexico’s harrowing drug war is not a consequence that many thought would accompany the country’s long-awaited and admirably accomplished transition from a one-party state in 2000.

But there it is. By 2011, the war has been raging from four to six years (depending, crucially, on your definition of when it started, which we’ll be talking about).

I can’t keep count; long ago the numbers overwhelmed me. What is it now? 35,000 dead, and rising every day.

The killings seem to reach new depths of barbarity every few months. Who remembers the “Soupmaker” in Tijuana? New places in Mexico become war zones almost overnight (Gomez Palacio, Durango), then fade as the “front” in this war shifts.

What’s more, there’s a new, very public approach to killing that is also unnerving and was never seen in Mexico prior to all this.

Beheadings, hangings from overpasses, body dumps. Messages scrawled on headless torsos. Narcomantas – narcobanners – hung in parks or along roadways, expressing drug gangs’ political points of view.

Once upon a time, the massacre of 45 people at Acteal, Chiapas captured the country’s attention for years as the lone example in recent memory (it happened in 1997) of such a heinous type of event.

Acteal is now long forgotten amid the piles of bodies that have stacked in Michoacan, Tamaulipas, Durango, Baja California Norte, Nuevo Leon, Nayarit, Sinaloa, and of course, Ciudad Juarez and the rest of Chihuahua.

Of course, these days, one massacre or body dump is remembered for about as long as it takes for the next to appear.

Itinerant journalist John Gibler is preoccupied with all this — the way of dying and how the living remember it — in his new book, To Die In Mexico.

The book is a petite (in size) but muscular book of reportage mostly about the folks who see all this before almost anybody: the reporters and photographers in Chihuahua, Sinaloa and elsewhere.

As public as these killings are, and covered by the valiant folks in Gibler’s book, there is no explanation or resolution, to virtually any of them.

The book begins with a political cartoon expressing what is thus the popular response to each gangland-style homicide – responses, in fact, that in Mexico have long accompanied each such killing in Mexico:

“She must have been involved in something;” “It was a gang feud;” “What was he doing out at that hour?;” “It was a settling of accounts;” “She was a whore.”

If none is ever explained, public imagination is allowed to run wild, and the fact that someone is murdered is proof of his guilt or complicity.

Today, we hope to shed some light on, if not individual homicides, at least the origins and the reasons for the drug war, why it has spread, its effect on Mexico and Mexicans, and the U.S. role in all this, how the U.S. is affected, and a whole lot more.

Please join us and add your point of view to what I hope will be a gripping discussion.

Welcome John Gibler. You were in Oaxaca a few days ago. Where are you writing from today?

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

101 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes John Gibler, To Die in Mexico: Dispatches from Inside the Drug War”

BevW August 6th, 2011 at 1:51 pm

John, Sam, Welcome to the Lake.

Sam, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 2:06 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

Hello Bev. Thank you for the invitation to the Book Salon. And hello Sam, thank you for hosting and adding your expertise and depth of understanding to the discussion.

Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Great Bev, thanks for the invitation. John, where are you writing us from today? you were in Oaxaca a few days ago….

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 2:08 pm

I’m am writing from Mexico City, a few blocks from the Zócalo.

Siun August 6th, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Thanks Sam and John for visiting with us today — and thank you John for a striking book. I so appreciated your ability and willingness to capture the very personal impact of this continuing slaughter and the stunning courage of these journalists who just keep being real journalists in the most horrific of situations – would that we had even a few of their caliber here.

Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 2:09 pm

great. well, it’s good to be talking with you today….to get started i wanted to ask about how you came to the focus you did. it’s a bleak title, though maybe appropriate for the time….how did it occur to you?

Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 2:10 pm
In response to Siun @ 5

i for one am happy to be here. thanks for the invitation.

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 2:10 pm
In response to Sam Quinones @ 6

The title is a quote taken from the intense cartoon by Antonio Helguera, published in La Jornada in Mexico City that you also quote from in your introduction.

Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 2:11 pm

what about the cartoon spoke to you and made you feel this was a book topic?

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 2:12 pm

The cartoon illustrates the disturbing logic that underlies the drug war violence: the dead are to blame.

Here is a link:
Morir en México


John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 2:13 pm
In response to Siun @ 5

Thank you very much Siun.

C2ba133bb August 6th, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Hi John and Sam

PeasantParty August 6th, 2011 at 2:13 pm

How did this war begin and what can US citizens do?

Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 2:13 pm

indeed, was this something you’d been thinking for a while? was there an event that got you thinking this would be the topic for a book?

CTuttle August 6th, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Aloha, Sam and John…! Mahalo for this Salon…! I read yesterday that the entire Cuidad Juarez Police Force had resigned enmasse, how many other towns and cities has that happened in, of late…?

C2ba133bb August 6th, 2011 at 2:15 pm
John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 2:15 pm

The government’s logic in the drug war is this: if you’re dead, you’re dirty; if your body is found on a street corner wrapped in a blanket, a bullet in your head, then you must have been up to something. The assumption of guilt serves as a kind of post-mortem death sentence in a nation where there is no death penalty. The assumption of guilt also serves to justify the government’s inaction or incompetence (or some combination of both) when it comes to investigating the murders and pursuing justice.

Calderón said that some 90% of the deaths in the drug war correspond to people involved in drug trafficking and the disputes between rival drug trafficking organizations. Calderón offers no evidence to support his a claim. In fact, according to the government’s own accounting, at least 95% of the murders are not even investigated.

I chose the title, and a good deal of my approach to reporting, in an attempt to question this logic of assumed guilt.

Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 2:15 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 15

it was not the Juarez PD, but rather the police force of a smaller town south of there, Ascencion. it is rare but sadly not rare enough. i remember a case or two a few years back.

Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Readers are asking, so let’s talk about the origins of what’s going on in Mexico now. what’s your take?

DWBartoo August 6th, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Thank you, John and Sam, for spending some time with us. It is much appreciated.


And welcome to the Lake.


Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 2:17 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 20

happy to be here.

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 2:17 pm
In response to Sam Quinones @ 14

I followed the increase in violence and the horrid theatrical nature of the violence from the very beginning of Calderón’s administration. At the time I was reporting on social movements. It took me about three years of thinking and talking amongst Mexican colleagues to decide on the structure of this book: following Mexican crime beat journalists in the drug war zones.

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 2:19 pm
In response to Sam Quinones @ 19

The origins, a very complex topic! I place the deep origins in the US government’s ideological prohibition drive. I place the more immediate origins to Calderón’s desperate attempt to create the perception of a strong and legitimate president after a highly questioned electoral victory.

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 2:21 pm
In response to C2ba133bb @ 12

Hello, thanks for joining in.

Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Yes, you’re pretty hard on Calderon.

But I wonder what a president is supposed to do when he comes to power and finds war in the streets in at least four different regions of the country, and looks around and sees he has no police force worth anything. The legacy of the PRI is that the Army is the only institution that can attack this threat. All the institutions we take for granted were never developed or rotted away, victims of the PRI’s use of corruption as a mechanism for maintaining loyalty and gluing the country together.

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 2:22 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 15

Hello! Yes, mass resignations have taken place in Michoacán and elsewhere.

DWBartoo August 6th, 2011 at 2:24 pm
In response to John Gibler @ 22

If America were to legalize the use of Marijuana, then would this action have any affect on the utter madness of the drug-gang wars, and “official idiocy” of the current Mexican government?

Or is it more complex than the fallout of idiocy from America’s own “endless” war on drugs, the first “endless” war, and, I consider, a trial-baloon for the subsequent “endless wars” American “leadership” has happily embraced?


Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 2:26 pm

This is a good question. Marijuana is the Mexican trafficker’s gateway drug — virtually all have started by smuggling pot. form that they learn routes, develop a bankroll, customers and confidence, etc. Also, pot is a (pardon the pun) evergreen drug — there’s always demand for it. no matter what happens to coke, meth or heroin, the demand for pot is stable. so it’s constant revenue. You can draw your own conclusions from that as to how it would affect the traffickers of Mexico.

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 2:26 pm
In response to Sam Quinones @ 25

I am pretty hard on Calderón, but not as hard as most of the people in interviewed while reporting for this book. Meché Murillo, a human rights activist in Culiacán, Sinaloa whose brother was assassinated after denouncing Mexican military massacres of civilians, told me this: “The only thing organized in this country is organized crime.” She went on to detail the absurdity of a president who launches a war with an Army divided. Also: the idea that the Army is the only institution capable of taking on the drug trafficking industry suffers from a lack of historical memory. Recall, Mexico’s first ever federal anti-drug leader was an Army general, Jesús Gutierrez Rebollo, later found to be on the take.

Kevin Gosztola August 6th, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Hello, John. This is one of the best works of nonfiction that I have read.

In many ways this is a book for journalists. On the one hand, it would seem someone could learn a thing or two about covering conflicts. But, then this isn’t so much a situation where there is an ongoing conflict. One can make the argument this is about what happens when gangs or thugs are in charge. The way press freedom is curtailed because the drug trafficking cartels have a monopoly of violence on Mexican towns is definitely demoralizing. But what reporters face seems to be what human rights advocates face as well.

What do you think a reporter should take away from your book?

Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 2:30 pm

granted, but Mexicans make a national sport of criticizing the president. this went on during PRI times, continued during Fox, and is now the case during Calderon, a hangover from the times when the president was king.

My question is how could he not have sent in the army when he was sworn in. The war among narcos had been raging since at least early 2005 in places like Reynosa, Matamoros, then Michoacan, then Acapulco. There were street gun battles, beheadings.

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 2:30 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 27

Indeed a very good question. I also think that legalizing marijuana should be viewed as part of a larger political platform to radically change US drug policy, indeed to shift away from absolute prohibition to some combination of regulation, education, and public health initiatives. In that sense, it could have a huge impact on the violence in Mexico. I think that violence will always be a part of an illegal industry that generates somewhere between $350 and $500 billion dollars in cash a year.

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 2:33 pm
In response to Sam Quinones @ 31

True. But I think that no military response in any one isolated country–especially the country that borders the largest and most lucrative illegal drug market in the world–will “win” a “war on drugs.” I think the entire war approach is entirely mistaken. Calderón could have invested billions in education and rehab clinics, but he spent the money on the army and federal police, and five years later there are 41,000 people dead, and their murders remain in impunity.

PeasantParty August 6th, 2011 at 2:34 pm


I’ve felt for a long time that our Government and Congress members themselves are profiting on the prohibition of mj. Have you any signs that might confirm my intuition?

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 2:36 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 30

Hi Kevin, thanks for your comments. Yours is a hard question. I think Javier Valdez’s advice is a sound starting point: don’t give in to silence, gauge risk levels, but above all else, seek out the stories of life in the midst of so much death, the stories of fear. Take a side view into the conflict, perhaps.

Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 2:36 pm

maybe so, but the areas you refer to — education for example — are also controlled by enormous unions (read political bosses) who make education barely their priority….

Education reform is certainly necessary in Mexico, but it’s hard to see how it’s possible with the interests involved in place. moreover, it requires Congress to act, and Mexico’s Congress has been notoriously paralyzed and taken up with minutiae.

and meanwhile what would he do about the narcos warring in the streets?

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 2:39 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 34

The profit might be indirect: building campaigns around “cracking down” or being “tough on crime” when crime statistics are buffered by marijuana (and other drug) arrests. The prison industry as we know it survives on drug prohibition laws.

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 2:43 pm
In response to Sam Quinones @ 36

Sam, your points are right on. The national teachers union leadership in Mexico is a mafia. Still, nearly five years into Calderón’s admin is failure could not be clearer. When he took office in Dec. 2006 there had been less than 1000 drug trafficking related murders; in 2010 there were an estimated 15,000 such murders. Also: the so-called Sinaloa Cartel (they are really large and complex illegal businesses, indeed Forbes magazine listed El Chapo Guzman’s industry in the list of billionaires in 2009 as “shipping”) was responsible for most of the violence in 2005 and 2006. Calderón however has targeted EVERY organization BUT the so-called Sinaloa Cartel, a fact much commented upon in Mexico.

Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 2:43 pm

One more point on Calderon….Previous Mexican govts in the 1980s and 1990s facilitated the drug trade. He’s the first Mexican president to actually lock up narcos in large numbers, then extradite them. Once-major capos are now in the US facing or doing life: Benjamin Arellano Felix, Cardenas Guillen, Javier Torres Felix, etc. etc. He’s the first to take down huge amounts of money and guns, and not just dope shipments for TV cameras to film, as was the charade of the PRI years. All of this without a police force worth the name, and only the Army to rely on. Sounds like a courageous thing he’s done – take on a cancer that no one would ever take on before. No?

Jane Hamsher August 6th, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Thank you so much John for being here today, and thanks to Sam for hosting.

John, I wanted to know if you had thoughts on how the money being made by ex-DEA folks helped to perpetuate the war on drugs. I remember when Prop 19 was on the ballot, the ex-DEA chiefs were very concerned with keeping the drug war going.

We started looking into it and it was amazing how much money they were all taking in by flogging it.

What other profit sectors do you see playing an important role in perpetuating the current conflict?

Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 2:45 pm

sure, all that’s correct. I guess he’s doing what he can, is what I would say. It almost doesn’t matter who he takes on — the Zetas are about as barbaric a group as exists in the world today. If he doesn’t have the wherewithal to take on Sinaloa Cartel as well, well, the Mexican state can’t do everything.

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 2:46 pm
In response to Sam Quinones @ 39

You say it straight here Sam: previous Mexican govs facilitated the drug trade. I don’t thin Calderón is any different: all his major arrests and killings of “capos” have been enemies of the so-called Sinaloa Cartel. Maybe Calderón is not on the take, but he has sent his troops out to hit every organization except the largest and most powerful. Curious, no?

Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 2:47 pm

a question occurred to me reading the book. It is true that not everyone who dies was “mixed up in something.” But an awful lot of them were – I’d guess 80+ percent. Some very very large percentage of the dead are narco-affiliated people. No?

Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 2:50 pm
In response to John Gibler @ 42

actually, Javier Torres-Felix was the No 3 in the Sinaloa Cartel, and he just took out a compadre of Chapo Guzman, and there’s Vicente Zambada who just went down, son of El Mayo Zambada. I’ll grant that most focus seems to be on other groups, still Sinaloa has suffered its losses.

i’m also just saying that this is a govt with almost no resources or weapons at its disposal except the Army. leaving it with few options.

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 2:51 pm
In response to Jane Hamsher @ 40

Hi Jane, thanks for joining and for sending this link; I look forward to reading the piece carefully. I think the people profiting from criminalization are mainly industries related to police, prisons, and arms. Although I did notice that a number of beer companies were against Prop 19…

Lisa Derrick August 6th, 2011 at 2:52 pm

I am very fascinated by the Santa Meurte aspect and the use of santeria by the criminals and now the cops.

Kevin Gosztola August 6th, 2011 at 2:52 pm
In response to John Gibler @ 38

Thanks for answering my question. On the issue of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Do you have a comment on the story the El Paso Times reported a few days ago on Sinaloa, that the US had let the cartel “traffic several tons of cocaine into the United States in exchange for information about rival cartels”(which Narco News reported at least a month ago)? After reading your book, it would seem this is something we shouldn’t be surprised to see happening. As you describe in your book, the war can be considered “a media spectacle that presents combat and arrests as the product of diligent law-enforcement operations.” If that is indeed the case, then it would seem letting some drugs in from one cartel would just be one way the US and Mexico have chosen to “manage” the drug war?

Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 2:53 pm
In response to Lisa Derrick @ 46

hey lisa — santa muerte is also the patron saint, so to speak, of mexican kidnapers. very much used by them before kidnapping in phoenix, which has been the US kidnapping capital for a while….there’s a Santa Muerte storefront in LA on Santa Monica (or is it Melrose?) not far from you. here’s a story i wrote from phoenix about kidnapping there:


Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 2:56 pm

john — a key question occurred to me reading the book. It is true that not everyone who dies gangland style was “mixed up in something.” But an awful lot of them were. Some very very large percentage of the dead are narco-affiliated people. No? what are your thoughts?

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 2:59 pm
In response to Sam Quinones @ 43

The question of involvement is very difficult to answer. First: very few cases are investigated by the police, the Army, or reporters. So there are no reliable data bases of information. But, an alarming number of high profile cases that have broken open reveal a number of very disturbing trends. Killers storm into businesses (bars, auto shops, restaurants) and open fire indiscriminately. Were they after someone? Did they make a mistake? Did they simply want to massacre people in a rival’s part of town? All have happened, but the official response is nearly always to assume that the dead had it coming. Also: there have been a number of documented cases where the Army and federal police have massacred people who were not involved in any way; and cases of Navy commandoes torturing and dumping bodies just like the hitmen (one such case below).

But also, the very idea of “involvement” is dangerous. Most adolescents in the US have at some point bought, sold, or consumed marijuana. Is that involvement? One of the theories about the outrageous levels of violence in Ciudad Juárez is that the Army and federal police are “exterminating” anyone suspected of “involvement” in ares of town controlled by the so-called Juárez Cartel.

CNDH accuses Navy in Marquez Compean’s torture, forced disappearance, and murder:



Lisa Derrick August 6th, 2011 at 2:59 pm
In response to Sam Quinones @ 48

Santa Meurte was sort of co-opted by criminals but She also works with lovers, for money, etc. Statues and prayer cards of Jesus Malverde are often carried by drug dealers, and certain botanicas are dedicated to the patron saint of border crossings (one of which had a printing operation runnning out of the background soe prepare documents!)

I just ordered to book to my electronic reading device. Very excited, John thank you for being here!

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 3:02 pm
In response to Lisa Derrick @ 46

And the Santa Muerte is also beloved by office workers in Mexico City’s city government. There is an interview with one such worker in To Die in Mexico.

DWBartoo August 6th, 2011 at 3:03 pm
In response to John Gibler @ 32

I think you are completely correct in all of your assessments, John.

Do you imagine that it is possible that American “leadership” in ALL three branches of this American government are so blind and deaf, as well as heartless, that it cannot understand what you have laid out in four, clear and irrefutable sentences?

Doubtless, such “leadership” and the prison “industry” benefit from prohibition, but it is a cynical and very destructive “profit” they reap.

What pressures, if any, may be brought to bear on this willful and intransigent attitude, by international voices of reason, if such voices even exist?

One notes that even the UN has suggested, with no apparent effect, that Washington must needs change its attitude and behavior.


Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 3:03 pm

These are very good points. and it’s true, part of what’s happening to mexico is a return to silence.

it occurs to me that what we’re seeing is a repeat, in some sense, of the PRI years…..in that no one talks about the past, no memory, no context, no digging into things. This was Mexico under the PRI. Politically at least, it was unwise to remember the past.

But with the end of the PRI, that seemed to end. More people were talking; biographies of the powerful were written; radio talk shows with real discussion bloomed. Telenovelas (soap operas) took on a important topics, such as immigration, political corruption and even trafficking.

But the last years seem a retreat to silence.

mzchief August 6th, 2011 at 3:04 pm
In response to John Gibler @ 50

{ !Hola! and welcome, Sam, John and attendees. I am *very* pleased that this salon is happening at The Lake. }

It might be useful to see an analysis of Mexican media to see how that might feed into or even pump the irrational, “they’re dead because they deserve it” meme.

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 3:05 pm
In response to Sam Quinones @ 44

Indeed. Which leads us to the necessity of scrutinizing and critiquing the US role in all this; and realizing that Mexico is stuck in rough position in a global illegal industry largely controlled by the US: the US determines global anti-drug policy and maintains the most lucrative market for selling illegal drugs.

thermanmurman August 6th, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Hola John, que gusto a conocerle. I was wondering if your book touches at all on the fate of Central American immigrants, their interactions with narcos. I feel as though their treatment is often given less media attention here in Mexico, but my reading is limited to Proceso and Jornada, so I may not be getting all that is out there (although they are both great, in my opinion). Thanks for drawing me out of the woodwork!

mzchief August 6th, 2011 at 3:07 pm
In response to thermanmurman @ 57

Welcome to The Lake!

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 3:07 pm
In response to Sam Quinones @ 54

I very much agree with you here: I think a kind of reconfiguration/return to the PRI years is taking place. Peña Nieto’s already assumed electoral triumph in 2012 can be seen in this light.

Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 3:08 pm

indeed, perhaps even more important is the easy access to guns in this country that have helped arm narcos for decades, and especially now.

Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 3:09 pm

yes, Pena Nieto would be a return for the PRI, though without all the power the party once had. it’s hard to see how PN would make the changes that mexico needs, given his political biology, coming from the state of Mexico with its long history of political authoritarianism and economic laissez-faire policies.

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 3:09 pm
In response to thermanmurman @ 57

Sadly, no, this book does not look into the fate of Central American migrants in this context; and I very much agree with you both that it is an urgent topic that gets less attention. Oscar Martínez is an excellent Salvadoran reporter who has covered the issue for several years. You might be able to find his articles online in magazines like Gatopardo.

PeasantParty August 6th, 2011 at 3:10 pm
In response to thermanmurman @ 57

Welcome! Don’t let your comments go back into obscurity! Stay with us.

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 3:11 pm
In response to mzchief @ 55

Indeed. There are some good article in the recent issue of NACLA on this topic, including a piece by Michele Garcia on how violence against women is perpetuated in media representations of the drug war violence. https://nacla.org/currentissue

mzchief August 6th, 2011 at 3:12 pm
In response to John Gibler @ 64

Thank you! All pointers are gratefully accepted and I will definitely review that. { runs to investigate … } Ah, I found your article: “Marketing Violence in Mexico’s Drug War.” From what I can see, this is relatively new development beginning in the late 1970s with the Americanization of their television, advertising and all that makes-Murdoch-infamous type of programming.

Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Maybe we can talk about the US role in all this. what are your thoughts?

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 3:15 pm
In response to Lisa Derrick @ 51

Thanks Lisa! I also think that the Santa Muerte was largely co-opted. In my visits to the shrine in Tepito I found a very mundane, unspectacular working class devotion: people praying for good grades, a better job, a boy or girlfriend, and, often, safety for a family member about to cross the border to look for work in the US.

Lisa Derrick August 6th, 2011 at 3:16 pm

When I was in Tijuana last year for an opening at the Casa de Tunel gallery (named after a drug and people smugglers’ tunnel), our cabbie told us if we had any trouble to talk to the military (huge presence throughout the city) rather than go to the police….

Lisa Derrick August 6th, 2011 at 3:18 pm
In response to Lisa Derrick @ 68

We had no problems at all, the locals were really glad to have Americans down there (we went to the central area by the big church to load up on supplies and Santa Muerta!

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 3:19 pm
In response to Sam Quinones @ 66

The prohibition regime in the United States has a long and sordid history of ignoring both medical and social science research and using drug/crime fear for political ends, especially in the early years of the 20th century as part of xenophobic campaigns always linking a “dangerous” drug to a “dangerous” population. Drug prohibition has its roots in social control. Michelle Alexander’s recent work in The New Jim Crow shows how drug criminalization functioned to transform Jim Crow segregation laws into drug laws that largely target people of color and create a felon underclass legally excluded from basic rights and services.

Drug prohibition has also been a useful tool for the US to bully other nations into compliance with US military aid.

Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 3:21 pm

Given, though, that legalization in the US, even for something like marijuana, seems unrealistic to say the least, and given, too, that these Mexican narco gangs are going at each other, splintering, reforming, but always bloody and barbaric — what are your thoughts on what Mexico can do?

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 3:24 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 53

Thanks for your comments DW. Your question is extremely important: “What pressures, if any, may be brought to bear on this willful and intransigent attitude, by international voices of reason, if such voices even exist?” Lately there have been a number of high profile ex-presidents (Carter, Fox, Zedillo), business people, intellectuals (Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes) all calling out for a shift in international drug policy. What would a grassroots campaign against the drug war look like? What kinds of mobilizations, direct action, or even civil disobedience could be carried out against the drug war? I believe that a shift in consciousness is taking place–that is, more and more people are realizing how absurd and destructive US drug policy is domestically and internationally–but I would like to see creative and broad-based grassroots organizing around the issue as well. I’d love to hear any ideas people have!

BevW August 6th, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Michelle Alexander’s FDL Book Salon – The New Jim Crow

Lisa Derrick August 6th, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Are the Mexican police stepping back and letting the gangs wipe each other out? And do any of the profits from drug cartels go to paramilitary groups looking to overturn the Mexican government (there is some feeling that some kidnapping ransoms are used for that).

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 3:30 pm
In response to Sam Quinones @ 71

I don’t mean to make light of how difficult and complex a problem it is that Mexicans–and Central Americans, and, though different, people in the US–now face. But the question is kind of like asking: given that water only boils when heated, and given that the glass of water is now in the freezer and no one will let you take it out, how do you plan to bring the water to a boil? At some point, we need to take the glass of water out of the freezer: no just and lasting response to the violence bludgeoning Mexico is possible i the context of a multi-billion dollar global industry where illegality structures the market place. No amount of cops on the beat, new rifles in the hands of soldiers, lie detector tests, or helicopters in the border will stop this. As long as the products are as good as they are, and illegality makes them as profitable as they are, people will kill other people to control their business, and all sorts of other forms of violence from copy-cats and kidnappers and police and military repression will get swept under the rug of drug war death.

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 3:30 pm
In response to BevW @ 73

Excellent; thanks for this link Bev!

DWBartoo August 6th, 2011 at 3:31 pm
In response to John Gibler @ 70

Is this reality widely understood around the world?

Are the American people, I consider deliberately, not also the victims of this fear-based bullying campaign, and as I suggested earlier, also victims of the larger “endless” wars on “terror” and upon reason, itself?

Again I ask, are there any international voices of reason which might, somehow, be heard? Please understand, John, that I regard yours as such a voice.

Have you had any “official” interest in your work and revelations, from any “quarter”, of any national government or any international “body”. whatever?

On edit: I see, John, that you have answered @72, many of these last queries, thank you,


Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Given all that’s gone on, I wonder if there isn’t some kind of PTSD afoot in some parts of Mexico – Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, Michoacan. Tell us a little of what you saw.

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 3:37 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 77

Thanks DW. There are a number of excellent voices of reason. I think Michelle Alexander’s is such a voice and she has had an important impact over the past year. In Mexico, reporters like Marcela Turati, and Diego Osorno; historians like Froylan Enciso and Paul Gootenberg; the anthropologist in El Paso Howard Campbell; Charles Bowden has done incredible work on the drug war, especially Down By the River; Dan Baum’s book Smoke and Mirrors; Richard Davenport-Hines’ In Pursuit of Oblivion. To name a quick few…

DWBartoo August 6th, 2011 at 3:38 pm
In response to BevW @ 73

Thank you, for the link, Bev, that is a salon which I missed.


John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 3:41 pm
In response to Sam Quinones @ 78

I completely agree that there is a kind of social PTSD now descending over many parts of Mexico. Marcela Turati’s (Proceso magazine and the book Fuego Cruzado) work focuses on exposing the impact on victims, families, and social networks.

I saw places where it is now normal to see an executed body on the street. Families crowd around and watch. People are getting used to the violence, which is incredible disturbing. One crime beat photographer in Culiacán, Ernesto Martínez, told me that kids these days take all this violence as normal; they’ve seen dead bodies and they’ve seen how the police don’t investigate and killers are never caught. Ernesto told me that if he had a way to take his family elsewhere he would.

And then there is Ciudad Juárez, an entire city that has been traumatized…

DWBartoo August 6th, 2011 at 3:43 pm
In response to John Gibler @ 79

Thank you for that elaboration, John.

The next “move” must come, I suspect, from the people of this nation, who have, already, more than enough reason to pressure POWER to adapt conscience and reason. Firmly addressing the drug-war insanity must be an integral part of necessary “change”, whether MONEY and POWER like it or not.

I appreciate the inspiration you provide us, John, more than words may convey.


Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Perhaps things are as dire as you say. it certainly seems so. but it’s also true that Mexico has made none of the changes that most Mexicans know are needed to move forward.

We mentioned education — a huge one.

Another big change is to change the nature of local government. Mexican cities are arthritic, local services like public works, parks, street repair – all incompetent and extremely underfunded. Same with state govts, prisons, courts, on and on. None were ever developed. I believe this is a big reason why Mexico is poor — this lack of capable local govt.

It’s one reason (of several) why guys who began as hillbilly mafias could evolve now into national threats: they were never attacked when they were small and weak. On the contrary, the PRI govt and the Directorio Federal de Seguridad (DFS) encouraged them to grow.

Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 3:46 pm
In response to John Gibler @ 81

what strikes me also about this “war” is how quickly the fronts change. towns almost overnight can become battlegrounds between drug gangs. the area around Tepic, Nayarit is one such place in the last year. the area around Gomez Palacio, Durango is another. i was there in 2008 (i believe) and it was fine. nine months later, you couldn’t go out at night.

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 3:47 pm
In response to Sam Quinones @ 78

And amidst all the terror of murder and ever-worse massacres, as you point out in your introduction, there is little to no attention to the survivors, families, witnesses. In Sinaloa, César Trinidad survived a massacre where his 16-year old brother Cristobal was killed. César’s mother, Alma, took César to the Sinaloa state commission for attention to victims of violence. The woman who received Alma and César offered them a “despensa” a basket of basic food goods like rice and cooking oil. She asked them to sign for the “despensa” and directly told César, “nada de lagrimas, eh, no tengo mucho tiempo” or “no tears, eh, I don’t have much time.” That was the Sinaloa state government’s “attention for victims.”

Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 3:49 pm

that was a particularly powerful part of the book — both the killing scene and then the mother who never stopped dropping by the authorities to ask what had become of her son’s case. brave lady. i spoke with a friend in Culiacan the other day who is very involved in HR issues and the like — “Now isn’t the time to be talking about things publicly” he said.

eCAHNomics August 6th, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Coming in at the end without having read comments, so forgive if it’s been mentioned: O has U.S. engaged in 8 hot wars that we know about: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia (a prime reason for famine in that part of Africa), Libya, Mexico, Colombia.

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 3:50 pm
In response to Sam Quinones @ 84

absolutely. i think of ice climbing where a crevasse can open up underneath you with little or no warning: you thought you were on solid ice, and then you fall. This is one feature of the necessity to bury everything in silence: if your business is illegal, hiding is a major area of investment.

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 3:51 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 82

Many thanks DW for your participation and your words.

DWBartoo August 6th, 2011 at 3:52 pm
In response to Sam Quinones @ 83

IT is possible to almost “see” the beginnings of intentional failure at the state and local levels in the US, today Sam, and you comment @81, descibing the “overnight” change strikes ever closer to the mythology of American “Exceptionalism” as failure and collapse seem, ever more, the intended outcome sought by America’s elite class. Perhaps, as goes Mexico, so, unbelievable as it may seem to most American citizens, might “go” the USA.

Sam, I’m appreciating your comments and insights very much, thank you!


Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 3:53 pm

yes, i spoke, too, with an immigrant scholar in Zacatecas a couple months ago. it’s almost immpossible for them to do their work in the villages — zacatecas being a major immigrant sending state. you can’t ask anyone about the money they make in the US, or how much they might receive from relatives — any of that. and the Zetas control the area, so you have to be off the roads by dark, apparently. a very sad thing. i spent a long time in zacatecas doing stories on immigrants, traveling freely. makes me ill to think of what’s gone on…

BevW August 6th, 2011 at 3:53 pm

As we come to the end of this great discussion and Book Salon,

John, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and the Mexican Drug War.

Sam, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon and for your reporting on the Mexican Drug War.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

John’s website and books.

Sam’s website and books.

Sunday –
Jason Ryan / Jackpot: High Times, High Seas, and the Sting That Launched the War on Drugs
Hosted by Neill Franklin, Retired State Police Major and Executive Director of LEAP

Thanks all,
Have a great evening!

Just quick reminder:
Membership drive! Are you an FDL member? If not, please join and help keep FDL delivering kick ass activism and independent journalism. You can join HERE.

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 3:54 pm
In response to Sam Quinones @ 86

Culiacán is another such region. Last time I was there the violence had diminished. When I asked people what had happened they said: “ahora la ciudad está controlada” or, now the city is under control. But i didn’t see army convoys or federal police patrols anywhere (unlike juárez, where you see them everywhere), but that is because they were not the ones doing the “controlling”

Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 3:55 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 90

thanks dw

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 3:56 pm
In response to BevW @ 92

Many thanks Bev for the invitation; Sam for all your important insights; and to all who joined in the discussion.

John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 3:57 pm

A few good web sites for Mexican journalism:



Diario de Juárez:


La Jornada:


Sam Quinones August 6th, 2011 at 3:57 pm

thanks to john and to FDL for asking me to get involved. i had a cool time. lots of stuff….

you can check out my website and be in touch: http://www.samquinones.com. i’m also on twitter (@samquinones7) and facebook, as i guess we all must be these days.



John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 3:58 pm

And an Al Jazeera mini doc I worked on with my friend, filmmaker Rick Rowley of Big Noise Films:

The Deadliest Beat:


DWBartoo August 6th, 2011 at 3:58 pm

I do not know how soon this book salon may end, so I should like to thank both of you, John and Sam, for visiting with us and ask that you may return whenever you might have time, for what you both are speaking to IS the future and such possibilities of humanity, peace, and genuine security as any of us might have.

It is foolish, any longer to imagine that insanity is limited to any one nation, and America’s role in too much of global destruction, as eCAHN alludes @87, simply cannot, any longer be denied or ignored.


John Gibler August 6th, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Again, many thanks to all.

mzchief August 6th, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Thank you to everyone for this very needed discussion!

P.S. This was an initiative of Avaaz.Org that raised a lot of awareness and did get some results. Clearly much more must be done.

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