Deporting a Journalist to His Death

Since more journalists are murdered in Mexico than anywhere else on eartth – 125 in the last ten years – it seemed reasonable for newsman Emilio Gutierrez-Soto to seek asylum in the U.S when his life had been threatened. He had committed the offense of writing about corrupt police practices in a small town in northern Mexico. For that he was warned he was about to die.

Photo by NPR

But when he reached the New Mexico border with his son Oscar in 2008, he found U.S. officials unimpressed. What was he so excited about? he was asked. The pair were placed in detention – a kind of prison while their request was leisurely considered. Eventually, a U.S. immigration judge turned them down, saying they had nothing to fear back in Mexico. They had even been promised bodyguards.

The ignorance displayed is breathtaking. It’s as if the judge, while next door to Mexico, had no idea of what was going on there. Perhaps he gets all his news from the mainstream media which mostly ignores the  murdered journalists and treats neighboring Mexico as just another normal state instead of the criminal enterprise it actually is. The judge may be a casualty of the media.

The bodyguards he recommended are under drug cartel control and would make quick work of the offending journalist unless torture were also involved. Gutierrez-Soto remarked: “I’d like to see the judge spend a weekend in Ciudad Juarez (a border town once known as the murder capital of the world) without protection.” Apparently, the judge has not taken him up on that, though it must be said that Americans who visit the border towns briefly and carefully are spared the kind of violence inflicted on Mexicans. That would be bad for business.

Released from detention after six months, Gutierrez-Soto worked on a food truck while awaiting the decision on asylum. Various groups came to his defense as the years went by, and in 2017 the National Press Club gave him an award. That seemed to speed things up but in the wrong direction. Father and son were ordered deported and in handcuffs they approached the border when an emergency injunction kept them in the U.S. and back in detention.

Thanks to pressure from the National Press Club and others, they are now living freely in Ann Harbor, Michigan, where Gutierrez received a fellowship from the University of Michigan. His treatment as an endangered journalist seeking help in the U.S. is truly extraordinary. It’s as if the U.S. sides with the drug cartels in wanting him to go back home to face “justice” in Mexico, e.g., certain death.

The case is indicative of a strange permissiveness toward the criminal rulers. They continue to pour their lethal drugs into the U.S. through a porous border that enrich Americans along with Mexicans. U.S. Immigration continues to withhold documents in this case, suggesting there’s something to hide. What could it be?

In Pursuit of the Drug Cartels

The Mexican drug cartels have a key role in the current outbreak on the U. S. border. Basically controlling the entire 2000 mile border, they decide who enters and when. They divide migrants into small groups that can be sent across at any time day or night, making it difficult for the under-manned U.S. Border Patrol to keep up with them. There are long stretches where it’s possible to go leisurely back and forth over the border with no one in sight. It’s a clear invitation to death-dealing drugs headed north and desperate humans trying to escape the all-pervading violence of Mexico and Central America.

Image by David McNew/Getty Images

Among the newcomers are cartel members who are increasingly setting up shop in the US, the better to direct drug traffic and assert their power locally. An endless series of cars cross the southern U.S. daily with Mexican passengers paying as much as $20,000 for the ride. If they don’t pay the full amount at the end of the trip, they’re sold into slavery. The U.S is basically under attack and is not properly defending itself.

Remedies to date have not worked. Border restrictions, loosened under President Biden, can be restored, but inventive cartels can get around them. They lure people to the border and sometimes coerce them because it is so very profitable. Pay up or carry drugs to enjoy a pleasant life in the U.S. Refuse, you take your chances and maybe lose your life. A border wall, only patches today, can be a partial impediment, but cartels can go over, under or around it.

Given that drug-addicted Americans will continue to finance the cartels, there is only one genuine solution – put U.S. troops on the border, which is not unreasonable since they currently guard borders in various parts of the world. Why not here at home were the danger is greater? And why must they stand pat? If cartels infringe on the U.S., like tossing small children over the border fence, U.S. troops are justified in going after them. It’s worth noting that present-day Mexico is less a functioning state than a criminal enterprise where cartels, police and army work together.

In a provocative column in The Wall Street Journal, Gil Barndollar, a senior fellow at Defense Priorities and a Marine veteran of the Afghan war, notes that in fighting a series of inconclusive wars after 9/11, the U.S. military has demonstrated a proficiency in what he calls raids – “peerless when it comes to projecting combat power, putting thousands of soldiers on someone else’s soil on very short notice.“ Quickly and effectively in and out. The goal is not winning an all-out war, much less nation building and democratizing, but making a geopolitical difference in favor of the U.S.

The U.S. has had a checkered past with Mexico, involving above all the 1840’s war that surrendered half the country to its northern neighbor. But it’s possible that present day Mexicans, long suffering under brutal cartel rule with one of the world’s highest homicide rates, would welcome U.S help in curbing that power. No conquest, no occupation, no total war, but a clear demonstration of what the U.S. military does best.

What If the U.S. and Mexico Were One?

Visiting the town of McAllen in southern Texas, you may think you’re in Mexico. Everyone speaks Spanish in a town considered to be 90 per cent Hispanic, and that may underestimate. There’s no sign of fear of any kind as people contentedly go about their business in a bustling community.

That’s the north side of the U.S.-Mexican border. To the south it’s a different matter. Even by Mexican standards, the city of of Reynosa is violent, reflecting near total drug cartel control. No racial divide – a crime divide. Migrants are now piling up in the city, waiting their turn to cross the border under the supervision of the cartels who charge heavily for the privilege of entering the U.S. Cartel approval is the passport.

The cartel chiefs are as careful about people coming as going. Look-outs are posted on top of buildings to monitor everyone who enters. Any possible trouble makers are going to have trouble. A manager of the Fairfield Inn in McAllen has a grandmother in Reynosa who pays a lawyer with cartel contacts to remain safe, a cartel tax. The manger would like to visit her but doesn’t dare. She says she would be trapped in a cartel financial web from which there’s no escape.

Genuine solutions for this impasse are in short supply – two utterly contrasting nations with governments that couldn’t be farther apart. That said, a startling cure was once proposed during the U.S. war against Mexico in the 1840’s. Ambitious imperialists urged taking all of Mexico instead of just half, as it turned out. This would be best for both countries, they said, a greater U.S., a better governed Mexico.

Other Americans were aghast, abolitionists and slaveholders alike. Popular U.S. Senator Henry Clay asked: “Does any considerate man believe it possible that two such immense countries with populations so incongruous, so different in race, in languages, in religion and in laws could be blended together in one harmonious mass and happily governed by one common authority?”

But with U.S. troops in Mexico City, some prominent Mexicans asked them to stay and offered $1.2 million to victorious general Winfield Scott to assume the presidency of Mexico along with its annexation to the U.S. Observers at the time said many Mexicans agreed. But war weary Americans weren’t buying it. They wanted to go home and forget an unpopular war.

What if the improbable had occurred and Mexico joined the U.S.? There would be no border today and no cartels since U.S. law enforcement would extend to Mexico. A more genuine Mexico could emerge from cartel rule. It’s true the U.S. would have become more culturally diverse with attendant problems, but including more gradations between black and white might have softened extremes and, as in other countries, led to the abolition of slavery without the vastly destructive Civil War which still reverberates today.

Drugs and Migrants on the March

A surge is when Grant took Richmond. It doesn’t describe the more refined tactics of the Mexican drug cartels in their effort to outwit the outmanned U.S. Border Patrol as they push drugs and migrants across the border. Seizing on President Biden’s more lenient immigration policies, they have sent clusters of desperate Mexicans and others into strategic openings along the 2,000 mile border, popping up here and there, day and night to the consternation of frustrated guards.

More than in the Trump era, migrants are piling up in overcrowded facilities which the Biden Administration has tried to conceal from prying media eyes in an information crackdown that is new to the border. One exception is Catholic Charities whose shelter in McAllen, Texas, houses hundreds of migrants in reasonably comfortable conditions. What’s that long line? I asked. They’re going to breakfast.

Catholic Charities immigrant center, McAllen, TX

Vice President Kamala Harris has been in contact with Central American leaders to determine the “root cause” of the enhanced migration. She doesn’t have to look very far. When questioned, migrants say they are fleeing the violence for the safety of the U.S. The drug cartels who are threatening their lives are also encouraging them to leave. It’s very profitable. They charge as much as $25 thousand per migrant, and they control the whole border on the Mexican side. You don’t pay, you don’t cross, and maybe you don’t continue to live.

As usual, the American media has little to say about the role of the cartels in the current “crisis” or “challenge.” That’s because American drug consumers, abetted by American money launderers, keep the cartels in business. Stop the drug traffic, and the border would clear up. But too many are making too much money for that to happen.

The U.S doesn’t have to be quite so tolerant of the cartels. They are more aggressive than ever. A group of U.S. senators boating on the Rio Grande that divides the two countries were startled by cartels taunting them from the other side. Goodness me! The cartels knew what they were doing. Nothing to fear from U.S. officialdom.

It does seem strange that the U.S. sends its military to obscure places all over the world to preserve borders, but won’t put troops on its own border in defense of the country against a genuine threat. When traffickers toss a couple of small children over the fence on to U.S. soil, we simply watch them do it. Then off they scamper. If U.S. soldiers went over the fence in pursuit and apprehended them even if it meant venturing into the interior, long suffering Mexicans under cartel rule would only applaud. We need a clear view of what is in the national interest on the border.

Artist of Murder

Understandably, most Mexicans do their best to avoid the violent drug cartels that have turned their country into the most murderous on earth. Not artist Teresa Margolles who is steeped in their misdoings. Her inspiration is not the artist studio or the scenic countryside but the morgue. There she finds the ingredients of her art in the victims of violent crime of which there is never a shortage in Mexico. She says they are a mirror of the living with their disdain for lfe. While still born foetuses are routinely discarded in Mexico, she has embodied one in stone.

The dead almost seem to be her companions. Trained in forensic medicine, she is as attentive to the dead as to the living. Little escapes her scrutiny. “Every murder leaves a mark,” she says. “Even after months, years, the first drop – the moment the family is told – will always be there.” Femicide in particular overwhelms her, the murder of a dozen women in Mexico each day. “Women are seen as disposable,” she says “I research loss and pain so that people can understand it. My intention is to be a filter so audiences can feel the pain.”

Margolles, Teresa. Pista de baile de la discoteca “Tlaquepaque” (Dance Floor of the Club “Tlaquepaque”), 2016.

Yet all this anguish is embodied in work that is mostly abstract and minimal. Death is there – parts of corpses and the fluid used in cleaning them – but the viewer has to fill in the blanks. A plain looking concrete bench seems to invite people to rest. Once seated, the visitor reads an inscription that notes the ingredients of the morgue that have gone into its construction. Is it a bench or a tombstone?

How do the cartels respond to this artistic assault on their work? If it were in writing, the answer would be simple and direct – death. More journalists are killed in Mexico than in any other country. Since art is silent, it can be ignored. And what about the American drug consumers who finance the cartels while poisoning themselves? Since little is reported about Mexican violence in the American media, could art somehow fill the void and awaken people to this disaster next door? That would be Teresa Margolles’ triumph.

Trotsky in Mexico

What’s another murder amid the carnage of today’s Mexican drug cartels? But the 1940 assassination of Leon Trotsky in Mexico City still stands out. It occurred at the apex of Communist influence around the world following Stalin’s great victory over the Nazis and the consequent expansion of Soviet power. Indeed power talks and converts, and that was true of Mexico as elsewhere. Mexico City was crawling with Stalinists who were awaiting his every command.

In this environment Trotsky sought refuge. The arts were embroiled. Famed artist Diego Rivera welcomed the exile, while equally famed David Siquieros staged an unsuccessful raid on him. Trotskyites, as they were called, visited him and offered homage. As it was becoming apparent, even to loyal intellectuals, that Stalin was a boundless tyrant, Trotsky would replace him in communist affections. This was partly illusory in that Trotsky was a fierce dogmatist who believed in “permanent revolution” of a violent sort largely conducted by superior minds like his own.

Leon Trotsky

And that was his failing. He thought that Stalin had a “third rate provincial mind,” when in fact the canny strongman outmaneuvered him throughout. Trotsky dropped from being the star of the Bolshevik revolution, esteemed for his oratory and organization of the Red army, to a hapless outcast with his life in danger wherever he went. He defended himself with reams of writings denouncing Stalinism, but as Stalin noted: “Paper will put up with anything on it.”

Still, compared to Stalin Trotsky was almost humanitarian, and there was always a certain glamour to him as biographer Isaac Deutscher notes in a touching description of his last days in The Prophet Outcast. Knowing full well the end was near, he was kind to those around him and acknowledged his shortcomings while remaining steadfast to his Communist vision. “Life is beautiful,” he writes his wife Natalya. “Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression and violence and enjoy it to the full.”

Today’s drug cartels would not have botched his assassination, just a quick bullet to the head. Instead a Stalinist spent months courting a woman who gave him access to Trotsky and then smashed his skull with an ice axe. The blow was fatal but not instantaneous. Trotsky lingered in pain for close to a day. So Stalin got his revenge and then some. When the assassin was released from prison twenty years later, he returned to a hero’s welcome in Russia.

Trotsky’s legacy in today’s Mexico? Not permanent revolution but what about permanent drug warfare? Communist brutality is no longer with us, but it set a precedent for unceasing violence. If the communists can do this, the drug lords might say, why not us? It’s in the best intellectual tradition. The Stalin-Trotsky duel remains fixed in history.

The Media Discovers the Drug Cartels, Sort Of

In the absence of any genuine reporting or analysis of the Mexican drug cartels, Fox News has now filled the void in part. Reporter Lara Logan went to the area in Mexico where nine Mormons were slaughtered by the cartels and interviewed survivors of the attack in a gripping presentation but had little to say about the cartels or how they operate – a media tendency.

If there is any significant area of the world which the Americana media fails to cover, it is right next door, Mexico. Yet it is one of the most dangerous places on earth, where the cartels murder with impunity as they send their poisonous drugs to the U.S with earnings approaching 100 billion dollars a year.

Maria Ronita Miller and four of her children, including 7-month-old twins, killed in cartel attack.

Even so, the media slumbers with far more coverage of lesser violence in such far away places as Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan. Fox news has now broken the pattern with an hour long feature on the killing in November 2019 of nine Mormons – three mothers, six children, including baby twins – that is truly heart-wrenching. Yet as the program fails to make clear, this is an every day affair in Mexico with one of the highest murder rates in the world and still climbing.

Don’t Mexican lives matter? Racism might be a conventional response, but it’s rather a vast, inexplicable indifference to the suffering south of us. Ignored by the media and the government, it doesn’t exist for Americans. Out of sight, out of mind. The Mormons interviewed by Logan tell compelling stories, but it has to be said that they are American citizens living in Mexico. They get attention because of that while Mexicans keep getting murdered in the shadows.

At a break in the Fox program, someone is caught saying the Mexican situation is a U.S. national security issue. Indeed. Along with enormous quantities of drugs, cartel bosses are crossing the U.S. border and even took over an Arizona border town until an aroused citizenry threw them out. Enthusiasts like to compare today’s expansive U.S. with the long lived Roman empire. But it’s as if Rome treated neighboring Gaul – about the same size as Mexico – with similar indifference. Do as you like, we don’t care. Julius Caesar would be dumbfounded and the Roman empire would not have lasted.

The U. S. deserves a better fate. The Fox program is a step in the right direction. Much more is needed.