Of all the stories I have ever worked on, Mexican Jihad has had the wildest ride. Originally commissioned for a publication that was suddenly eliminated, as tends to happen in our “media environment,” the piece sat on the shelf destined to be forgotten. And then, last Fall, Elaine Rivera, a very dear friend and mentor, passed away and I wrote a piece in her honor. Elaine approached journalism as a mission, a vocation and service. In writing about Elaine I began to ask-what and where is my contribution? Mexican Jihad represented to me a contribution, un granito de arena, because the people featured in the piece make important comments in a conversation that should not be allowed to disappear. The folks at the Dart Center generously published the piece, which can be found here. Below is an excerpt.
Everywhere he looks, madness has taken hold. Bodies strung from bridges, bodies dissolved in acid. Men roam across cities and small towns carrying automatic weapons. The dead are his age. So are the killers. The enemy might have studied with him in high school back in Oaxaca. “Drug war” they say in English. “La guerra contra el narco” (war against the narco), they call it in Mexico; titles that explain the killers and the killings; titles repeated by the press, the president, and experts who claim to decode the meaning and motives in the work of criminals.
The stunning images of war, however, obliterated the complexities of the narco engine, corruption, impunity, and a dismal economy that produced thousands of unemployed, under-educated young men who made ideal candidates for look outs, drivers, smugglers, and hit men. Such nuance would emerge within the online battlefield, where the neat lines of war were blurred and Mexicans were bombarded with videos of brutality that had gone viral.
But the number of dead holds steady at a little over 1,000 per month, and extortions and kidnappings are rampant. General impunity continues unabated. Ninety-eight percent of homicides committed in 2012 remain unsolved. The only indication that the “war” is over is the absence of its images.