Why Films about Mexico’s Drug Cartel Should Matter to Americans
The power of Film is undeniable over the last 100 years. We remember the great films because we sit in a dark theater, focused on the screen with other human beings. It’s a bit of a religious experience. This viewing experience has certainly changed with DVD’s, the Internet and smartphones – but the impact of the moving image remains as vibrant and intense to the viewer.
One such documentary is “American Federale” made by an intrepid documentary filmmaker, Michael Carlin. For full disclosure, I produced the film but Carlin’s ten year dedication to the filmmaking process far outstrips my contribution. Intrepid is also a nice word for a bit…well…crazy. Carlin traveled into two of the most dangerous cities in the world. One is Ciudad Juarez. As of August 2009, Juárez’s murder rate was the highest reported in the world. And it was the territory of Pablo Acosta. The other is Ojinaga which was the central headquarters of a famous drug lord.
Carlin met a unique individual whose name – for security reasons – is referred to as “Lobo” which is Spanish for ‘wolf’. Lobo is a very, very unique individual. He was an American citizen of Mexican ancestry who became a Mexican Federale. Lobo received his police credentials directly from a Mexican governor. As a Mexican Federale, Lobo worked for both the Mexican government and the Mexican drug cartels. As a man, he was leading the life of what – in the espionage business – would be called a triple agent. American Citizen. Mexican Federale. Cartel Enforcer. And he wanted to reform because he did something so totally human. He fell in love and wanted a normal, decent Life.
So Carlin works over years to build trust between himself and Lobo. Years. Lobo was not in the trust business. He was in the crazy betrayal, stay-five-steps-ahead-of-the-next-psycho business. Years. But Logo told Carlin stories and Carlin sought to document them. Carlin went into Ciudad Juarez to document a city where Lobo lived, worked, fought and redeemed himself. He also went into Ojinaga which were the stomping grounds. of drug lord, Pablo Acosta. Pablo Acosta who might not have been the biggest druglord in Mexico but, in a world littered with erratic personalities, he takes the cake. He kidnapped women, raped them and left them drug addicts on their families’ doorsteps. And a lot more that you’d see in the film. With a deranged personality in a world fueled by cocaine, excess, power, greed, money and literally cut-throat competition, he rose to the top of the insanity pile. Lobo is the one who raided the Acosta hideout and put him down. As a Federale police officer. I don’t want to give away the entire story, but why should this film matter to you, American Reader? Let’s count the ways.
First, the drug cartel violence ravaging Mexico is coming to the United States. With its porous border and seemingly endless insatiable desire for the cartel’s drug products, America is a prime destination point for sales. Sales means competition between drug cartels which means violence. The city of Acapulco – once the famed vacation getaways for Hollywood elite and jet setters – has become the murder capital of Mexico.
“In 2012, there were some 1,063 murders. That gave it a homicide rate of 135 per 100,000 people – over 50 percent higher than Honduras, the world’s most murderous country.”
Second, the violence in Mexico is spurred by the corrupting influence of drug money within Mexican law enforcement – and is coming soon to your neighborhood! The drug cartel threat to the United States compelled a regional newspaper like the Los Angeles Times to have a section called “Mexico Under Siege: Drug War at our Doorstep.” The drug corruption is vast, endemic and contradictory. As Lobo points out, the money is non-stop and treachery lies between departments. The State Federales are at odds with the Mexican Army. Different cartel groups pay off different groups. The lines of loyalty are invisible and constantly shifting. Money buys loyalty. And then it doesn’t. American law enforcement has not immunity against such vast corruption. The Mexican cartel’s adage is “Gold or Lead”, meaning “Do you want money?” or “Death?” The Border Patrol is handcuffed. The border in Arizona and Texas is virtually controlled by smugglers and cartel watchdogs. Former Border Patrol agents actually said that “Transnational criminal enterprises have annually invested millions of dollars to create and staff international drug and human smuggling networks inside the United States; thus it is no surprise that they continue to accelerate their efforts to get trusted representatives in place as a means to guarantee continued success.”
Law enforcement is desperate. An agency of the US Government – Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) ran an operation called “Fast and Furious” which was poorly conceived and intended to trace weapons from the United States into Mexico cartel hands.
This ‘gunwalking’ was a tactic of the Arizona Field Office run in a a series of sting operations between 2006 and 2011 in the Tucson and Phoenix area. The ATF “purposely allowed licensed firearms dealers to sell weapons to illegal straw buyers. Their plan was to track the guns to Mexican drug cartel leaders. Unfortunately, the guns were used in the murder of Border Patrol agent, Brian Terry, agent Jaime Zapata and a massacre in Juarez. This massacre by cartel thugs resulted in the death of 16 people – most of whom were teenagers attending a birthday party. Recently, there was a scandal involve the walking of ‘grenades’ into cartel hands.
Third, the drug cartels are experiencing the same indicators of an economic boom as all ‘products’. They have become cheaper and more potent. In an article from MedicalXpress, we read that
“In the US, after adjusting for inflation and purity, the average street price of heroin, cocaine and cannabis fell by 81%, 80%, and 86%, respectively, whereas the purity and/or potency of these drugs increased by 60%, 11%, and 161%, respectively. Similar trends were observed in Europe where, during the same period, the average price of opiates and cocaine, adjusted for inflation and purity, decreased by 74% and 51%, respectively, and in Australia, where the price of cocaine fell by 14% and the price of heroin and cannabis dropped by 49%. In the US seizures of cocaine roughly halved between 1990 and 2010, but those of cannabis and heroin rose by 465% and 29%, respectively; in Europe seizures of cocaine and cannabis fluctuated, but seizures of heroin had risen 380% by 2009.” These statistics signal economic success for the marketing and distribution efforts of the Cartels.
Fourth, the best reason to watch the film, “American Federale” is that you can see one human being struggle with his conscience in a world of pain and suffering. Drug money. Torture. Bribery. Extortion. Lobo runs through the city of Ciudad Juarez, one of the most dangerous cities in the world. He is threatened. Tortured. Kidnapped. And more. And through reflection and bearing his soul, Lobo finds new purpose.
“I did not live life good,” he said, “but I am going to end it good.”