Call of the Narcocorrido

By Garcia, J. Malcolm | The Virginia Quarterly Review, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Call of the Narcocorrido


Garcia, J. Malcolm, The Virginia Quarterly Review


5 p.m., June 29

In the PM newsroom, across from faded purple and brown-striped cubicles where reporters sit amid tacked-up centerfolds and layouts for the day's cover story of a gun-shot man discarded in a ditch, two men, a photographer and assistant editor, listen to the strains of a narcocorrido drifting from a police scanner. The vague shrill discord of accordions and a brass band echoes in the glass office until a burst of distortion shatters the ill-begotten melody and imposes a staticky silence. They know in the expanding quiet that someone will die tonight.

When and where the execution will happen they cannot say yet. Perhaps in five minutes on a dirt lane beneath power lines heavy with dangling sneakers; perhaps in an hour in a van swerved to a stop, the spewed rocks and dust still unsettled even after the gunfire has ceased and neighbors come to peer with accustomed caution through barred windows; perhaps after nightfall on the stony ground of a hill beneath sheets of laundry that when billowed by winds will rise like theatrical curtains to display the vast expanse of Juárez - its gated homes where dogs bark and loll in the heat, its tree-lined streets where kids play pick-up soccer games, and the dirt lanes stretching toward barbed wire fences that block entrance to the state of Texas just beyond the muddy band of the Rio Bravo.

They do know that the two-year-long drug war raging in this desert city of 1.5 million kills an average of nine people a day. That's double the record-setting pace of last year, when 1,607 people were murdered in Juárez. In March of this year, the Mexican government sent in the army to help quell the violence. For two months, the number of violent deaths dropped dramatically. But in June it spiked back up.

"Before there were gunfights in the street with automatic weapons," said Juárez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz. "Now they kill with 9 millimeter handguns. Before, they drove around the city with AK-47S. They can't now. But they are still fighting. They fight all the way down to smalltime distributors killing one another."

Were this not brazen enough, the competing drug cartels, La Linea (the local crime syndicate) and Chapo (an outside group vying for dominance), both monitor the same radio frequencies as the cops and broadcast the narcocorrido, a twisted version of classical Mexican folk music, as a warning to police, ambulance crews, and reporters alike: Stay away from where killings often happen or you might see something you wished you hadn't.

"Every day I have nightmares," says thirtyfour-year-old assistant editor Eduardo Huizar.

The scanner stutters into a firecracker staccato of electrical commotion, then the voice of a federale complaining to another officer: "No, not again."

The corrido pierces the static in response, then disappears with an abruptness suggesting impatience. The photographer, fifty-seven-yearold Ernesto Rodriguez, glances at Eduardo.

"They are playing with us," he says.

THE GAME HAS BEEN A BRUTAL ONE for Juárez journalists. Mexico is the deadliest assignment in the Americas and among the deadliest in the world. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, twenty-four reporters have been murdered in Mexico since 2000; seven more have disappeared since 2005. Many of the victims had recently reported on police ties to cartels. Others are suspected of working with the cartels, accepting drug money - but it's hard to be sure because the killings are barely investigated. Despite the fact that a special federal prosecutor for crimes against journalists was appointed two years ago, none of the murders of journalists - not one - has been solved.

Some attacks target entire newsrooms - in at least two cases, grenades have been thrown at newspaper offices - but most single out specific journalists. Eight Juárez reporters received threatening mobile phone messages claiming to come from a drug cartel in January 2008 alone. …

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