Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Entre Los Otros

Silver or lead. The expression is derived from a philosophy attributed to Mexican cartels. Either you cooperate and accept due compensation or your corpse becomes ad space for cartel propaganda. William Finnegan begins his essay by introducing us to Michoacan, a western state of Mexico, and corpse messaging, the mutilation and dumping of what amounts to a pile of limbs and torsos wrapped in marked poster board or cloth. The messages, we are told, read something like, “Talked too much.” or “You get what you deserve.” Welcome to Michoacan: “The People of Iowa Welcome You” this ain’t.

Finnegan is not trying to entice the reader in with poetic devices or formal tropes, he is offering us a grim story of violence and corruption that reads like an arc for a season of “The Sopranos” or “The Wire”. Michoacan is a state rotting from within, barely maintaining the façade of civil structure. Mexico’s president Felipe Calderon is waging a war on drugs that has proved as successful as Bush’s war on terror (when will governments learn to avoid fights with nouns?). Those opposed to Calderon even have a “Dubbya” for purposes of disparagement, distilling the president’s name down to “Lipe”, which, as Finnegan points out, puns on “Fe” which means faith.

During a visit to a communications official in Apartzingan, a city of Michoacan, Finnegan notes that the woman hangs a picture of the governor, Leonel Godoy, in her office but Calderon’s image is absent. The governor and president belong to rival parties, a feud which led to an unannounced raid of Arpatzingan’s municipal offices, landing some members of Godoy’s officials in federal custody.

What is apparent from Finnegans essay is that there exists no unified effort in Mexico. The politicians, soldiers, cartels, and citizens are fractured between myriad sides from the highest officials to the poorest neighbors. Some seek greater wealth and power while others just yearn for basic human rights like healthcare and food—most are willing to deal within the terms of silver and lead in order to reach some semblance of either.

Throughout the entire essay Finnegan is aware of his U.S. readers. Our country is familiar with political scandal, yet, despite the cynicism and disenchantment, there is still a certainty that order will be maintained and rights upheld—a certainty that comes with such entitlement it is barely recognized as existing. I realize that an average reader of The New Yorker rests a spectrum away from the average Joe or Jane that demands the right to strap on a Smith and Wesson M&P to buy Cheerios, but even those who are three degrees deep can be complacent in self-reflection and appreciation. This certainty does not exist in Michoacan.

There are no heroes emerging from the ranks of politicians and the conversations Finnegan has with
officials and locals makes it clear that from their perspective, the only party resembling salvation is La

Familia Michoacana. “If people don’t trust the police or the courts, crime groups will fill those roles,”Finnegan writes. Perhaps it is the cartel’s Robin Hood-esque method of maintaining order. One connected
woman Finnegan speaks with has a number that gives her direct contact to La Familia’s services. “The police work for them,” she says. Though we are never certain what she has done or currently does to
obtain this level of safety, we understand why she did.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry for the weird format at the end...not quite sure what I did wrong.