This morning, while searching on the internet for an oatmeal recipe to make my children for breakfast (experts say it's good for their bones), right after the first options I came across a video called Narco Crops (Narco Cultivos, in the original Spanish), by Azucena Sánchez and Maria Degand. It is quite a beautiful little film, fresh to the point of bordering on the type of visual poetry that reminds one of certain scenes from Tarkovski's Stalker or, more obliquely, of Peter Greenaway's Water Wrackets. The content of the video consists of a map of Mexico drawn on the bottom of what appears to be a teflon-coated container, with the silhouette well outlined in white on a dark background.
Sánchez and Degand have marked the most prominent cities in the drug trafficking trade by placing a single oat on the map where the cities are located. These oats serve as food for a type of mold called Polycephalum Physarum, which is applied later on in the video; the oats will be wetted with a liquid to create a culture for the Polycephalum Physarum, which is the real protagonist of the story. We thus watch as the fungus grows in a slow, but devastating fashion, inspiring the same kind of terror that a gelatinous monster would, coming from the most radioactive depths of the sea of Hiroshima -- or Fukushima, if you prefer -- like in some Japanese comic.
The correct choice of colors enhances the dynamics of the spectacle, especially the dark background, which contrasts artistically with the gold color that the oats take on and the oozing nuclear green plasma of the Polycephalum Physarum. Indeed, if the colors of the background were light rather than dark, we might not be able to perceive the alarming viscous sludge swallowing everything in its wake. The uniform spread of the fungus increases to the point of total saturation thanks to the flat, smooth base of the container. The beauty of the imagery is that it evokes a time-lapse film of a blossoming flower. A pleasant metaphor for a country devastated by a plague.
The topography -- physical, social and historic -- of Mexico is very complicated. The fractured surface of the Mexican soil is split by a high mountain range that comes down all the way from Alaska, winding and twisting its way through Canada and the United States, until it enters Mexico, already forked into two ranges called the Sierra Madre Occidental and the Sierra Madre Oriental. These finally meet in the center of the country, where they create the Valley of Mexico and the high plateau, cradle of the Aztec culture, which built the great city of Gran Tenochtitlan, later transformed by swords and gunpowder into Mexico City, the country's capital. It is a volcanic area, with a great deal of seismic activity. It is perhaps for this reason that the chilis that grow here are the spiciest, along with a certain variety mushrooms and cannabis, which also have a reputation for being spicy, tasty, and evocative of a certain kind of spirituality. This geography, with its valleys, hollows, and plateaus, is what has facilitated the development of drug trafficking as a mega-business.
In the video, the oats represent cities as current power points. Following the premise that the farmer who grows tomatoes for export does so as close to the border as possible, on the most suitable, fertile land and near the safest, fastest roads to facilitate transport, the video shows us that within a city, places of this size and with these characteristics are nowhere to be found. Also, if what is being farmed is narcotics, then all these requirements will have to be maximized. The drug is like nitroglycerin in the stalk. So, even though the cities appear to be the centers of power, this is merely camouflage; the real barracks, dens, warehouses, laboratories, houses and fields are scattered throughout the country, mainly in difficult-to-reach areas and never within the cities. Houses in the cities were initially used only for overnight stays when the necessary chemicals were collected for the laboratories and to keep up good relations with key contacts, impossible in the mountains or out in the open. But now, with open war between the cartels themselves and the government, these houses are used mainly for arrests, kidnapping, torture, rape, dismemberment, and beheadings, all of which are necessary to maintain a cartel's status, taking advantage of the anonymity that only a city can provide, and always in the most populous and run-down neighborhoods, far from the dens and mansions of the capos of all sides. Added to this is one caveat, a kind of tacit agreement or unwritten law not to infiltrate Mexico City, where the government and its legislative powers reside, along with the bosses and their executive powers and all the respective families, wives, and lovers.
To show how intricate the plot has become over the decades, let's take just one example. At the end of 1984, 8,000 tons of marijuana and 2,000 tons of cocaine were seized in northern Mexico, a stash produced in its entirety in the southeastern part of the state of Chihuahua, at a place called Colonia Búfalo, 35 kilometers from the Panamericana highway, which crosses the country from north to south and is just 500 kilometers from the Ciudad Juárez border crossing, with El Paso, Texas, being the next city across the border. The drugs were from the Guadalajara Cartel, led by Miguel Angel Félix Gallardo, Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo -Don Neto- (an alias taken from a famous 1970s ventriloquist's dummy because of the resemblance of the eyebrows), and by Rafael Caro Quintero, the most charismatic of the cartel's leaders. A curious fact to ponder: the seizure produced no deaths or casualties and every one of the nearly ten thousand day laborers who worked the fields were sent home with no criminal charges. Also included in the ranks of the cartel's employees were agents of the Federal Security Forces -- a government institution -- who served as the administrators. One well-known anecdote was that the armed forces claimed to have burned all the confiscated drugs in a bonfire that lasted for more than five days, although paradoxically, it was also the case that in the weeks that followed, the streets of Cuauhtemoc, Juarez, and Chihuahua were full of "merchandise" at unbeatable prices and outstanding quality. All the pot lovers were ecstatic; the fact that the news did not coincide with reality was not surprising, but the situation added a joyful tone to an extreme winter that ravaged the region that year. As for the cocaine, there were no rumors, no news, nor anyone who seemed to have sampled it. Caro Quintero, from his prison cell, offered several times to pay the nation's entire foreign debt with the profits of his business, all in exchange for being released. This is proof enough that the staff managing each of the production phases, including cultivation and packaging, as well as the logistics of the seed-picking and distribution, were chosen not at random, but with all the care of a company run by agricultural engineers, labor leaders, and MBA graduates. And all supposedly carried out with the approval of the authorities.
One big geographical salad, since Caro Quintero was from the north of Sinaloa, a place traditionally dedicated to planting poppies, at least since the beginning of the 20th century, thanks to the arrival of Chinese immigrants to the region at that time. This should not be a cause to think badly of Asian immigrants; just as the Spaniards brought their flasks of wine with them, so did the Chinese bring along their flowering poppy pots. But back to Caro Quintero, who had ties to the Colombian mafia, which for the most part had its center of operations and distribution in Los Angeles, California, and the surrounding area (although to be honest, this type of delimitation is absurd). Quintero was arrested in Costa Rica, which has no army. Colonia Búfalo was one of several that had government contacts and protection, but which also had contacts in the armed forces and in various police forces of several states, not to mention the fact that Quintero's girlfriend was the daughter of a politician from the State of Jalisco. The cartel there was one of the first to be considered as such, thanks to its elaborate organization, especially when viewed from a much broader and more rigorous perspective, as well as by its links and contacts with several countries, and its position of having total power and freedom of action. There were many states, many powerful people, and many countries involved.
All of this, which happened 30 years ago, clearly shows the geographical growth and distribution of the power of drugs in the country. The video by Sánchez and Degand serves to graphically demonstrate what has ended up being something akin to a skin disease all over the surface of Mexico. My grandmother always used to say, "Skin is always beautiful," but in this case, the damage has been transmitted systemically to the whole body, first by the arteries, which represent the branches of each successive government regime. The media acts as the nerves, responsible for spreading the propaganda -- good or bad, depending on the case. The muscles, encompassing the work force, have nearly been ruined by gangrene through the campaign to engage as many people as possible in the drug trade, a campaign that has gained steam in recent years (especially with crack or "stone," as it is affectionately known, and heroin ). "Consume local produce" crows the TV slogan. The principal organs of this system, drowning, but without ceasing to function, are the common people. The reality, though, is that we are infected to the very bone. So, I guess we should all eat oatmeal.