Why film "Traffic" still the best on narco-trafficking from Mexico
You may have noticed we're running a series on narco-trafficking this week (today's installment) and Decoder is offering a behind-the-scenes look all week.
Many of my Mexican colleagues don't like the film, Traffic and will say why. They cite everything from another town (Juarez, I think) being used for Tijuana, skewed Mexican and American authorities and the whole Hollywood theme with the drug czar's daughter on a downward drug spiral. From a Mexican perspective, they're right, but for Canadians who want a realistic sense of what's going on in the narco-wars, it's an education. Look at it as really good for a Hollywood flick.
It's still worth checking out.
There really was a General Arturo Salazar, played by Tomas Milan. In the movie, he's the army general who goes head-to-head with Benecio del Toro's good cop, Javier Rodriguez. In reality, General Jesus Gutierrez Rebello, head of the Mexican equivalent of the Drug Enforcement (DEA), worked for the Juarez Cartel. He'd had access to the highest levels of political power in the United States, yet was using the army to fight the Arrellano Felix Bros. around Tijuana on behalf of his benefactors in Juarez. He was arrested in 1997 and got something like 100 years in jail. At the time, his boss was Amado Castillo Fuentes, called "Lord of the Skies" for his gang's mastery of trafficking by air and his penchant for luxury jets. He made the Juarez Cartel the most powerful in the country in his era, opening up drug routes to Europe and Africa as well as the U.S., and grooming people — including family members — as financiers, lawyers and marketing experts needed in his massive international business enterprise. He died suspiciously in a hospital bed after 14 hours of plastic surgery in Mexico City. According to legend, he's not deceased. The year was 1997, the same year they took down Rebollo.
Del Toro's character embodies the good cop, and that's the point to remember about the narco-wars. There is rampant corruption in Mexico, as every expert on criminal organizations and ties to power will attest, but there are also police officers who stand up to the cartels and pay with their lives, along with those of their family members. They are found mutilated and burned, part of the carnage that has swept Mexico.
The film's sub-plot about the daughter of the U.S. drug chief (Michael Douglas) fighting her own little addiction war — yeah, okay. It shows the rot within the American Empire and the vital role of consumers in the whole operation. But it's pretty heavy-handed. Hollywood. (I haven't seen the 1989 British miniseries, Traffik that friends say is superior.)
There are more fairly accurate depictions in Traffic."Cristina Palacios Hoyodan, who heads an organization fighting impunity in Tijuana, says a character is a composite of her son, Alejandro, 35, who was kidnapped (likely) by the cartels in 1997 and never seen again. He knew the Arrellano Felix brothers (they were neighbours in a wealthy suburb of Tijuana when drug lords tried to fit in) and his mother knows he was mixed up with drugs. In the film, he's believed to be Carlos Ayala (Steven Bauer), who's arrested by the DEA in San Diego for drug-trafficking Catherine Zeta-Jones plays his wife, Helena. Parts of the movie were shot at the old courthouse in San Diego.
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Some light background reading for readers who want to know more:
Last year's congressional report on drug-trafficking
Reporters Without Borders site with links to the murder of journalists, internationally and by country
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A post-script on Saturday's story (see link at top) about Constables Mike Clark and Phil Gomes, from the Integrated Gang Task Force in Vancouver:
Clark talks about the "Spidey sense" they develop after a time on a dangerous beat — a new Spiderman reference for me.
Plus, their their favorite movie is Super Troopers, which meant I spent the night in the back of the copmobile without getting most of the references.