Living Behind Enemy Lines

Los Angeles Times, 11/7/2010

REYNOSA, Mexico — It starts at the airport. A burly guy in a hoodie drapes himself over the barrier that leads out of the parking lot. Watching. Just watching. Most taxi drivers are on the drug cartels’ payroll, ordered to spy on visitors and monitor the movements of the military and state investigators. Their license plates brazenly shed, they cruise streets dotted with paper-flower shrines marking the dead. Watching.

In the main downtown plaza, in front of City Hall and the cathedral, about a dozen guys in baggy pants with sunglasses on their heads hang out alongside the shoeshine men. They eye passers-by, without speaking.

This is a city under siege. It’s a city where you avert your eyes when men clean their guns in the middle of the plazas.

Where schoolchildren are put through the paces of pecho a tierra drills, literally, “chest to the ground” – a duck-and-dive move for when the shooting starts. Where you try to remain invisible; you never know who is standing next in line at the grocery store or the 7-Eleven. Where a middle-aged man muses that it’s turned out to be a good thing, after all, that he and his wife never had children.

The Los Angeles Times spent a week recently in Reynosa, passing time with and talking to a dozen residents, to learn how they cope under cartel rule. All were terrified to speak of their experiences and agreed to do so only under the strictest rules of anonymity. Most did not want to be seen in public with a foreign reporter and would only meet in secret. One insisted on meeting across the nearby border in the United States.

Read more…



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