In today's excerpt - drug gangs in Mexico, whose drug wars have made parts of it among the most dangerous places on Earth today. Here we find the Zetas, who have made their base of operations the Barrancas - the forbidding terrain in and around Mexico's Copper Canyon:
"Because the Barrancas are impossible to police, they've become a base for two rival drug cartels, Los Zetas and the New Bloods. Both were manned by ex-Army Special Forces and were absolutely ruthless; the Zetas were notorious for plunging uncooperative cops into burning barrels of diesel fuel and feeding captured rivals to the gang's mascot - a Bengal tiger. After the victims stopped screaming, their scorched and tiger-gnawed heads were carefully harvested as marketing tools; the cartels liked to mark their territory by, in one case, impaling the heads of two police officers outside a government building with a sign in Spanish reading LEARN SOME RESPECT. Later that same month, five heads were rolled onto the dance floor of a crowded nightclub. Even way out here on the fringes of the Barrancas, some six bodies were turning up a week....
"If Mexico's drug gangs hated anything as much as cops, it was singers and reporters. Not singers in any slang sense of snitches or stool pigeons; they hated real, guitar-strumming, love-song-singing crooners. Fifteen singers were executed by drug gangs in just eighteen months, including the beautiful Zayda Pefia, the twenty-eight-year-old lead singer of Zayda y Los Culpables, who was gunned down after a concert; she survived, but the hit team tracked her to the hospital and blasted her to death [in 2007] while she was recovering from surgery. The young heartthrob Valentin Elizalde was killed [in 2006] by a barrage of bullets from an AK-47 just across the border from McAllen, Texas, and Sergio Gomez was killed [in 2007] shortly after he was nominated for a Grammy; his genitals were torched, then he was strangled to death and dumped in the street. What doomed them, as far as anyone could tell, was their fame, good looks, and talent; the singers challenged the drug lords' sense of their own importance, and so were marked for death.
"The bizarre fatwa on balladeers was emotional and unpredictable, but the contract on reporters was all business. News articles about the cartels got picked up by American papers, which embarrassed American politicians, which put pressure on the Drug Enforcement Administration to crack down. Infuriated, the Zetas threw hand grenades into newsrooms, and even sent killers across the U.S. border to hunt down meddlesome journalists. After thirty reporters were killed in six years, the editor of the Villahermosa newspaper found the severed head of a low-level drug soldier outside his office [in 2008] with a note reading, 'You're next.' The death toll had gotten so bad, Mexico would eventually rank second only to Iraq in the number of killed or kidnapped reporters."
Christopher McDougall, Born to Run, Knopf, Copyright 2009 by Christopher McDougall, pp. 21-22