When thinking of the Mexican drug war, it's so easy to resort to an Us vs Them mentality, and think of it all in terms of good guys and bad guys. I admit that in my book, I did just that at times, because, well, I wanted to come out in favour of the good law enforcement officers who are trying to improve the country for their people.
But at times during my reporting, I did very much sympathize with the "bad" people. During one trip to the Sinaloan hills, I drove with a companion through the winding hills to the resting place of Ernesto "Don Neto" Fonseca, just outside of Santiago de los Caballeros.
Don Neto is one of the old school Sinaloan narcos. He is currently in prison on charges related to the killing of DEA agent Kiki Camarena. The mausoleum pictured above is where he will be buried. He's 68 years old, so is unlikely to ever see his homeland as a free man again.
But in that homeland, he's seen as a hero. There is no doubt that he has put more money into the community, created more jobs, and given people more hope than the government has ever tried to do. There is no doubt that he is the patron, a man who kept crime down (even if by force and brutality) and kept society (albeit one founded on illicit activity) running. The graveyard in which he will rest is sacrosanct, and villagers know not to disrespect the dead who lie there.
"Why would you want to support a guy who’s poisoning your society?" asked one US official I talked to a while back in Mexico City.
He's got a very valid point, especially as addiction rates rise in Mexico and gringos are no longer the only consumers. But one look at Don Neto's history, his place in a society neglected by government, and one can begin to understand just why the average Sinaloan might support a guy like that.
I'm not saying it's right, but I do understand it.