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Saturday, April 09, 2016

Cartel Land

A nominee for Best Documentary Feature at the most recent Oscars, Cartel Land, a film by Matthew Heineman, is an interesting look at the hold that drug cartels have on Mexico and, according to some, on the U.S. side of the border with Mexico.

The film does not focus so much on cartels but on those who are trying to stop them, and the film divides its time between two groups--the Arizona Border Recon, a volunteer force of armed men and women patrolling the border, looking for illegals, and the Autodefensas, a volunteer group of Mexican men who are town by town taking back Mexico from the cartel stranglehold. What we have here is a study on vigilantism.

On the American side, the voice is that of Tim "Nailer" Foley, who lost a job in construction to "illegals," and that drove him down to the border. He believes what he is doing is good, and that he is standing up to evil. His take is that the cartels are behind the illegal immigration, and that there is an invasion, and that if only people could come down there and see it. Now, I'll take his word for some of this, but my first question is if he is concerned about undocumented workers taking American jobs, why doesn't he go after the companies that hire them, instead of the poor souls who are just trying to better their lives, risking themselves by getting into the country? Why isn't he concerned with companies that outsource jobs? Or is he just interested in playing soldier?

On the Mexican side, the focus is on Dr. Jose Mireles, a charismatic man who wants to drive the cartels out of the town of the state of Michoacan. Mireles is at first a hero, but internecine warfare takes over when the government tries to disarm the group. Of course, the government is in bed with cartels, who pay them off. By the end of the film the Autodefensas are absorbed by the government and Mireles is in jail. One of the final shots is showing a member of Autodefensas cooking meth.

Foley says that vigilante has come to mean a bad word, when it used to be good. He says that vigilantes are all not men wearing white hoods. He is never asked about what he thinks of Mexican people, though he does sympathize with immigrants he catches trying to cross. The problem with vigilantism, as seen in both the U.S. and Mexico, is that they are unaccountable. As Juvenal said, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" Who will watch the watchers?

Cartel Land is a fascinating film that will provoke a lot of discussion. I'm still not sure what I think of Foley and Mireles.

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