The third Academy Award nominated documentary I’ve seen this year, Cartel Land held me riveted from the opening sequence. The drug cartels of Mexico are feared on both sides of the border, and this documentary focuses on a group of vigilantes along the border in Arizona, as well as a citizen group in the Mexican state of Michoacán, some thousand miles away, where the cartels murder indiscriminately, and cause much grief and suffering to the good people in the cities. Rated R for violent disturbing images, language, drug content and brief sexual material, it is not for the faint of heart.
I wondered how this footage was obtained. Granted, the meth cooks all wore masks or bandannas on their faces, but they were speaking to the filmmakers about why they cook meth, and why they will continue to do so. Sales are mainly to the United States, which makes the U. S. a part of the problem. Mexico is a land of poverty, another reason given for why some choose to cook drugs.
As the film progressed, it was clear there is evil in the hearts of those in the gangs of the cartels. It also became clear that even the ones who profess to do good and help, like Dr. Jose Mireles “El Doctor” are not the saints they were initially made out to be.
The politics of the situation were also shown as being complicated. The people are frustrated that the Mexican government does not arrest the members of the cartel, and turn a blind eye to their crimes. Taking justice into their own hands, the AutoDefensas was formed, and they systematically take over the cartel village by village, cleaning up the streets.
Meanwhile, back in America, the leader of the group in Arizona feels it is his duty to protect the border from smuggled aliens being led in. He believes he lost his job in construction to illegal immigrants who work for less money, and he reports, do a sloppy job of constructing houses. How much does this have to do with the housing boom and subsequent crash, when houses were initially reasonable to purchase and then with the turn of the economy, people lost their jobs and their cheaply made homes? This group turns the illegals over to border patrol to be taken where? Directly back across the border I am guessing.
I got the feeling having watched this documentary that it is an issue that cannot be solved just on one side of the border. As long as there is demand for the drugs, there will be a ready supply. And these cartels are likened to the mafia, where police are corrupt and can be bought.
It is a worthy film to watch, if for no other reason than to be informed of why the State Department warns US citizens about traveling in Mexico. It may also leave you questioning politicians who lamely talk about the “war on drugs” with no understanding of what’s involved in the solution.