Hello, the War is Here

27 Jun

San Diego, CA, five-minutes in the future.

It begins with an escalation of cross-border violence, moving west from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific: headless bodies are found on the US side of the Tijuana estuary; a drug mule detonates explosives while being searched; police are ambushed paramilitary-style by a narco death squad.

It inevitably mutates from a border skirmish into a regional conflict and finally, a war. The Narco Insurgency adapts: El Paso Los Cruces and El Centro erupt in urban warfare.  And grim images similar to those from half a world away, from Kandahar and Fallujah, are now broadcast from our front door.

The US Military is spread thin, fighting multiple wars across the globe. They contract the private security company, Agility International. Agility mobilizes the border (civilians caught in the crossfire), brokering a tenuous ceasefire.

We buy security. But at what price?

– Nevona, A: Agility Sec Op 3

In spring of 2008 I was at Mission Hills Bike Shop in San Diego talking to a bike mechanic who lived and commuted from Tijuana. He recounted his first hand experience of a massive gun battle that took place in his neighborhood. People were talking about it, mostly friends who had family or coworkers living in TJ. The mega chatter was on the street mostly, though at first it was top news, or maybe it was just top of mind. However, it ended up as short form ticker on the bottom of the screen. This was pre-KBPS Fronteras. Anyway, rival gangs from the Sinaloa and Tijuana cartels were fighting for control of the San Diego trafficking corridor after the Felix gang lost its band of brothers. Almost twenty people were killed during the melee and the narcos had used automatic weapons in residential neighborhoods. It was unfathomable. The thriving tourist market atrophied. No more Chickle or nick knacks for the culture vultures on shore leave from their cruise ships.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world the Mahdi army was engaged with Iraq and coalition forces for control of Basra. You’d assume that by turning on a television you’d get bombarded with images of war from another continent as some starched-collared, pasty anchor looked blankly at the teleprompter, reported morosely on the ongoing election year excitement; the audacity of hope in parallel trajectory of an incumbent president’s final yee-haw victory lap around the Oval office. Still, violence south of the line increased.

To hear of something like the shoot out actually happening twenty minutes away was startling to say the least. To know someone or hear from someone who was affected by the violence was uncanny.

The border is porous. Walls are superficial.

I began writing what would become the bulk of Caustic Soda (or at least most of the first book) after hearing about the arrest of Santiago Meza, AKA ‘El Pozolero’, in 2009. The ‘Stew Maker’ had reportedly disposed of over 300 bodies while in the employ of the Narco’s in Tijuana’s Zona Norte district. The media couldn’t have asked for and received a more sensational story. They called him the body dissolver and described in great detail, in that affect-less shark-eyed manner of theirs, about human remains, bones and skin, gnarly stuff, found in pits and barrels around his place.

I’ll continue writing this series of posts. Mostly because I find the process of writing and art endlessly fascinating and it’d be good to document the creation of this project.

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