Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Ghosts of Juarez

Robert Rath | 22 Mar 2011 13:08
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Though Juárez has now become synonymous with narcoterrorism, in early 2007 the drug war had not yet made a major impression. The city's lucrative smuggling route was still firmly in the hands of the Juárez Cartel, and as a result, the killings were orderly, private affairs that did not threaten public safety. Unlike most border cities, the military was not patrolling Juárez's streets, and the city was considered safe and business-friendly. As a result, Mayor Murguía was happy to downplay the rising violence - 301 murders that year - in favor of promoting the city's low unemployment rate.

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"It's like any crime trend in any city, you're not going to publicize it," says Fred Burton, VP of Intelligence at Stratfor, former terror czar of Texas, and author of the memoir Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent. "Crime is a political hot potato."[1]

But bad press wasn't the only issue. In GRAW2, an attempted Mexican army rebellion backed by Central American mercenaries spreads to Juárez and spills over the border into El Paso. The game follows the Ghosts, a U.S. Army black ops unit that assists loyalist Mexican forces in putting down the insurgency. Though absurd to American audiences, this plot was incredibly provocative from the perspective of the Mexican government.

One major problem was the depiction of the Mexican army fracturing and battling itself, since to a certain extent this actually occurred. In 1999, a group of deserters from Mexico's Special Forces Airmobile Group formed the paramilitary group Los Zetas, hiring themselves out as enforcers to The Gulf Cartel. Using military equipment and tactics, they revolutionized cartel violence, and soon struck out on their own to become the most efficient death squads in Mexico. By mid-2005, the Zetas had ramped up their recruiting efforts and were holding open auditions for any policeman, soldier, federale, or street thug who was willing to kill for money; they began hiring Guatamalan deserters from an elite counterinsurgency unit called the Kaibiles to school the new recruits in paramilitary tactics. This high level of training and discipline made the Zetas aggressive, professional, and unafraid to fight their old comrades, the Mexican military. Sensing success, other cartels copied the Zeta recruiting model, until the landscape of the drug war was defined by gunfights between former comrades-in-arms.

Another factor may have been the depiction of the Mexican military as enemies. Mexico is a major expanding market for games, and GRAW2 essentially allowed anyone with a console to shoot at the Mexican army, something highly subversive in a country with soldiers patrolling its streets. "That's an internal hot button," says Burton. The military is the key component of Calderón's strategy, but human rights abuses have soured the goodwill of many civilians and caused some to question the military's role in the war. There was also a potential for it to be played as violent glorification - especially in a city where poor boys often dream of becoming hitmen. "Back in the day," remembers Burton, "we had decent intel that Hezbollah operatives liked to watch violent U.S. movies like Death Wish and Dirty Harry. So the question is: do Zeta enforcers sit around playing videogames?"

[1] Fred Burton, Interview on 11/11/10.

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