The staggering death toll in Mexico’s drug war has outpaced the number of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
A new documentary by Spanish journalist David Beriain discloses what and who is behind the brutality that has turned Mexico into one of the most violent places in the world.
Beriain spent several weeks in northwest Mexico filming the inner workings of the Sinaloa Cartel, whose leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s arrest and recent extradition to the United States has thrown the group—and Mexico—into an even more chaotic spiral of violence.
Clandestino – El cartel de Sinaloa, three 45-minute episodes available on Youtube, is an intimate look at how the cartel functions, from the mules loaded down with bales of weed to the meth cooks stirring their pots in open air “kitchens” outside Culiacán, the capitol of Sinaloa where many of Mexico’s drug lords call home.
Beriain told Spain’s El Pais that an unnamed authority within the Cartel had sanctioned his project, the mission of which “is not to judge, criticize, unmask or mess up anyone’s life. Our objective is to understand.”
Along with his cameraman, Beriain followed numerous cartel members as they went about their daily jobs, asking them in detail what they do, how they do it and why.
The responses are surprisingly honest, even from those whose job is to execute other human beings.
No one hides the fact that their main motivation is money. Considering that the cartel’s annual profit is said to exceed $4 billion dollars, lowly members aren’t making a lot of cash.
One woman who carries heroin in a tube inside her body makes $4,000 for flying to Tijuana from southern Mexico. A truck driver hauls drugs through Tijuana for $6,000. Mules who walk through the desert with weed get even less.
Making Clandestino shortly after the recapture of Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquin ‘”El Chapo” Guzman in January 2016 was complicated because the cartel was in the middle of a power struggle over who, if anyone, would succeed him.
“It was initially a challenge to gain their trust in a moment when they didn’t trust each other,” Beriain told El Pais.
That fact didn’t seem to prevent Beriain from penetrating the organization and getting its members to spill their guts.
“You have to be willing to ask questions that possibly lead to places that are not comfortable. Our goal is to transfer some of that discomfort to the viewer,” Beriain told El Pais.
And there are uncomfortable moments. Beriain’s questions are blunt. He asked almost everyone he interviewed if they’d been involved with killing or otherwise harming people and how they feel about violence in their country, feeding addictions and murder.
Some shied away from answering or admitting to brutality while others seemed proud of their choices and the power it gave them. There are chilling moments in the documentary.
Beriain noted that the Sinaloa Cartel is not just about controlling all aspects of the world’s largest drug market, but rather being in charge of all organized crime along a large portion of the U.S. border, where industrial amounts of heroin, weed and cocaine are smuggled on a regular basis.
“Drug trafficking is like taking the most extreme and savage elements of capitalism and putting them in a test tube under the worst possible conditions,” said Beriain, referring to the supply-and-demand relationship between Mexico and the United States.