Photos by © Javier Manzano
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Authors: Dr. Alexander L. Fattal, Javier Manzano • Resource type: Art
Mass graves, rival armed factions battling for territory, kidnapped civilians, and law enforcement under siege, it all sounds like a war zone. As Javier Manzano’s photographs show, everyday life in contemporary Mexico can resemble an armed conflict, as the struggle to control the lucrative drug trade rips at the social fabric of Mexican society. In this context, policing looks and acts a lot like counterinsurgency. Whereas some elements of Mexican law enforcement work to pick apart the criminal structures that they are up against, turning lower level operatives as they build a case against the kingpins who act so ruthlessly from their remote lairs, others resign themselves to the influence of powerful cartels, while still other law enforcement officers collaborate with the drug traffickers for handsome kickbacks.
Manzano’s photographs bring us into the complex and gruesome war that is not formally a war but otherwise indistinguishable from one. Perhaps none of Manzano’s images captures the nuances more than a young female criminology student seated, as if studying a case file or for a university exam, at a desk in the background. Manzano’s caption informs us that she has risen precociously to the position of chief of police “of the notoriously violent municipality of Praxedis” because more senior members of the police force refuse to take the job in light of the assassination of her two predecessors. In the line of fire are not only idealistic students but also children who grow accustomed to violence to the point that they sift sand through their fingers to cover freshly spilled blood. Not
even children are immune to such bloodshed, such as one image in which a child appears to have been injured above his left hip, after armed men attacked his
parents’ car with guns blazing and carried away his father.
Like a counterinsurgency, it is unclear what might constitute victory. Absent such clarity, neither is it clear what might precipitate an end to the violence. The
interdiction regime focused on drugs traveling north from Colombia has prompted traffickers to move their routes into more and more regions and towns across
Central America and Mexico. This, in turn, leads local law enforcement to confront powerful transnational organizations bent on ensuring the smooth
logistics of their supply chain. Manzano shows us the high price that local police pay in such a showdown, even as reports of the upper echelons of Mexico’s
security apparatus have been tainted with corruption scandals. Such scenes unfold before Manzano’s camera throughout the Mexican state of Chihuahua, but
especially its border city of Juárez City, across from the anemic natural border of the Rio Grande and the highly fortified unnatural border that
separates the United Mexican States from the United States of America.
— Alexander L. Fattal
University of California, San Diego
Copyright information: Photos are copyright © Javier Manzano.