Mexico's Lawless Roads

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SAN LUIS POTOSI -- Seventy years ago, Graham Greene crossed the US-Mexican border into a land blighted by violence, unrest, insurgency, and religious and counter-religious mayhem. If he came back today he would find a country riven by other forces, but in some ways just as chaotic, and just as worthy of the title he gave his account of the journey, The Lawless Roads.

The news out of Mexico is all bad. When I was a kid, my parents and I went across the border at Reynosa, Matamoros, and Tijuana to take awkwardly posed photos on the backs of burros, buy cheap Kahlúa, and eat frog-legs at Garcia's. Now the drug war has re-ignited, the rules of engagement between police and crime syndicates have changed, and the environment has become more savage. The government of Felipe Calderon has challenged the narco-traffickers and has militarized the border. Garcia's is still open, but tourists have vanished. College kids don't head down here from South Padre so much, which is a good indicator of the downturn, because they are college students, and that Kahlúa was awfully cheap. There are serious questions of whether Mexico is becoming that scariest of things, a military state in only partial control -- i.e., a Latin American Pakistan.

Only some of the drama is on the border. Greene's trip through Mexico crossed the country on its long axis and reported how Mexicans were dealing with the effects of the Cristero War, its violent suppression of the Catholic church, and the armed discontent that suppression sparked. Over the next cycle of posts, I will steer my rented Mexican Ford (an inglorious chariot that feels like it would crumple like a soda can, if I were to give it a bear-hug) along Greene's path, with deviations, to see whether that lawlessness is a permanent condition.


(Photo: Flickr User Christian Frausto Bernal)

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Graeme Wood is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. His personal site is gcaw.net.

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