City on a Hill

Mexico’s Post-Apocalyptic Metropolis

It's been almost two years since Mexico's secretary of the interior, Diódoro Carrasco, unveiled a $500 million government antidrug effort focused on counternarcotics equipment, increased law enforcement, and a newly created Federal Preventive Police force with 11,000 "thoroughly screened" agents to combat organized crime. Since then, the government has seized over 25 tons of cocaine and close to 1500 tons of marijuana, eradicated a combined total of more than 121,000 acres of marijuana and opium poppy fields, and made, as everyone knows, barely a dent in the trade. "It's a joke," says Marie-Pierre. "It's thejoke. Except that it's not so funny."

The high drama of crop burning and border interdiction works surprisingly well to deflect attention from inner rot, not only that of big-time government hoodlums ("You've got six years to make your money as president," a friend in Mexico says. "You want to cash out with at least 100 million bucks") but also that of barrio crooks on the lookout for someone with enough money for meat. Anyway, these government antics are staged not so much to trump the globaphobes as to secure the business interests of the country's internationalized super-rich.

Mexico City: entering “the twenty-first century without yet having solved the problems of the sixteenth.’’
photo: Ann Summa
Mexico City: entering “the twenty-first century without yet having solved the problems of the sixteenth.’’

It may be redundant in Mexico to speak of government corruption. It may be inappropriate—over-obvious, even—for an outsider to note conditions so tenuously stabilized that the center cannot possibly hold. One commonplace of writing about this city is to make metaphor of its seismic reality, although Mexico City has a long history of defying the odds. The fact remains, however, that it sprawls across an active fault, is ringed by two large quiescent and one innocuous-looking but lively volcano, and is built on a prehistoric lake bed. Even under the bright skies of a cool February afternoon, a visitor carries around a subliminal fatalistic understanding that the mountains may someday explode and consume the city, the earth could crack and bring it down, or the whole delirious enterprise might—literally or figuratively—abruptly slump into the mud.

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