CARTEL MAPPING, NARCOPANOPTICISM, AND ECOLOGY IN CONTEMPORARY MEXICAN NARRATIVES OF DRUG TRAFFICKING AND VIOLENCE.
Works of narcoliterature produce numerous scenes that organize Mexican national territory around the exigencies of drug production and smuggling. Police check points, transportation routes, underground passageways, aerial surveillance, lookout points, safe houses, landing strips and secret interrogation sites are the kind of elements that distinguish these narratives from competing arrangements of national space. (1) Narcoliterature is not alone in reimagining the geography of Mexico in these ways. Various forms of official, academic and journalistic discourse have responded to drug trafficking by charting supply routes, distribution centers, areas of cultivation, and the regions over which individual cartels exert their authority. It is not uncommon to find within a wide range of media color-coded maps in which large swaths of the country are diagrammed according to the location of smuggling activity and the areas controlled by particular organizations. (2) Lines and arrows often represent smuggling routes or supplies lines while other symbols indicate breaches along the Mexican coastline and international borders (Fig. 1). (3) There is a noticeable intertexual relationship between media representations of the logistics of drug trafficking and the functioning of surveillance in narcoliterature. The technical precision with which many fictional works depict smuggling operations is match by the artistry with which putative objective texts represent these same activities.
Most of the Mexican cartels are named after states (Sinaloa, La Familia Michoacana), cities (Juarez, Tijuana) or geographical regions (Gulf, Pacific). The practice of graphing the influence of cartels onto whole maps of the nation creates a distorted visual image of omnipotence and ubiquity that inserts itself within the national imaginary. To what extent do both the reality and the symbolic representations of spatially oriented cartels reflect Mexico's long and ingrained history of regionalism? How might this representational practice serve to reinforce both positive and negative attitudes toward specific areas of the country? Contemporary Mexican literature of drug trafficking addresses these kinds of questions, but it also gestures toward a more insidious narco-panopticism in which capos, police commanders and military officers maintain tight surveillance over their territories of interest.
In Discipline and Punish Michel Foucault famously examines the larger historical implications of Jeremy Bentham's architectural design for maximizing control over the incarcerated. The key element of efficiency of Bentham's Panopticon and the power of surveillance rests upon the individual's awareness of the mere possibility of being seen by a single observer at any given moment in time. Foucault argues for the historical emergence of a new kind of "disciplinary" power in which individuals, aware of their condition as the object of an authoritarian gaze, take it upon themselves to comply with dominant models of behavior. The specific architectural and geometric features of the Panopticon in which a lone "supervisor" observes the entire prison population, represent an ideal type of disciplinary power which has been replicated to varying degrees within other institutions of social control since the eighteenth century. Common to all variants of panopticism is what Foucault cites as an historical shift in the exercise of power from the use of force, a technique of "sovereign power," to the monitoring of behavior within a tripartite process of observation, judgment, and punishment. What I find particularly compelling about panopticism within narconarratives is the ways in which many of these novels and short stories reproduce the environment of an enclosed space of surveillance on a much larger geographic scale. These works also show how organized crime employs disciplinary power through the character of the sicario, who fulfills the roles of both observer and enforcer.
Matthew Hannah provides a valuable tool for assessing the ways in which the concept of panopticism has been integrated into areas of public space much larger and less confined than the prisons, hospitals, factories, schools and asylums that Foucault examined. By reviewing a wide range of studies in human geography on the use of surveillance, Hannah formulates a "typology of disciplinary power relations" based on the spatial dimensions of potential sites of surveillance, commonly referred to in Foucauldian studies as "disciplines." These disciplines range from the more finite areas of buildings and compounds to the complex geographies of cities and nations. The question arises as to how panopticism, a concept that was conceived within the hyper-confined space of the prison, can be applied as part of an analysis of the literary representation of territorial control such as the cartels' efforts to maintain their ascendancy over a given region. By identifying important variations in panoptic strategies and technologies according to the scale of a particular discipline, Hannah reminds us that panopticism does not exist solely in the smallest and most regulated of social spaces:
Reviewing the progression from smaller to larger scales, it is possible to identify a few general patterns of variation in the spatial aspects of disciplinary control. As confinement ceases to apply to individuals but instead to ever-larger groups, the expansion of anonymous space necessitates a shift from direct surveillance to patrols and border policing, and then to a disconnected network of staging points. (178)
It is important to note that popular representations of large portions of Mexican national territory in the form of the aforementioned cartel maps do much to create a sense of regional confinement (see Fig. 2). Despite the larger geographical scale of northern Mexico, cartel maps emphasize a condition of enclosure typical of small-scale architectural designs that rely on individualization, controlled entry and solid boundaries. For example, in representing the domains of the Sinaloa Cartel, parallel diagonal lines carve nearly a third of the country's territory into narrow strips of tightly controlled land that seem to disregard, even obscure, the political boundaries of individual states. While the integrity of the US/Mexican border appears intact, a set of dotted lines and arrows imply a more porous southern border. As opposed to the freedom of movement implied by twisting red arrows in the map in Fig. 1, this second map depicts the boundaries of cartel territory as static and absolute. There is a doubling of panoptic meaning in both maps; while the lines and arrows speak to the power that organized crime exercises over these areas of Mexico, the information contained in these maps are essentially artifacts of surveillance and official intelligence, a reassertion of the power of the State through the overt monitoring of cartel activities. With these visual representations in mind, I will now show how surveillance and population control define the contours of national space and the relationships of human beings with their natural enviromnent in four works of contemporary narconarrative. After surveying works by Elmer Mendoza and Bernardo Fernandez, I will conclude this essay with an extended analysis of Eduardo Antonio Parra's novel, Nostalgia de la sombra, a work of narrative fiction exceptionally rich in its integration of violence, surveillance and ecology.
"La parte de Chuy Salcido"
More than any other Mexican author, Elmer Mendoza has been associated with narcoliterature since the early 1990s. His story, "La parte de Chuy Salcido," was originally published in the collection of short fiction entitled Cada respiro que tomas (1991), and has been followed by nearly a dozen novels, most of which deal with organized crime in and around his native city of Culiacan, Sinaloa. The hallmark of Mendoza's narrative technique is unmediated first-person discourse saturated with slang, regionalisms, and the jargon of the profession. "La parte de Chuy Salcido" takes on qualities of the testimonial genre in which an anonymous interviewer records Chuy's experiences as a low-level drug smuggler before landing in prison. His is a familiar story of family problems, lack of interest in school, and the restless energy of a deprived adolescent enticed by the prospects of "dinero facil" by the age of 16. Mendoza's faithful representation of a particular linguistic register and the rapid succession of episodes of smuggling, overland travel, police chases, shoot-outs, auto theft, safe houses and a seemingly endless flow of money and drugs result in a frenetic narrative of constant movement and conflict. Both form and content contribute to a rolling tale of recklessness and mobility that only ceases with Chuy's incarceration. Elements of surveillance and ecology intersect in a discourse that places a high priority on speed, efficiency, and an awareness for one's physical and geographical surroundings. Scenes of close contact with traditional peasant communities and pristine wilderness contrast with other moments that superimpose a modern system of clandestine travel and official surveillance onto traditional rural communities and the natural environment.
The story begins by emphasizing Chuy's state of confinement: "Chuy fue detenido en 1987. Estoy en un lugar que ni al peor enemigo se lo deseo. Estoy aqui por causas del destino. Estamos aqui por causas del destino. Unos culpables, otros inocentes; al fin y al cabo estamos aqui (11, my emphasis). The itinerant nature of Chuy's previous life becomes immediately apparent, however, once he recalls his time on the outside:
Cuando empece a andar en Juan de la chingada, pa'rriba y pa'bajo, buscando aqui buscando alla, conociendo gente, conociendo principalmente la sierra que es el lugar donde nosotros, las personas como yo, acostumbramos trabajar con la gente serrana, buscando la manera de ayudarlos y de que nos ayuden, que es una de las cosas que mas exige nuestro trabajo. (13)
In speech laden with participles and contractions, Chuy conveys a sense of speed and mobility between the foothills of the Sierra Madre Occidental ("pa'rriba") and the Tierra Caliente ("pa'bajo"), Sinaloa's coastal plain that extends well over 300 miles from Agiabambo Bay in the north to the Teacapan Estuary, which marks Sinaloa's southern border with neighboring Nayarit. At the level of the newly initiated, drug trafficking is little more than a trek into thick pine forests and remote villages of the Sinaloan highlands: "Fuimos a ver unos kilos por alla cerca de los limites con Durango; pura sierra, un paisaje muy chingon, un clima muy fresco" (13). There's an element of nostalgia in Chuy's voice as he recalls his introduction into the local community: "toda la raza me ayudo; en todas las partes de la sierra en que he estado he hecho un monton de amigos; claro, no estaba en aquel tiempo como estoy actualmente; cuando llegue alli hasta hice baile" (14). Both the natural environment and the communities within are presented as benign if not nurturing: "todos me trataron muy bien y me invitaban a comer en sus casas" (14).
These glimpses into a relatively peaceful and generous rural community quickly give way to the realities of drug smuggling. Sinaloa and the surrounding states of Sonora, Baja California, Durango, and Chihuahua are laced with military and police checkpoints as well as secret footpaths, hidden roads and safe-houses designed to avoid detection and store contraband. Mendoza's rendering of the imaginary of the smuggler replicates in textual terms the maps and other visual artefacts that reduce national space to a hub-and-spoke model of distribution. Large portions of Chuy's narrative describe a series of concentrated nodes of activity connected by overland routes, highways and byways; public space is filtered through the context of smuggling that prioritizes nearly every locale mentioned in the story by its logistical value. (4) Except for his initial impressions of the mountains, the geographical and social communities of the Sierra Madre are narrowly defined as sites of production while the border city of Nogales, Sonora, the endpoint in the distribution chain, is reduced to a tiny patch of desert: "un mendigo cruce, carnal, 40 metros; se me hace mucho. 50 metros. Un cruce que se tenia que hacer a giievo" (21).
As a specialist in navigating the web of checkpoints, airport inspections and border crossings, opportunities for movement throughout the region are always at the forefront of Chuy's mind. Chuy and others like him are plugged into an informal network of oral communication that provides information on the location of military and police vehicle inspections and other forms of official control: "?Te acuerdas que habia un reten en Villa Union? Pues como que los batos habian recibido un pitazo porque era un hervidero, habia como mil cabrones checando todos los carros" (29). Not always so fortunate, the multiple occasions on which Chuy describes run-ins with soldiers and judiciales create an image of a region heavily controlled by state authorities: "Llegamos y nos detuvieron. Bajense cabrones. A donde van, que llevan, de donde vienes, a que se dedican" (30). In light of the tight surveillance, loads of marijuana are hauled out of the mountains often on foot by traversing steep terrain while negotiating other natural hazards: "4 o 5 horas subiendo y bajando cerros, caminando por cuestas y mareas, asi con los fierros terciados, descansando a ratos; no se veia ni madres, y tampoco ibas a ponerte a prender un foco, y ahi vamos, ahi vamos, hasta que nos encontramos a los batos del plantio" (24). On other occasions, access to plantations is nearly impossible: "Estaba en una parte serrana, alta; las sierras de aqui son tropicales; las de alla son aridas: cerros y mas cerros, piedras, sahuaros, viboras, un desmadre" (31).
The grow sites and roadblocks, nodes of intensive narcotics production and interdiction, are linked by the spokes of relatively high-speed, overland travel depicted most often as the "carretera internacional," the modern Mexican Federal Highway 15, which extends south from the US/Mexican border at Nogales through the major metropolitan areas of Sonora and Sinaloa, then southeast to Guadalajara, Morelia and Mexico City. Chuy avails himself of a slew of fast, late-model passenger cars, pick-up trucks and other vehicles to transport large quantities of marijuana to various drop points in places like Culiacan, Tijuana, Nogales and Ciudad Juarez. Typical of road narratives, Chuy's sense of place is large-scale^ one-dimensional, and articulated almost always in the form of directions:
Saliamos por ahi y nos ibamos en chinga hasta pasar la garita mas cercana a San Luis, por el lado sur, viniendo de Sonoyta. Nos aventabamos por los arenales y pasando la garita nos metiamos a la carretera pa' pegarle machin hasta Los Vidrios. En Los Vidrios, a unos 5 kilometros, esta una desviacion, la tomas y agarras rumbo al desierto, rumbo al famoso parque nacional El Pinacate. (32)
Chuy's knowledge of the region is gained during his travels to various destinations hither and yon--Nayarit, Oaxaca, Puebla, Guerrero--and his reflections on the particularities of individual places read at times like a narco-travelogue:
Me acuerdo que nos metimos por Magdalena para ir a salir a Nayarit, a una parte que se llama Autlan, Ahuacatlan, algo asi, pero en Nayarit. Unos pinches caminos, cabron, pa'llorar, hijos de su madre. Salimos ahi y nos hospedamos en un hotel que esta en Jala. Jala es un pueblito muy curioso. Nos metimos por una carreterita de unos 5 kilometros. Casitas bonitas, asi te dan ganas de caminar por sus callecitas, sentarse en la plazuelita y todo. Un pueblito bien chingon. Chilo. (39)
However, moments in which Chuy might demonstrate a greater understanding of his social and natural environment never emerge in Mendoza's story. The character of Chuy is nearly as flat as the illustrations of drug trafficking that depict Mexico's national territory as patches of colors and intersecting lines of transportation and communication. In one final reflection on his former nomadic life as a smuggler, Chuy overlays a metaphor of nature onto the spatial construct of the cartel map: "Los que nos dedicamos a esto somos pajaros; andamos volando de un lado a otro. Casa en Culiacan casa en Nogales, casa en Guadalajara, casa en Tijuana casa en Mexicali, casa en todas partes" (44).
Let us now proceed to an analysis of Mendoza's first novel, which more fully develops the rhetorical effect of surveillance and ecology to condemn a political and economic system in violent conflict with Mexican society and the natural environment.
Un asesino solitario
Although names of key players and places are changed, Elmer Mendoza's first novel. Un asesino solitario (1999), is clearly a literary reconstruction of the events and circumstances surrounding the assassination of Luis Donaldo Colosio in 1994. Rather than a faithful reenactment of the assassination of Colosio, the novel is a period piece that depicts the various social and political issues during a particularly turbulent time in recent Mexican history. As Nora Guzman observes, the novel "profundiza en el tema del poder y muestra algunas situaciones de crisis experimentadas en Mexico durante el final del sexenio del ex presidente Carlos Salinas de Gortari; estas se explican a partir de la situacion socioeconomica, del inicio de las relaciones comerciales entre Mexico, Estados Unidos y Canada a traves del TLCAN y de la decadencia y agotamiento del sistema politico mexicano" (xi). The novel adds to the already crowded field of conjecture, speculation and conspiracy theories that blossomed after Colosio's murder since it proposes the existence, albeit fictional, of a second contracted hit man who was directed to carry out the assassination in Culiacan rather than in Tijuana, and on March 22, 1994 instead of the following day, the actual date of the crime, March 23, 1994.
At the outset of the novel, we learn that the narrator and main protagonist Jorge Macias has been informed that his services as a member of the President's security detail will no longer be needed; he is unceremoniously relieved of his duties only to be approached months later by an agent known only as Veintiuno. In a Sanborn's restaurant in Mexico City, Veintiuno contracts Macias to assassinate a presidential candidate, eventually settling on a fee of 500,000 dollars. Such intrigue engages assumptions held by large portions of society that the Mexican government routinely surveils its citizens and, when necessary, takes forceful action against those deemed subversive. Even more significant is the manner in which the novel employs the character of Macias, a government-trained killer, to juxtapose violence and ecology in ways that articulate perceptions of regional identity and governmental recklessness.
As was the case in "La parte de Chuy Salcido," Mendoza sustains the entire narration in the words and regional dialect of a single character. Macias describes his life not only as a paid assassin but also as a member of an elite group assigned to protect the President. It becomes clear that Macias's job description goes beyond that of the typical bodyguard: "te pagaban una bicoca pero tenias poder, podias madrear, embotellar, torturar y ni quien te dijera nada, nadie se metia con tus huesos; eras una mierda si tu querias, pero se te respetaba" (3435). Not surprisingly, Macias and his cohorts exist in a kind of extra-official obscurity: "Era un grupo de aquellos, carnal, aca, chilo, no teniamos nombre porque al jefe H no le agradaban esas ondas, pero siempre andabamos movidos cuidando al presi o a altos funcionarios que salian de gira" (35). In Mexico, the specter of secret government agents, hired political assassins, henchmen roaming at the direction of government or military functionaries, and even death squads, draws on a long history of both documented historical fact and unsubstantiated but credible rumor. Elizabeth Moreno Rojas shows how the novel feeds off a general public consensus that views Colosio's murder as part of a larger political conspiracy:
Efectivamente, en el imaginario colectivo, el crimen del entonces candidato fue un asesinato politico producto de un contexto politico marcado por el crimen y la corrupcion y un ambiente descompuesto proclive a asesinatos por el poder. En la version popular, cada vez mas arraigada, a Colosio lo mataron porque rompio con el compromiso de la continuidad salmista, hecho que fue evidente, segun se dice, en sus discursos sobre la democracia. Su llegada a la presidencia afectaria, se cree, a intereses muy fuertes. Aunque ni el ex presidente Salinas de Gortari ni sus funcionarios o companeros de partido han sido procesados por el crimen, la colectividad si los ha enjuiciado. (139-40)
I am interested in such public opinion not out of an effort to explain the assassination but rather to demonstrate how the mere suggestion of covert schemes of social and environmental control are not only credible; they resonate in narconarratives as part of a I larger discourse of surveillance. The narrative elements that inform this "imaginario colectivo" reflect a general belief that dissent from the prevailing systems of political and economic power are monitored and, if necessary, punished. In her own analysis of Un asesino solitario, Nora Guzman comments on the intangible and concealed nature of the exercise of power in Mendoza's novel: "El poder mayor, el invisible, pareciera inamovible, es un ente I abstracto, intocable, omnipotente, que no se ve" (xvi).
With only a few notable exceptions, the novel's setting is entirely urban, presenting scenes in either Mexico City or Culiacan. As Macias returns to his hometown of Culiacan, he contemplates changes along the banks of the Tamazula River:
Cruce el rio Tamazula, que es uno de los tres que se juntan en Culiacan, se veia aca, chilo, habian quitado todo el pinche cochinero que habia en mis tiempos de desmadre, tambien limpiaron las riberas, cortaron los alamos viejos y sembraron nuevos. En mis tiempos mucha raza hizo de las suyas alli: desvalijaban carros, se negociaba con droga: mota, pastas, chiva, acido, violaban morras, a mas de dos les dejaron encargados fileros entre los matorrales. Esto lo hacen ahora en cualquier parte de la ciudad y en todas las ciudades, es mas, lo hacen hasta en las pinches rancherias, ya no hay territorios especiales aca como antes, parece que todo se echa perdelen esta vida. (21-22)
The apparent environmental remediation of the river bank reflects an overall worsening of violence and criminal behavior in the rest of the city. The cleansing of this previously despoiled natural space is only sustainable now that these illicit activities have overrun the rest of Culiacan. Natural spaces like the Tamazula River are spared since the cover that these places once afforded is no longer necessary.
Macias's sense of place is ordered around the modern urban milieu of bars, hotel rooms, restaurants, city streets, taxis and government offices in Mexico City and Culiacan. In keeping with historical accuracy, Macias recalls the Neo-Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, which commanded the country's attention during the weeks leading up to the assassination. His condition as a creature of the city is reflected in his view of Chiapas as he follows television coverage of the armed rebellion there in 1994. His characterization of Chiapas and the indigenous communities in Mexico's most southern state consists not only of racist stereotypes but also of a strong association between these communities and the physical environment, at least as he understands them:
y los indios, pinches indios, siempre han sido muy locochones, y la neta casi ni cuentan, lo unico bueno que tienen son los hongos y el peyote [...]. Que se estaban muriendo de hambre o de lombrices, ni pedo camal, ya les tocaba, que Dios los bendiga; que no tenian escuelas y se los chingaban gacho los finqueros, ni modo, era su destino; que les quitaron sus tierras, pues que pendejos, que se pongan truchas, ya estan grandecitos. (46)
[...] no es que me estuviera muriendo por ir a Chiapas o eso, no me gusta la pinche selva, ni los platanos fritos, ni el caxcalate, ni los tamales con hoja de platano [...]. (49)
Macias associates discrete elements of nature (hongos, peyote, lombrices, tierra, platanos) with indigenous culture. As is often the case in Latin America, food is featured as a source of regional pride and identity, and Macias's rejection of chiapaneco cooking is telling since his own diet consists primarily of processed food, the modern urban equivalent of local cuisine; he is particularly fond of Coca-Cola and Pan Crema cookies. As opposed to common economic and historical differences that are commonly cited to explain the urban/rural rift in Mexico, (5) through the character of Macias, Un asesino solitario articulates the divide in ecological terms.
Macias's projection of Chiapas is part and parcel of a larger rendering of the ways in which he associates space and conflict on a variety of scales: "En la tele pasaban la bronca de Irlanda del Norte o del Sur, no me acuerdo, y las posiblidades de que terminara en el 94. Pasaron tomas de edificios arruinados, no me parecieron tan cateados como los bosnios herzegovinos, chale camal, no se si los viste, esos si estaban cabrones, como si se quisieran borrar de la faz de la tierra" (69). On a local level, the making of a sicario begins during his adolescence in Culiacan where he and his friend El Willy took part in street brawls. Conflict with rival gangs in the city is articulated in terms of territorial pride and turf wars between neighborhoods such as Col. Pop and Colonia Rosales. Hardened by their experiences in
Culiacan, Macias and El Willy try their luck in Mexico City where they are eventually recruited to serve in Los Dorados, a covert paramilitary group trained in the use of force to break up political demonstrations. Multiple references to the events of June 10, 1971 during which dozens of unarmed university students were killed and countless more injured make clear that Los Dorados is simply a pseudonym for the infamous Halcones, a band of secretly trained men who took part not only in La Masacre del Jueves de Corpus but also during the Tlaltelolco massacre of 1968. Macias recalls the military style training, which took place just beyond the urban confines of Mexico City:
Nos llevaron al Desierto de los Leones, que la neta creiamos que era otra cosa, para empezar ni es desierto ni hay leones, es un bosque de aquellos, hermoso, como en las peliculas, no se si conozcas; total ahi vamos, nos hospedaron en un canton aca, colonial, enorme, tenebroso, que tenia caballeriza y todo, ahi nos pusimos a entrenar con una bola de jodidos gandallas, puro cabron tragaldabas junto a los cuales nosotros eramos miserables aprendices, puro bato felon. Ahi nos dieron de tocho morocho: soleta, lana, tramos, limas aca, calcas, y rolaban machin las pastas, la mota, el acido; chiva pa los jaipos y hasta coca se podia conseguir; como ves, estabamos en el pinche paraiso. (89)
The chosen location for the clandestine training, El Parque Nacional Desierto de los Leones, holds particular symbolic and spatial value. More than just a secluded location, the park is teeming with plant and animal life, a fact that is prominently promoted at its website:
El clima es semifrio y semihumedo, nublado y con lluvias en el verano. El bosque tiene arboles como oyamel, fresno, encino, entre otros. Existen mas de cien especies de hongos. En cuanto a su fauna, hay mas de cien aves, 30 mamiferos, 7 especies de anfibios y 9 de reptiles. Algunas de las especies mas importantes son los tlacuaches, conejos, mapaches, coyotes, zorros grises, venados de cola blanca, halcones, pajaros carpintero, murcielagos, etc. ("El parque")
Such rich biodiversity makes for an incongruous backdrop for the kinds of activities involved with training in the use of firearms, martial arts and hand-to-hand combat. Macias's characterization of the training camp within the verdant setting of the park as paradisiacal carries a particularly ironic charge since he is commenting not on the beauty of the natural environment that surrounds him, but rather, on the abundance of psychoactive substances and other perks with which he is provided. Soon thereafter, Macias and El Willy deploy to the Mexico City neighborhood of Santa Maria la Ribera where they take part in the brutal attack on unarmed student protestors: "los agarramos a garrotazos hasta no dejar cabron sano. Muchos alli quedaron, con las cabezas reventadas, pero los que no, los hubieras visto correr, parecian venados" (91). Hours after the massacre, Macias's grupo de golpe is hastily disbanded: "En realidad no volvimos a ver a nadie porque esa misma noche deshicieron el grupo, nos dieron una lana y orale, cada quien pa donde apuntara su nariz" (91).
The segments of the novel pertaining to Macias's involvement in the Halconazo of 1971 reflect the unusual perspective of the aggressors in the tragedy, but they also locate these individuals within a system consisting of multiple layers of surveillance and power. In the intervening four decades since the massacre, much has been discovered about the involvement of senior-level politicians, the Mexican military and police as well as the CIA in the intentional and systematic repression of popular democratic expression. (6) Mendoza's contemporaneous representation of these events, however, emphasizes the nameless, faceless nature of the authoritarian state. In describing his experiences with Los Dorados, Macias's consistent use of anonymous third-person plural verbs ("nos llevaron"; "deshicieron el grupo"; "nos dieron una lana") masks culpability and reflects the distance between the recruits and those in charge. Even the identity of Macias's initial contact with Los Dorados remains obscured: "un dia un bato nos propuso formar parte de un cuerpo especial de felones" (88). As a sicario, Macias tracks his unsuspecting victims with stealth and precision, but ultimately he too is blind to the larger forces that determine his own fate. Guzman describes Macias's relationship to power and surveillance in similar terms: "el lector iniciara un camino de conjeturas para ir elaborando por que y quien o quienes son los autores de este crimen politico y del que solo conoceremos sombras externas. A donde si penetraremos sera al mundo de Macias, personaje dominado por el poder, subyugado por el pero al mismo tiempo encarnacion de el" (xii).
Recollections of Macias's upbringing and past involvement in Los Dorados provide a kind of sociological study in the making of a sicario. In this context, violence cannot be understood as an organic phenomenon nor can it be attributed reductively to the usual economic, social and political factors. Shown to have been actively produced by government initiative, violence in Mendoza's novel can be read within a framework of contemporary environmental ism that decries patterns of consumption intended solely to satisfy short-term needs. Not unlike approaches taken in the harvesting of natural resources, effects of which can be felt for decades, Un asesino solitario shows how violence recklessly produced by the state lingers within the social environment like toxic waste with a particularly long half-life. Macias's career as a hit man originates in the reckless and cynical actions of politicians and military personnel closely resembles issues such as resource management and urban planning and the ways in which officials ignore the long-term ramifications of certain human activity.
The juxtaposition of violence and ecology reemerges in the following novel using a highly stylized figurative language not often found in this genre.
Tiempo de alacranes
Bernardo Fernandez further develops the figure of the roving, lone sicario in his novel, Tiempo de alacranes (2005). Alberto Ramirez, the novel's main character and infamous maton, plans to retire after he carries out one final hit ordered by the powerful drug trafficker Eliseo Zubiaga, alias El Senor. The novel is a somewhat incongruous mix of graphic violence and narco parody. A pair of bumbling goons-for-hire known as Tames and El Gordo provide moments of morbid levity. A corrupt general who mentored El Guero during his time as a soldier is a caricature of the callous and implacable military man:
Se decia que Diaz Barriga desayunaba todas las mananas un par de huevos fritos ahogados en la salsa verde mas corrosiva que se hubiera preparado jamas al occidente del pais espolvoreados con una cucharadita de polvora, y que de aperitivos pedia alacranes gueros asados al comal, que masticaba sin escupir los aguijones. (49)
A naive pencil-pusher by the name of Gomez Darkseid works in the offices of the state's Procuraduria but is slow to take notice of the rampant corruption and human rights abuses taking place under his nose. Despite many scenes punctuated by dark humor. Tiempo de alacranes is not simply a sardonic spoof of narcoculture. Beneath the veneer of narcoparody is a quite serious discourse on the geography of fear and social control. The author's penchant for ascribing zoomorphic qualities and instinctual, animal-like behavior to his characters fuses prominent natural elements of northern Mexico with the process of surveillance.
The action occurs on a broad territorial scale similar to areas covered in the course of Chuy Salcido's career as a drug smuggler. While the reten functions in Mendoza's story as the primary instrument of control, Tiempo de alacranes introduces a second dimension of surveillance in the image of the solitary, steadfast sicario who is able to track his victims over Mexico's expansive northern territory in relatively short order: "Al frente, la carretera serpenteaba un poco para recuperar de inmediato su forma de reptil perezoso. Comenzaba a amanecer, lo cual era un regalo despues de manejar mas de quince horas desde el otro lado del pais" (13). The incorporation of certain natural images ("serpenteaba," "reptile") should not be dismissed as casual figurative language intended simply to evoke the desert scenery of northern Mexico. Fernandez's technique of fusing character traits with desert life builds throughout the novel to such a degree that the qualities most commonly associated with creatures likes scorpions, snakes and other critters become reflected in the behavior of certain individuals. In other words, the notion of identity in Tiempo de alacranes is not so much regional as it is ecological. Consider, for example, the use of figurative language in the construction of Alberto's moniker, El Guero:
no le dicen Guero por ser blanco, de pelos delote. Nombre, al fregao Guero le dicen asi desde chamaco por los alacranes gueros de nuestra tierra [Durango]. De guerquillos jugabamos con esos animales, los molestabamos con una varita, les prendiamos lumbre, los metiamos en frascos o botellas, pero al unico que no le picaban era a mi compagre, yo crioque sabian que se podian envenenar. (19)
With the money from a large advance, El Guero buys an immaculately restored 1970 Chevrolet Impala to make the trip from Ciudad Lerdo to the fictional town of Ciudad Portillo some 2,200 kilometers to the northeast where his next and final victim resides. After a long, overnight drive, El Guero arrives in the small dusty town: "Entre a Ciudad Portillo con los primeros rayos de luz. El Impala estaba cubierto de polvo, todo su esplendor oculto debajo de la suciedad. Avance por varias calles sin pavimentar que me recordaron a Cuencame, otro pueblo perdido en medio del calor y el hastio" (33). The long reach of the sicario is underscored by the ease with which El Guero is able to locate his next victim in this seemingly forgotten, remote, and nondescript town: "Al centro de la plaza, la estatua de algun ojete afeaba el parque aun mas que los arboles resecos. A lo lejos se escuchaba el llanto de los zopilotes, que en este lugar seguro se morian de hambre. El sonido de la grava bajo mis botas parecia retumbar en las calles vacias. ?Quien podria querer quedarse en este agujero?" (34). Fernandez foreshadows the impending murder with the nature imagery of starving vultures and desiccated trees as well as the tactile and sonorous qualities of the parched gravel reverberating under every step. In a passing moment that only serves to enhance his menacing persona, El Guero encounters a colony of scorpions scurrying below: "El animal corrio buscando un nuevo refugio. No pude resistir y la pise, disfrutando el crujir bajo mi bota" (35). Moments later El Guero identifies his victim, a well-dressed middle-aged man in a Volkswagan Passat "conducido por un gordo pecoso vestido de traje, con ojos de conejo triste" (54).
El Guero compares the preparations he makes just prior to completing a job with rituals performed in the hunting of animals: "Todos los cazadores estamos llenos de ritos. Algunos se encueran antes de entrar en el bosque a matar venados, cuchillo en mano. Otros son incapaces de salir a cazar sin doce tazas de cafe endulzado con piloncillo en la barriga. Hay quienes se untan todo del cuerpo de grasa del animal que van a matar, los que se sumergen en rios helados durante dias" (36). Like the hunter, the sicario stalks his prey, and his ease and speed of movement imply an ability to be anywhere at any time, prepared to surprise the unsuspecting with "un par de balas" (37). Reinforcing the gaze of the sicario, El Guero practices his aim using a random pedestrian that passes below his hotel window in Ciudad Portillo:
Mi rito terminaba cuando, despues de llenar otros dos cargadores de balas, apuntaba por la ventana, buscando algun peaton para calar la mira. Lo seguia durante algunos segundos antes de decir "!Pum!" e imaginar como caeria si le hubiera disparado, mientras el tipo continuaba caminando, sin saber lo cerca que le habia pasado la Parca, rozandole las patas con su guadana, acariciando las mejillas con los dedos descamados mientras prometia volver otro dia por el. (37)
The sicario instills fear as the executioner, but it is his anonymous, invisible nature that simulates the panoptic functions of omnipresent observer. The sicario is enabled by a public space that appears incapable of protecting itself from the stalker:
Nadie parecio darle importancia al hecho de que el unico otro automovil que circulaba a esa hora por Ciudad Portillo se detuviera en seco a unos cuantos pasos del otro para que su conductor encendiera un Principe. Tampoco le extrano a nadie que este mismo sujeto, es decir yo, se bajara de su auto, convertido en un homo con medas, para seguir tranquilamente los pasos de conductor del primer coche, que se habia internado en la escuela acompanando a sus dos hijas al salon [...]. (55)
Only the sicario has the power to spare the life of the intended victim. In a moment of conscious reflection on the cruelty of depriving "dos ninas inocentes" of their father, El Guero refuses to carry out the hit (56). In a short chapter titled "El primero que te niegas a matar," El Guero informs El Senor of his decision; he makes his way from Ciudad Portillo to a bank in the fictional border town of Zopilote in order to return El Senor's partial payment for what is now an aborted assassination attempt.
Tiempo de alacranes contains a number of sub-plots, several of which resolve simultaneously in the novel's denouement. One of these parallel narratives, set off in the text by italics, involves three youths living in Toronto. Fernando and Lizzy are so called narcojuniors, children of two powerful Mexican drug bosses. The third is Obrad, a traumatized refugee of the Bosnian War who was relocated to Canada by his politically connected father. (7) The three impulsively set off on a road trip to the U.S. that quickly turns violent when Obrad purchases guns in Ohio and murders a clerk during a hold-up at a convenience store. An ensuing transcontinental crime spree takes them across the United States and into northern Mexico. During a botched bank robbery in Zopilote, plot lines merge when Obrad and Lizzy take El Guero hostage and flee in the Impala while Fernando is killed in a shoot-out with local police. The events in Zopilote reverberate throughout the world of organized crime and make headlines in national newspapers. The circumstances under which the bank robbery occurs and the son of a prominent capo is killed are widely misinterpreted by police, journalists, and narcos. For some, the death of Fernando signals the beginning of a war between rival cartels while others mistake Obrad for a Gringo mobster. Parts of the novel include the text of a newspaper columnist who speculates on the more sinister possibilities: "Algo muy feo se esta cocinando en los sotanos del narco-poder en este pais, amigo lector" (81). The town's unsubtle name of Zopilote (vulture) represents another example of nature imagery, but the novel also draws attention to its uncharted characteristic as "uno de aquellos lugares que los mapas comerciales no alcanzan a marcar" (79). Mayhem and confusion occur just beyond the watchful eyes of Mexico's legal and extralegal institutions of power and control.
El Guero, Obrad and Lizzy now find themselves fugitives barreling through the open desert. El Senor dispatches Tames and El Gordo to hunt down El Guero for having failed to return his money while the police search for this unlikely trio of alleged bank robbers. All three interested parties--los federales, El Senor, Tames/El Gordo--solicit the services of El Chino, "el soplon mas confiable de todo el noreste de la republica" (90). El Chino's powers of surveillance are unmatched: "Si algo estaba sucediendo, el lo sabia. El que, quien y en donde. Como lo hacia, era un misterio no resuelto" (90). Explanations abound for El Chino's uncanny ability to monitor the various illicit activities occurring throughout the region:
Nadie podia precisar de donde habia salido semejante freak. Algunos decian que era un ex agente de la CIA, otros que de la DEA. Habia quien lo vinculaba con el ejercito gringo, pensando que era desertor. Los mas audaces decian que se trataba un hacker de primera generacion al que el Servicio Secreto le habia freido el cerebro, un genio idiota. (89)
His rumored association with the standard-bearers of international surveillance--CIA, DEA--along with a slew of technological devices help El Chino make a brisk business in the peddling of information. Not long after El Chino informs on the trio's whereabouts, police and narcos descend on El Checo's home in Ciudad Lerdo where El Guero, Obrad and Lizzy are in hiding. Once again, nature imagery is employed, this time to capture the bloodlust with which the fugitives are pursued: "Como suele suceder, los primeros en inquietarse fueron los animales. Algo en el aire delataba la presencia de criaturas sedientas de dolor, de venganza" (103). The heightened sensibilities of animals alerted to the impending confrontation suggest a kind of universal, primal impulse for violence shared by both human and non-human beings: "Caballos y perros de la region se mostraron nerviosos durante todo el dia a medida que los depredadores se concentraban en la ciudad, cerrando su cerco alrededor de una casita roja, que daba al zocalo, a un lado de las nieves de Chepo" (103).
At the same time that the federales as well as El Senor and his henchmen are zeroing in on the fugitives, the text goes out of its way to be cartographically focused:
Uno a uno, los asesinos fueron llegando a ese territorio del absurdo que en los mapas esta senalando por la palabra Torreon, que los locales conocen como la comarca lagunera a pesar de su absoluta ausencia lacustre y en donde se juntan tres ciudades divididas por el lecho de un rio seco. (103)
Just as the various characters and plot lines of Tiempo de alacranes merge in a final showdown in Lerdo, so too do the various aesthetic and discursive components of the novel--power, nature imagery, cartography--fuse into a landscape of surveillance within which the action of the novel culminates.
Nostalgia de la sombra
The main protagonist of Eduardo Antonio Parra's novel, Nostalgia de la sombra (2002), stands out from those of similar works in that the origins of the sicario character do not reside in the usual morass of abject poverty, cyclical violence, and coercion. Instead, Ramiro Mendoza Elizondo's entrance into the profession results from a kind of midlife crisis. Dissatisfaction with his stultifying job as a copy editor coupled with the pressures of providing for a growing family set the stage for a series of events that trigger his flight into the world of organized crime. The novel consists of twin narratives collated into 11 alternating chapters that oscillate between scenes from Ramiro's current life as a hit man based in Mexico City and his former life in northern Mexico. (8) The transformation of the novel's protagonist into a paid assassin takes place within a variety of natural settings within which the reality of contemporary mechanisms of surveillance and social control make their presence felt. With one notable exception, spaces defined by the degradation of the natural environment mark the outer limits of panoptic power.
Much of the existing scholarship on Nostalgia de la sombra focuses on the narrative of Ramiro's present life after he is dispatched by his boss to assassinate a business woman by the name of Maricruz Escobedo in Ramiro's hometown of Monterrey. (9) However, the second of these two sets of narrative sequences has particular relevance for a consideration of territorial and regional surveillance and control which the novel frequently depicts by foregrounding human interaction with the natural environment. Chapters 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 follow the course of Ramiro's transformation from Bernardo de la Garza, a struggling family man, to El Chato, a garbage picker living in a public landfill, to Genaro Marquez, an inmate at the infamous Penal de la Loma in Nuevo Laredo. The events of Ramiro's past involve interactions with individuals who represent the most disadvantaged and marginalized members of Mexican society identified in local parlance as pepenadores, aplanacalles, borrachotes, saroleros, teporochos, and pateros. The novel emphasizes the itinerant nature of daily experience among society's most destitute. El Chato takes his place among a nomadic but largely invisible class of indigent wanderers, street people, alcoholics, addicts, homeless children as well as desperate migrants attempting to cross the US/Mexico border. Within these particular scenes, characters come and go in search of little more than personal survival. Protection from the elements, notably the intense sun of northern Mexico, and from rats, snakes, stinging insects and other nuisances cast these individuals in immediate contact with their physical environment. For instance, El Chato nearly succumbs while travelling on foot from Monterrey to Nuevo Laredo along the desolate Mexican highway 85, an expanse of well over 100 miles. In contrast, when Ramiro returns to Monterrey, he rents an air-conditioned automobile, spends hours sipping coffee in a cafe, and takes up residence in the posh Gran Hotel Ancira. Changes in his standard of living are measured in large part by a drastic reduction in direct engagement with the physical environment. Instead of actively negotiating the hazardous terrain of the landfill or protecting himself from the barren plains of Nuevo Leon, Ramiro performs the necessary reconnaissance concealed behind the wheel of an automobile or overlooked in the window seat of a strategically located cafe. In other words, Parra depicts upward social mobility as a transformation from the surveilled to the one who surveils.
As we saw previously, Un asesino solitario explores the creation of Los Halcones and the long-term social ramifications of government generated groups of killers employed to quell political dissent. In Parra's novel, which also features scenes alternating between Mexico City and northern Mexico, the enterprise of murder-for-hire has moved into the private sector. Ramiro's employer, Damian, "pertenecia a una de las familias poderosas del pais, aunque no contaba con acceso directo a los niveles superiores" (16). When familial access to economic and political opportunities is blocked by older siblings, Damian takes the more entrepreneurial path into the burgeoning market of contract killing:
Ahora [Damian] dirigia una empresa consultora especializada en seguridad, cuyo personal el mismo reclutaba en ciertas carceles del norte, entre las pandillas de los barrios chicanos del otro lado de la frontera y en las colonias perdidas de la ciudad de Mexico. Cada elemento que ingresaba en su compania entrenaba con disciplina hasta transformarse en un profesional refinado, educado, eficaz. Damian se consideraba el mejor en su negocio. Contrataban sus servicios desde grupos industriales, partidos politicos, organizaciones de narcotraficantes o el mismo gobierno; incluso amantes despechados o herederos impacientes. Ramiro era una de sus piezas fuertes en la empresa y, en diez anos, habia resuelto alrededor de dieciocho encargos. (16)
Both Un asesino solitario and Nostalgia de !a sombra counter the popular geographically based view of violence as an endemic characteristic of northern Mexico. In both cases, the driver of violence resides in Mexico City, the seat of political and economic power. The machinations of the capital entangle both Macias and Ramiro, producing professional killers who return to their native cities of Culiacan and Monterrey respectively to carry out their missions.
The novel begins in a restaurant in Mexico City where Damian charges Ramiro with his next assignment: travel back to Monterrey and assassinate Maricruz. Chapter 2 shifts back in time by ten years when Bernardo (Ramiro) led a much different life. After going to the movies, Bernardo caps off the evening in a cantina drinking beer and fantasizing about a more fulfilling life as a successful screenwriter. While he imagines plot lines and characters for his unfinished script featuring drug trafficking and official corruption, narcocorridos blare from a jukebox in a comer of the bar. Lyrics from the ballad "El asesino" by Los Cadetes de Linares fill the cantina while Bernardo continues to develop characters, order scenes, and consider other dramatic effects for his future film. Even the most casual reader would have to notice the assemblage of three prominent creative forms of narcocultura in a single moment: music, film, and literature. During a brief altercation with an apparently intoxicated elderly man, Bernardo, the aspiring film artist, interprets his surroundings through a purely symbolic lens:
Bernardo, medio sorprendido, medio picado, sostuvo la vista durante varios segundos: se trataba de un anciano grande y corpulento, metido en un atuendo norteno de pies a cabeza: botas vaqueras, pantalon de mezclilla, cinto pitiado y camisa de cuadros. Lucia un bigote tupido, fiero; y la sombra de su barba entrecana oscurecia la mitad de un rostro cuyo tono de piel era muy rojo. (38)
Bernardo processes the man's identity through a translatable visual code, his "atuendo norteno." A face obscured by a thick mustache and greying beard matters little to Bernardo, who articulates this man's visage in purely metaphorical terms: "cuando lo contemplo de frente sus ojos parecian en combustion. Eran lumbre negra, concentrada, semejante a la del sol en esos dias de canicula. Su aspecto, el de un animal en busca de sangre" (40). Bernardo sees first a caricature of the norteno only to infuse this image with both zoomorphic and demonic attributes reminiscent of those on display in Tiempo de alacranes. His thoughts quickly turn once again to his screenplay and the issue of casting: "Penso que quiza seria buena imagen de incio en la pelicula. [...] Si, muy buena imagen: el hombre y la bestia" (40). Moments later, however, the old man abruptly interrupts Bernardo's train of thought:
Al volverse vio al viejo de pie en toda su estatura, inclinandose como si fuera a venirse abajo. Agitaba el brazo y lo senalaba con el indice: --!Ya te vi! ?Eh? !Tienes miedo! !Ya te vi! Bernardo no pudo hacer otra cosa que quedarse inmovil, sin responder a los gritos. Fue el cantinero quien intervino en su auxilio: --!No le hagas caso, compa! !Este guey ta bien pirata!--y al viejo--: !Ora, cabron! !O te callas o le vas llegando! !No estas en tu pinche manicomio! (40-41)
Although the norteno is dismissed by the bartender as both drunk and insane, Bernardo is shaken by the words of the old man. He ponders the notion of fear not only in the narrow sense of an aversion to physical harm, but also with respect to his inability to alter the path of his professional and personal lives. The fact that his wife, Victoria, may be expecting their third child merely implies longer hours at a job he detests, less time to pursue more fulfilling activities, a hopeless future of tedium and dependency. (10) In this frame of mind, Bernardo leaves the bar to catch the last pesera back home.
Bernardo makes his way through the semi-deserted streets of Monterrey, the words "ya te vi, tienes miedo" still ringing in his ears. As he attempts to board the last bus of the evening, three youths surround him demanding money. When Bernardo hesitates, the three attack him with a baseball bat and a knife. While Bernardo offers little resistance, an internal voice extends the admonition of the old man in the bar: "!Mira tu miedo! !Sientelo! !Disfruta de el, cobarde! ?Ves como es real? !Te estas cagando! !Sigue con tus temblores en lugar de hacer algo!" (51). Flat on his back with a knife at his throat, Bernardo is the image of total capitulation. In a shocking turn of events, Bernardo rises to his feet and ferociously repels his attackers: "Sintio la sangre en ebullicion, la ira que le hinchaba el pecho, el nacimiento de una voracidad que no conocia o que habia olvidado. Cada uno de sus musculos vibraba, y ese estertor continuo, tan parecido a un ataque, comenzo a generarle en la garganta un bramido animal" (52). The man/beast figure, first evoked in reference to the old man in the cantina, reemerges in Bernardo's surprisingly violent behavior, as if possessed by his encounter with the demonic viejo. Beyond any pretext of self-defense, Bernardo deliberately takes a life by plunging a knife into the chest of one of his attackers, who lies dazed and defenseless on the pavement. The events of this key moment in the novel's action transform Bernardo, an unsuspecting victim stalked by his attackers, into an executioner. With the wail of approaching police sirens, Bernardo flees, ultimately taking refuge in a wooded patch of land:
Sin rumbo fijo, a donde lo llevaran la suerte y esa luna llena que no paro de vigilarlo con su ojo amarillo sino hasta que lo vio perderse en una especie de selva donde la vegetacion se cerro tras de sus pasos. Entonces, en tanto escuchaba el fluir de un arroyo, el ruido de los insectos y los movimientos sigilosos de algunos animales, supo que se hallaba a salvo, donde nadie podia hacerle dano. (55)
There is a gothic quality to the entire chapter. A demonic elderly man, eyes ablaze, questions Bernardo's courage. Then, as midnight approaches, a full moon illuminates the space in which a formerly timid Bernardo transforms himself into a bloodthirsty, beastlike creature that escapes into the forest. Perhaps influenced by the role that nature plays in Bernardo's transformation, more than one scholar has used the word "metamorphosis" to describe this moment, an unmistakably biological concept that fits the moment given Bernardo's flight into the natural realm at the end of the second chapter. (11)
The flowering of a sociopath continues in Chapter 4 when Bernardo regains consciousness in a wooded area not far from the scene of the crime: "En un principio no reconocio donde se encontraba, ni pudo explicarse que hacia ahi, en ese paraje silvestre, rodeado de arbustos, algunos arboles y, mas alla, un llano que no cesaba de reverberar los rayos solares, turbios y rencorosos, a manera de espejo. El fluir de un arroyo se escuchaba cerca" (78). Badly bruised and emaciated, Bernardo struggles to protect himself from the blazing mid-day sun and an aggressive stray dog. Despite his close proximity to a principal thoroughfare of Monterrey (Avenida Constitucion), Bernardo is barely capable of standing, much less climbing up the embankment to civilization. In an attempt to regain some strength, he forages for any kind of nourishment, eventually ingesting a mix of grass, leaves and dirt. As he slowly pieces together the series of events that resulted in his current predicament, this patch of land reveals itself as a strip of wooded terrain along the banks of El Rio Catalina. A soccer pitch replaces what he initially perceived as an empty plain ("un llano"); he also recognizes a bike trail nearby, probably the Parque Lineal del Rio Santa Catarina. (12) Having fully regained consciousness, what was moments earlier experienced as primal wilderness is now understood as public space defined by human activity:
Bernardo recordo que uno de los editores del periodico le habia entregado una serie de reportajes con el fin de que estuvieran corregidos dias antes de su publicacion. La ciclopista del rio Santa Catarina es el mayor echadero publico de la ciudad, decia el cronista. Ilustraban el texto fotos de grupos de hombres sorprendidos en pleno manoseo unos con otros, de mujeres semidesnudas entre ellos, de los mirones que preferian mantenerse a distancia. (87)
Within the context of the modern city, the natural areas around the bike path provide cover for the more marginalized members of Monterrey society. Written newspaper reports of homosexual relations accompanied by photographs demonstrate, however, that even the most marginal spaces of the cityscape are ultimately surveilled and then categorized as sites of deviant behavior. Similar to Mendoza's depiction of the banks of the Tamazula River in Culiacan, Parra shows how dominant discourse criminalizes human behavior within the natural space along the Santa Catalina River. In both cities, human activity within the realm of nature, a liminal space of unsanctioned public conduct, implies a threat to the established social order.
Human activity is also shown to imperil the local ecology. Soon after regaining his bearings, Bernardo encounters another man roaming the area, who warns him against drinking from the river: "esta agua puerca viene desde arriba, donde los posesionarios lavan sus garras, mean, cagan, le quitan la mugre a sus guercos apestosos, echan su basura. Esta toda llena de contaminantes" (87). Within this space of incompatibility, Bernardo eventually attacks the man for his clothing. Before he can leave the now unconscious man to die, Bernardo simulates sexual intercourse with his lifeless body in order to conceal the crime from passing onlookers. Bernardo dons his victim's clothes, and in the process, assumes a new identity: "Cuando estuvo vestido con esa ropa ajena lo envolvio la sensacion de ser otro. Bernardo de la Garza habia sido expulsado a un ambito sin memoria" (95). Notions of fornication, regeneration and expulsion evoke a warped Edenic image, a contaminated garden from which emerges a killer.
After he reenters the streetscape of Monterrey in Chapter 6, the text drops all references to him as Bernardo; he is now an anonymous homeless man roaming aimlessly through the city. His primary concern is to stay out of the view of authorities: "deambulaba por las calles en busca de un reducto que lo ocultara de las torretas y de los uniformados. Anduvo en terrenos baldios, en edificios en ruinas, en los lechos de los arroyos que no habian sido borrados por las urbanizaciones" (127). His survival depends upon remaining on the fringes of the urban landscape, darting along the outer rings of the city where urban sprawl bumps up against untamed nature. The very newspaper for which he had worked now carries a vague description of the killer responsible for the "crimen brutal en el que murieron tres jovenes" (128). He feels the eyes of an entire society following his every move:
Y, a partir de entonces, los ojos que se tornaban inquisidores, los gestos de desconfianza acusandolo al doblar cualquier esquina, los agentes que pasaban revista a su estatura, al color de su pelo, a su complexion y escudrinaban su ropa en busca de rastros de sangre, siempre con la sospecha incrustada en el rostro, el olfato de sabueso alerta, las ganas de atraparlo al menor descuido. (128)
Bernardo takes up residence within a community of pepenadores at an open-air landfill adjacent to Monterrey's Central de Abastos, where he now goes by the name of El Chato. (13) In contrast to the squalid living conditions, Parra aestheticizes the landfill in unexpected pastoral language:
Semejante a un pantano embravecido de colores chillantes, ronquidos subterraneos y olores, olores infinitos que aturdian la percepcion al punto de anularla, de efluvios, aromas, emanaciones, y pestilencias de todo tipo, se erguia en cientos de olas, crestas, picachos, para enseguida declinar en depresiones, hondonadas, valles y simas [...]. (134, my emphasis)
The comparison of the landfill to the geography of rolling hills, valleys and swamps enlarges the scale of El Chato's sanctuary and endows the dump with the kind of topographic features more commonly associated with rural human communities. Scholars working in Latin American ecocriticism have read the figure of the landfill as a critique of global modernity. In her book, Politicas de la destruccion/Poeticas de laperservacion, Gisela Heffes identifies a corpus of Latin American literature and film that features prominently the figure of the pepenador and the issues of refuse, recycling, and sustainability. Heffes attributes the incorporation of the urban landfill into contemporary Latin American narrative and film in part to a concern for the spatial and territorial fracturing of the global city: "La recoleccion de basura y el reciclaje conforman una de las formas de supervivencia utilizadas por aquellos sujetos excluidos e inmersos en una pobreza constante y continua. Relegados a un espacio de segregacion social y espacial, la ciudad colapsada, compartimentada y dividida deviene el territorio por excelencia de la modernidad fracasada" (168). (14) Parra's text foregrounds a socially and spatially segmented city by depicting El Chato's escape from the gaze of authority as a regional flight from the hostile urban spaces of Monterrey to the imaginary bucolic landscape of the basurero. Both the landfill and the wooded areas along the Catalina River combine elements of nature with urban decay, but they also stand out as liminal spaces where the powers of surveillance are significantly reduced. Parra's novel defines natural spaces as the site of lawlessness and marginality precisely because those who inhabit these natural spaces are shielded from the gaze of authority.
By the time the novel resumes in Chapter 10, El Chato has arrived in Nuevo Laredo where he ekes out an existence as a cargador carrying packages across the international bridge in exchange for tips. When authorities lead a group of undocumented Mexicans back into Nuevo Laredo, El Chato recognizes one of the detained migrants as a woman that had been sexually assaulted days earlier by Gabriel, a human smuggler. El Chato eventually comes face to face with Gabriel when the smuggler orders El Chato to carry two cases of whisky across the bridge: "En su mente se amontonaron las imagenes de las sombras y los gritos en la oscuridad con la cara herida de la muchacha que venia en la cuerda de indocumentados. Cerro los parpados y tambien vio a los zopilotes devorando el cadaver del caballo" (245). Consumed by an uncontrollable rage, El Chato murders Gabriel in a fashion that horrifies dozens of onlookers. The comparison of Gabriel with the zopilotes suggests that El Chato acts according to the moral code of the vigilante who avenges the injustices perpetuated by the strong against the weak. The taking of another human life under such circumstances contrasts with the entire concept of contract killing in which moral justification is replaced by the logic of expedience, the result of decisions made according to amoral strategic objectives by others far removed from the crime scene.
Gabriel's murder occurs on a piece of modern infrastructure suspended over the natural space of the Rio Bravo. Could any other site within the contemporary national landscape represent a more surveilled space than the international bridge spanning the US/Mexican border? El Chato flees the scene only to be apprehended hours later by US Border Patrol agents after he swims across the river. Once in custody, El Chato identifies himself as Genaro Marquez and begins serving time in Penal de la Loma in Nuevo Laredo. While Genaro fights for his life after a beating at the hands of another inmate, his doctors learn that powerful interests in Mexico City have requested Genaro's transfer to the capital. After Damian purchases his freedom, Genaro joins the ranks of the professional sicario and Nostalgia de la sombra comes full circle as Ramiro makes his final preparations to murder Maricruz Escobedo in the next and final chapter of the novel.
The US/Mexican border is the geographical landmark that most closely replicates on a larger territorial scale the impermeable architectural boundaries of Bentham's Panopticon. Despite what we know about the flow of people and goods across the border, as we have seen, cartographic representations of the border often depict a solid boundary line between the two countries. Parra 's novel reflects efforts to fortify the border zone since the release of the US Border Patrol's Strategic Plan in 1994. This plan set into motion a process for strengthening the US government's surveillance capabilities along the border, which culminated in the passing of The Secure Fence Act of 2006. With the adoption of military technology such as '?unmanned aerial vehicles, ground-based sensors, satellites, radar coverage, and cameras" an inanimate "fence" is infused with a constant, albeit remote, human authoritarian presence ("HR 6061"). Thomas Nail disentangles three "coexisting strategies of power"--sovereign, disciplinary, biopolitical--that are "deployed in the operation of the US/Mexico border wall" (110). As part of his analysis of the use of sovereign power, Nail engages the question of the physical environment and the effects of the wall's construction on the natural environment since the enactment of the 2006 law: "The ecology of sovereign power is the filling in of estuaries, the bulldozing of waterways, the herbicides sprayed in the wilderness areas, the migrant corpses found floating in the rivers, and the hundreds of unidentified skeletons in the desert" (118). Nail goes on to show how the wielding of disciplinary and biopolitical power has similar detrimental effects on land and habitat in less populated areas north of the border. By pushing a large part of migratory activity into unpopulated regions of the Sonoran desert, natural spaces and non-human life come under the gaze of police and border patrol, which transforms rich biological terrain such as the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge into "a high security prison" in which "ecological migrant life must be detained, apprehended, tagged, counted, constantly monitored, and trained to obey this new infrastructure: its pollution, noise, 24hr flood lights, cameras, and unpredictable night traffic" (121). (15)
Unlike the refuge that Bernardo found along the Santa Catalina River or at the landfill in Monterrey, he has no such luck in fleeing to the wooded area along the Rio Bravo. His capture only minutes after stepping onto the northern bank of the river leaves little doubt as to the rigor with which this strip of land is patrolled. The events that succeed his arrest portray this particular natural space as more tightly controlled than prison itself. As opposed to the border crossing at Nuevo Laredo, life within Penal de la Loma is conspicuous in its lack of surveillance over the prison population; ironically scenes in the penitentiary are devoid of the kind of panoptic literary discourse that punctuates most of the novel. Despite being assigned to a particular cell, Genaro quickly learns that inmates negotiate their living arrangements among themselves. A particularly powerful narco enjoys comforts rarely associated with prison life as well as the protection of body guards. (16) Little reference is made to the warders of the prison until a riot breaks out and several guards are injured in the melee. Finally, Genaro's release into Damian's custody appears almost routine, a simple monetary transaction that voids the prison term of a convicted murderer.
In aspects pertaining to both content and form, the narrative texts studied in this essay reveal the structural and ideological effects of a close proximity to contemporary journalism. In fact, many authors of fiction who treat the theme of drug trafficking and its concomitant violence have enjoyed successful careers as journalist at some of Mexico's more prominent media outlets. (17) Through the visual example of cartel maps, one can appreciate how popular forms of spatial ordering enter into dialogue with literary representations of social experience. As we have seen, the sicario and the smuggler exist in works that project large regions of Mexico as spaces of covert travel and surveillance. Very often, depictions of the smuggler/sicario reveal particular strategies of social control employed by both the State as well as the cartels. The popularity of the genre of the narconovela appears to rest with the incorporation of discursive practices like the cartel map and other rhetorical devices typically seen in both print and broadcast journalism. The relationship between journalistic practices and the narconovela seems inevitable. In an effort to influence popular opinion, newspapers and other news organizations are often the subject of intimidation by the cartels. As a result, violence against journalists frequently surfaces as a primary theme in many works of narconarrative as a reflection of the reality on the ground. (18) The visual device of the cartel map, which arranges Mexico's national territory to reflect systems of surveillance and control, structures the spatial dynamics in works of narrative and constitutes a formal effect of the narconovela's close association with journalistic practices and rhetorical devices.
In the process of transferring the visual spatial construct of the cartel map into textual representations of drug trafficking, these authors bring to the fore relationships between human and nonhuman nature. Within a social environment saturated by displays of power and surveillance, images of nature, vegetation, and animals function on a variety of textual and discursive levels. Spaces of wilderness often provide sanctuary for the oppressed, or they may critique varying cultural beliefs about the relationships between human communities and their natural environment. These texts often rely on nature imagery to aestheticize the actions and behavior of particular characters by blending personality traits with qualities evoked by other forms of non-human life. This focus on the geographic scale of drug trafficking and concern for the natural environment represent the intersection of national and international issues not unlike the content of a daily newspaper or nighty newscast. The direct threat that the cartels pose to the viability of the Mexican state intersects with a transnational discussion widely circulated in both national and international media that questions the ability of the planet's ecosystem to sustain itself.
Agee, Philip. Inside the Company: CIA Diary. New York: Stonehill, 1975.
Archibold, Randal C. "Border Fence Project Raises Environmental Concerns." The New York Times. 21 Nov. 2007. Web. 13 Feb. 2014.
Aridjis, Homero. Sicarios. 2007. Mexico, D.F.: Santillana, 2012.
--. La Santa Muerte: terceto del amor, las mujeres, los perros y la muerte. 2003. Mexico, D.F., Punto de Lectura, 2006.
Bakhtin, M. M., The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Ed. Michael Holquist. Austin: U of Texas P, 1981.
Barbas-Rhoden, Laura. Ecological Imaginations in Latin American Fiction. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 2011.
Bialowas Pobutsky, Aldona. "The Thrill of the Kill: Pushing the Boundaries of Experience in the Prose of Eduardo Antonio Parra." Ciberletras 17 (2007). Web. 4 Feb. 2014.
Bustillo, Miguel. "Wildlife at Border May Lose Sanctuary." Los Angeles Times. 17 Oct. 2007. Web. 13 Feb. 2014.
Committee to Protect Journalists. "Journalists Killed in Mexico." Web. 07 May 2015.
Crosthwaite, Luis Humberto. Tijuana: crimen y olvido. Mexico, D.F.: Tusquets, 2010.
Doyle, Kate. "The Corpus Christi Massacre." The National Security Archive, 10 June 2003. Web. 21 May 2015.
Edney, Matthew H. "Foreword." Mapping Latin America: A Cartographic Reader. Ed. Jordana Dym and Karl Offen. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2011. xv-xvii.
Fernandez, Bernardo. Tiempo de alacranes. Mexico, D.F.: Joaquin Mortiz, 2005.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Pantheon, 1977.
Guzman, Nora. '"!Nada como matar un hombre!' La semantica de la violencia en Nostalgia de la sombra de Eduardo Antonio Parra." Revista de Literatura Mexicana Contemporanea 11.26 (2005): xiii-xx.
--. "El poder como genesis del asesinato politico: Un asesino solitario de Elmer Mendoza." Revista de literatura mexicana contemporanea. 10.24 (2004): xi-xvii.
Halcones: terrorismo de estado. Dir. Carlos Mendoza. Canalseisdejulio, 2006. DVD.
Hannah, Matthew G. "Space and the Structuring of Disciplinary Power: An Interpretive Review."
Geografiska Annaler 79.3 (1997): 171-80.
Heffes, Gisela. Politicas de la destruccion/Poeticas de ta preservacion: Apuntes para una lectura (eco)critica del medio ambiente en America Latina. Rosario: Beatriz Viterbo, 2013. HR 6061, 109th Cong. (2006) (enacted).
"Mapa De Narcotrafico en Mexico." Taringa! Web. 12 Feb. 2014.
Mathewson, Kent. "Drug Geographies: A Cultural Historical Profile." Placing Latin America: Contemporary Themes in Human Geography. Ed. Ed Jackiewicz and Fernando J. Bosco. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. 115-28.
Mendoza, Elmer. Un asesino solitario. Mexico, D.F.: Tusquets, 1999.
--. Balas de plata. Mexico City: Tusquets, 2008.
--. "La parte de Chuy Salcido." Cada respiro que tomas. Culiacan: DIFOCUR, 1991. 9-46.
Moreno Rojas, Elizabeth. "La reescritura del discurso oficial: Un asesino solitario de Elmer Mendoza." Escena del crimen: estudios sobre narrativa policiaca mexicana. Ed. Miguel G. Rodriguez Lozano. Mexico, D.F.: UNAM, 2009. 139-48.
Nail, Thomas. "The Crossroads of Power: Michel Foucault and the US/Mexico Border Wall." Foucault Studies 15 (2013): 110-28.
Nieto, Omar. Las mujeres matan mejor. Mexico, D.F.: Planeta, 2013.
Ortiz, Orlando. Jueves De Corpus. Mexico, D.F.: Diogenes, 1971.
"Parque Lineal del Rio Santa Catarina." Gobierno del Estado de Nuevo Leon. Web. 12 Feb. 2014. http://www.nl.gob.mx/?P=forum_parquelineal
"El Parque Nacional Desierto de los Leones." Web. 25 Jan. 2014. http://desiertodelosleones.mx/parque.html
Parra, Eduardo Antonio. Nostalgia de la sombra. Mexico, D.F.: Joaquin Mortiz, 2002. Replogle, Jill. "US Border Fence Skirts Environmental Review." Public Radio International. Web. 13 Feb. 2014.
Rodriguez, Juan Jose. Mi nombre es Casablanca. 2003. Mexico, D.F.: Random House Mondadori, 2005.
Rodriguez Lozano, Miguel G. "Sin limites ficcionales: Nostalgia de la sombra de Eduardo Antonio Parra." Revista de literatura mexicana contemporanea. 9.21 (2003): 67-72.
Roig-Franzia, Manuel. "Mexico Calls U.S. Border Fence Severe Threat to Environment" Washington Post. 16 Nov. 2007. Web. 13 Feb. 2014.
U.S. Border Patrol. Border Patrol Strategic Plan: 1994 and Beyond.Jul.1994. Web. 26 May 2015. http://cw.routledge.com/textbooks/9780415996945/gov-docs/1994.pdf
Wieser, Doris. "Lenguaje y conceptos culturales en Un asesino solitario de Elmer Mendoza." Nuevas narrativas mexicanas. Ed. Marco Kunz, Cristina Mondragon and Dolores Phillipps-Lopez. 183-204.
(1) Kent Mathewson has written extensively on the "drug geographies" of Latin America and the historical roots of modern-day trafficking. Although I see the cartel map as an organizing metaphor for many works of narcoliterature, it is interesting to note how he reads the symbolic language employed to explain drug trafficking: "The metaphors of disease and contagion are often mobilized in the attempt to characterize the danger and dynamics of the drug trade. As with disease, one can identify the etiologies spawning the drug trade, and one can chart its traffic flows along paths or through networks. But little thought goes into uncovering the geographies the trade creates, or locating the geographies in which drug use, production, and commerce take place" (116)
(2) In the Foreword to a critical anthology on the importance of maps throughout Latin American history, Matthew H. Edney writes that the interpretation of maps as cultural products "is part of a growing awareness of the significance of spatial practices in human history. How humans act in and across space, how they move things and ideas through space, and how they construe unique places and regions and give them meaning--these are all increasingly accepted as fundamental issues that have informed and shaped historical trends and events. Maps play a crucial role in these spatial practices because of what they are: complex texts with which humans organize and communicated their knowledge of the world" (XV).
(3) A simple internet image search "mapa de narcotrafico Mexico" turns up literally hundreds of maps and diagrams like the ones described here. http://noticias.terra.com.mx/mexico/seguridad/ carteles-que-controlan-el-nuevo-mapa-delnarco-enzmexico,cel63c7002dfc310VgnCLD2000009ccceb0aRCRD.html
(4) Since drug trafficking is inherently an enterprise involving movement through space and time, narconovelas often simulate the plot structure of road-trip narratives. These works add to the corpus of contemporary Mexican literature and film during the past two decades that employ the road trip as a central thematic element. The delivery of contraband as well as assassination attempts and contract killing all evoke the Bakhtinian "chronotope of meeting," a common narrative component that serves as an "opening, sometimes as a culmination, even as a denouement (a finale) of the plot" (Bakhtin 98). Road novels in general as well as narconarrative in particular share "the close link between the motif of meeting and the chronotope of the road ("the open road"), and of various types of meetings on the road" (98).
(5) For example, in her article on Un asesino solitario, Doris Wieser summarizes the historical significance of the uprising as a "suceso que evidencio la gran brecha entre el Mexico moderno y urbano, y las provincias desprivilegiadas y marginalizadas" (186).
(6) A significant amount of still photography and film corroborates eyewitness accounts of a coordinated attack between uniformed police and halcones dressed in civilian clothes and wielding staffs, and in some cases, guns. Evidence also suggests that members of the Mexican military trained by the CIA in the United States were involved in the recruitment and training of common criminals for the specific purpose of suppressing student protests. In 1975, former CIA officer Philip Agee published Inside the Company: CIA Diary, which alleged close cooperation between the CIA and the U.S. State Department on one hand, and the administrations of President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz and then sitting President Luis Echeverria. A research team led by Kate Doyle at The National Security Archive unearthered 40 declassified CIA documents that support Agee's claims regarding the Corpus Christi Massacre of 1971.
See http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB91/mexstu-01.pdf. See also Medina Valdez, Gerardo, Operacion 10 de junio-, Ortiz, Orlando, Jueves de corpus; Condes Lara, Enrique, El 10 de junio no se olvida!. For eye-witness accounts and video footage of the massacre, see the documentary film Halcones: terrorismo de estado, directed by Carlos Mendoza.
(7) As we have seen, in both El asesino solitario and Tiempo de alacranes, references are made to the Bosnian War (1992-95) in which tens of thousands of Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats were killed and millions more were displaced by the fighting. Within these two narconovels, the war not only serves to situate the narratives within their historical contexts but also as a means for measuring contrasting attitudes in the international response to this European conflict and the violence that has wracked Mexico during the so-called drug war of the past two decades.
(8) To aid the readability of this essay, I discuss the two sets of narrative sequences in isolation from the other. However, the actual experience of reading the novel is more complicated since Ramiro refers in the present to events in his past, many of which are depicted in previous or succeeding chapters.
(9) Several scholars have resorted to psychological, socioeconomic, and historical explanations for Bernardo's transformation from law abiding family man into ruthless killer. Drawing on the philosophical work of Georges Bataille, Aldona Bialowas Pobutsky approaches Ramiro's unlikely career path as an existential conflict "between societal constraints and one's natural desire to exceed communal bounds" (n.p.). For Nora Guzman, who views Ramiro's behavior as symptomatic of larger social conditions, the "societal constraints" to which Bialowas Pobutsky refers have reached a tipping point: "la indiferencia, el materialismo, el culto al dinero; el capital economico como unico valor. El compromiso comunitario esta ausente en los personajes y la indiferencia ante la existencia del otro se torna en norma de vida" (xvi). Miguel Rodriguez Lozano largely concurs: "Los sintomas del protagonista son el reflejo del momento y el pais que le toca vivir" (71).
(10) Guzman describes Bernardo's fear as part of an existential sense of confinement brought about primarily by slow economic growth and the implementation of neoliberal policies: "la desesperanza de Bernardo es la consecuencia de un malestar social que se intensifica cada vez mas por la obstaculizacion de las oportunidades" (xiv-xv).
(11) See Guzmn's, '"!Nada como matar un hombre!'" (15), and Aldona Bialowas Pobutsky's analisis.
(12) A website maintained by the State of Nuevo Leon touts the park for its opportunities for cycling within a natural setting: "Para tu disfrute, esta obra comprende una ciclopista y vitapista, paisajismo e iluminacion, preservando las plantas y arboles nativos de la region, asi como espacios deportivo" ("Parque Lineal").
(13) Of Nahuatl origin, pepenador refers to an individual who earns a living by scavenging through landfills and other sites where refuse accumulates in search of discarded items of any monetary or use value.
(14) See also Barbas-Rhoden's analysis of Gioconda Belli's novel, Waslala in which a fictional Central American country serves as the dumping grounds for the industrialized north.
(15) Media reports of the environmental damage caused by the border fence abound. See, for example, Roig-Franzia,Manuel. "Mexico Calls U.S. Border Fence Severe Threat to Environment" Washington Post. The Washington Post, 16 Nov. 2007. Web. 13 Feb. 2014.; Archibold, Randal C. "Border Fence Project Raises Environmental Concerns." The New York Times. The New York Times, 21 Nov. 2007. Web. 13 Feb. 2014. "Wildlife at Border May Lose Sanctuary." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 17 Oct. 2007. Web. 13 Feb. 2014.; Replogle, Jill. "US Border Fence Skirts Enviromnental Review." Public Radio International. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2014.
(16) In Tiempo de alacaranes, the character of El Senor enjoys a similar existence in "confinement."
(17) In addition to the authors studied in this essay, examples of writers who have practiced both journalism and narcoliterature include Alejandro Almazan, Homero Aridjis, Omar Nieto, Alejandro Paez Varela, and Paco Ignacio Taibo II.
(18) According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 77 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 1992. To date, CPJ has confirmed that 32 of those deaths were the direct result of reprisals for work that they had done in their role as journalists. CPJ has been unable to confirm the motives for the remaining deaths. Several of Elmer Mendoza's novels such as Balas de plata (2008) feature the recurring character of Daniel Quiroz, an investigative reporter whose nightly radio program, Vigilantes nocturnos, becomes embedded within the novel's narrative structure. Other novels that depict the role of the journalist in documenting the activities of drug traffickers include Luis Humberto Crosthwaite's. Tijuana: crimen y olvido, Omar Nieto's Las mujeres matan mejor (2013), Juan Jose Rodriguez's Mi nombre es Casablanca (2003) as well as Homero Aridjis's novel, Sicarios (2007) and his short story "La santa muerte" (2003).
Caption: (Figure 1; "Mapa")
Caption: (Figure 2; Mathewson, 125)
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