Dispatches, Mexico

My Last Night In Mexico: Photographer Flees Country After Violence Erupts In Saltillo

June 7, 2011 By John Sevigny

The Cathedral of Saltillo, Mexico.

John Sevigny, a native of Miami, is a photographer and writer who lived in Mexico for 10 years. He left the country last week because of the rising violence in Saltillo, an episode he describes in this text. John previously contributed a photo essay on migrant shelters in Mexico and more of his work can be seen at his blog, Gone City.

Like they always say, I thought it was fireworks. But the mechanical regularity of the rhythm ruled out that possibility. Machine guns. More than one. The sound of bullets striking car metal. Glass. Stone walls. Then, the explosion of a grenade, and another.

It was just past midnight and I was home alone. What to do? Obviously, get as far away from the front door as possible. People in the street shouting now. Profanity. Squealing tires. “Did you get the motherfucker?” The sound of two vehicles colliding. Headlights sweeping across the front windows of the house.

I climbed up on the roof of the one-story building to hide, or if necessary, run across the tops of the buildings to safety. What was I thinking? What safety? Where? Looked across the street at the Cathedral de Santiago, the orange reflections of flames animated across the rear, stone wall of the centuries-old church. And a column of smoke widening into the sky like a tornado born from the earth. What was burning? No way to tell from where I sat crouched down between cement buttresses, waiting, in fear, for the sound of cartel hitmen, or even soldiers, to kick the doors in and lay waste to anything moving. The police are just as dangerous as the thieves in this miserable war paid for by United States taxpayer money.

The smell of gunpowder. The metallic taste of fear in the back of my throat. Cars passing slowly. Why? Three people inspecting bulletholes on their small, white car in front of a bar on the street below. From the other side of downtown, more gunfire. More explosions. And to the north as well. Plenty of action for a Sunday night in a once-quiet town.

Sitting outside my room thinking. People “dissapeared” by the army, marines, and federal police, in Juárez, Monclova, Piedras Negras. Mass graves in Durango and Tamaulipas. Nobody even counting the dead anymore. Collusion by every law enforcement agency in the country. And a close friend, just a few days before, severely beaten by bored soldiers on patrol. The press, completely censored or afraid. And with reason. Read other reports of the violence plaguing Saltillo here and here.

Then it was over and there was silence outside. Nobody from the army or the police ever came. Just a sole firetruck to extinguish the flames, sparked by a small rocket, someone said, that had destroyed a neighbor´s car.

The war against drugs in Mexico is no war at all. Corrupt, illegal, cruel, merciless, it is only an illegal declaration by the government that the Constitution of 1917 has been replaced by the Law of the Jungle. According to a Mitofsky poll released last Monday, one in four people in the Mexican north claims to know someone killed in what is looking increasingly like a civil war.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of The Latin America News Dispatch.

Photo: Smbiosis @ Flickr.



About John Sevigny

John Sevigny was born into a family of Methodist Civil Rights advocates and political activists. As a photographer and writer he has worked for the Associated Press in Mexico and in the Miami office of EFE News, the official agency of the Spanish government. He has covered the drug cartel war in Northern Mexico, Central American gangs, contemporary activist movements in Guatemala, elections and issues related to religion. He has given guest lectures on his own photography, journalism, structural violence and Modernism at universities including Pratt Institute, Loyola in Chicago, Depaul University, and many others. Sevigny has had more than 50 photography exhibitions in the United States, Latin America and Europe. He currently gives photography classes at the Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas in San Salvador, El Salvador. His website is www.johnsevigny.org.


cubana 1960 says:

Brilliant piece. Intensely pulling us into that particular hell–a mix of objective, clear journalism and right-on editorial comment.

Ricardo Lozano says:

Nice picture! But the story does not reflect the reality in Mexico and I do not understand the comment about the misserable war made with US taxpayers money. Is that because of Merida Initiative? Come on… Look at the magnitude. What are you talking about?

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