The road leading to the site of the largest massacre in modern North America is a cipher, publicly unknown–not only untraveled by the international press but apparently never even sought or identified by the news cycle. Where was this epic massacre, exactly?
A barrage of reporting has obscured the startling fact that it didn’t know.
Northeastern Mexico’s immigrant massacre of August 2010, with 72 non-combatant dead, created not only a continental enormity but an emblem of growing media difficulty in dangerous Mexico. The massacre, outside the town of San Fernando, occurred more than a year ago, with media excitement running worldwide; but the photo here is the first to emerge of the way to get to the killing site–because the press didn’t get to look at that site, or even know where it was on the map. A few puzzling official photos were provided by shut-mouthed Mexican government press handlers. With good reason, the combat-torn area around the site was considered too dangerous to explore.
The resulting media picture was forced to gloss over its own vagueness, creating a half-impression that reporters must surely have been out there.
The washboard gravel road leads east from Mexican Federal Highway 101. Locals know it as “La Noventa” (The Ninety). The brush country and cropland here is spiderwebbed with lanes, each with a number; this one is Farm Road 90. The only sign hinting at the designation has fallen down (In the photo, the strange orange shape is the back of a felled billboard, touting a bygone government irrigation project and naming the road; the landscape here is dotted with reminders of chaos). The locals can tell you about the road and where it goes, but in the hotspots of Mexican anarchy, press interviews with such locals are few, and often fruitless.
The invisibility of Farm Road 90 is important to understand because all of Mexico is now slipping behind a curtain of intimidation by organized crime, leaving many mysteries uninvestigated. The hiding of Mexico is becoming an accepted norm, as if a more accessible Mexico had never existed. Even some of the big tourist enclaves long exempt from today’s violence are beginning to send in worsening reports; fears of damaging Mexico’s desperately needed tourist income add one more stone to the wall of silence.
In September I went down Federal Highway 101 in the wake of a military push that had quieted the dangers for a moment. There was the feeling of wandering behind a Potemkin stage set, seeing a forbidden backstage world. This vast nation of 111 million souls, with its 2,000-mile U.S. border, is still going forward in its intricate complexity–but now is doubly cut off from eyes to the north, which had always been fogged by language and culture anyway.
Modern Mexico since 1920 and the end of the Mexican Revolution has been the buffer zone for the North American century, a place of at least manageable imperfections that could fence off a sea of chaos farther south, forming a bulwark against cliche images of banana-republic guerrilla war, tinpot dictators, death squads and dismal choices.
But now the world is shrinking in unpredicted ways. There is serious talk that the boundaries of Europe will have to be pulled back to exclude the failing state of Greece. In terms of public perception, the boundaries of Safe North America are pulling back as well–to the sea-wall at the Rio Grande.