As one undercover Mexican drug agent tells me, “I am the target. Do you understand? It is very dangerous."
Our trip south of the border this time takes us to neighborhoods ripe with crime and killing. For example, in the past, there have been stories where I used my hand-held mini DV video camera because we needed all the video we could get. In this case, we have no choice. Our undercover friend says the neighborhoods we now walk through are too dangerous to pull out a typical (and large) TV Betacam.
The danger can be understood even before we see drug dealers walking the streets with their lookouts in tow. In the past year and a half, it has become common for cops to be shot dead on the street, millions of dollars in illegal drugs stuffed into homes and a death toll in excess of 3,000 lives in less than two years. South of the border, it's an all-out war on drugs that spill into the United States and threaten the stability and resilience of Mexico's newly elected government. Our officer, too afraid to show his face, explains, "These people have money. With money, you can buy a lot of weapons, you can buy authorities. You can buy any resource you want."
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These drug cartels also control the massive counterfeit trade south of the border. Our undercover drug officer walks us through one neighborhood called “Tipito,” where anything can be bought and murder in broad daylight is common. He also tells me some corrupt police officers are either paid off by drug lords, or outgunned and that’s why he fears for his life.
As we walk here and through another neighborhood nearby, it is clear that our friend has made allegiances with some who live and work here. I am not sure if they work in law enforcement, whether they are paid informants or just friends. Our crew noticeably stands out, even without a large camera and lights. We pose as tourists, but none others can be seen anywhere. Our act does keep us safe and it gives us an up close look at neighborhoods at war with law enforcement. We get periodic weird looks and I notice eyes and actions at every turn and seemingly in every booth at an outdoor market.
This walk with our undercover agent friend reminds me of a couple other places I’ve visited for FOX News in different parts of the world. They all have the same feel — such as Pakistan, or in a Kuwaiti market right before the war began. You get the sense that there are elements that do not welcome your presence, but because you have surprised them by showing up on their turf, they are not prepared to do anything about your arrival. We make sure not to stay long and we make sure not to make any waves. We truly are tourists at this point and our tour is of a society fighting for its survival at the very base of its neighborhoods, because the cartels have taken over many and many smaller towns in the countryside also.
In response to this war with the drug lords, Mexican President Felipe Calderon has sent 20,000 federal troops into cities and regions where the cartels are powerful, but some worry the campaign against the drug lords is only intensifying the violence. We got a chance to sit down for an exclusive interview with Mexico's attorney general and President Calderon's right-hand man, Eduardo Medina-Mora, who says working with the Americans is essential because Mexico sits between the drug growing regions of Colombia and the United States.
“This is a shared problem. This is not a problem happening in Mexico. It's an equation that has elements going from south to north, such as drug shipments, as there are elements that are relevant going north to south, such as weapons and cash," he says.
Getting this interview with Attorney General Medina-Mora was an effort in itself. We worked the phones from here in the states for several weeks. Like many countries I have worked in the Middle East, we left for Mexico City with an interview promise, but no exact time. So, upon our arrival and in between interviews with our undercover officers and tours of dangerous neighborhoods, I had a cell phone attached to my ear. Each time, we were promised the interview would come before we leave. By our final day Nora (our producer) was getting nervous and Jorge our local producer (Mexico City) had basically given up. At 2:30 in the afternoon on our last day, I get the call. The attorney general will meet us at 7 p.m. We prepare to be there early.
The arrival and set up with Medina-Mora and his staff is a story in itself. Finding the impressive headquarters was easy, access also no problem. Our escorts quickly take us to an impressive lounge area several floors above the city. The view spreads as far as the eye can see. Buildings of all types, sizes and strengths grow from every inch if the horizon and the famous Mexico City smog has cleared enough to see the sun set in the west amidst a few tropical rain clouds.
Our photographer Keith begins to set his lights and eventually moves two couches and chairs, two flag poles and even a plant. The set-up looks fantastic and Keith always puts everything back exactly the way it was … but that didn’t matter. No less than four Mexican “officials” had their say. All wanted to look at the lighting and the plant came back for a short time. The flags stayed in the background, but the picture of Medina-Mora’s boss (President Calderon) was too high. So workers emerged and the picture was lowered. Keith convinced the “officials” that the plant had to go and the picture needed to be lower, or the chair higher.
Thankfully, the attorney general was late, because after musical chairs, plants, flags and people (even Nora and I sat in the chair to check lighting and backdrops), we spent an hour. A 10 minute break led to the interview and everything went flawlessly.
Adam Housley joined FOX News Channel in 2001 as a Los Angeles-based correspondent. Most recently, Housley reported from President Ford's funeral. He also reported from Nicaragua and El Salvador on the war against drugs and scored an exclusive interview with Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega. You can read his full bio here.
Adam Housley joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 2001 and currently serves as a Los Angeles-based senior correspondent.