On the one hand there are the stories. They read like nightmares in the media. Los Zetas are openly killing civilians in the streets of Acuna, Monterrey and Piedras Negras. To counter the cartel, Mexican state police are killing Zetas and dumping them in the streets. There is a US travel ban on the Mexican state of Coahuila. Three decapitated bodies were left in Piedras Negras this month. When a state official announced an arrest, a fourth body was left in the parking lot of an Acuna restaurant, where that official was having dinner.
Of course, the reality appears to be different. Most people in Mexico, like most people in America, are law abiding and go about their daily routine, even if chaos is spiraling around them. Although, the chaos isn’t as open as it once was. Four years ago the border was out of control. Today, the story has gone more underground. The situation appears to be more manageable. All of that could change. Things could go back to anarchy. Things could get better. I am waiting, like so many, to find out.
Ciudad Acuna is a city of popular legend. ZZ Top wrote a song about it, Mexican Blackbird, Desperado was filmed there and Tarantino references it in two films. The city's crazy nights are still popular, but Acuna is mostly a manufacturing town. Union free factories produce car parts that are shipped to Del Rio, Texas and distributed throughout the US for Ford, Chevrolet and Audi.
Government subsidized homes are throughout the industrial part of town, quickly identifiable by the water tanks that sit atop their roofs. Poverty is rampant. The main square, just across the border crossing, caters to Americans. Souvenirs, shoe shops, pharmacies, dentists, performers, and everything in between, line the main drag. A large and modern cathedral sits at the top of town. There are police and military everywhere. My friend and I kept searching for the state run masked commandos, but they were nowhere to be found.
Acuna, like other border cities in Mexico, is working hard to deal with violence and corruption. Some measures have been very effective, while others have just increased the levels of corruption that already existed. The people are wonderful! The food is amazing! It’s hard to believe that so much chaos has occurred here, and continues to. My good friend, Auden, has an apartment in Acuna. Pretty women bring their designer style dogs to the veterinarian, next door, throughout the day. The idea of a street shooting nearby would never cross my mind. Yet those stories stay in my mind. I try to balance them with what my eyes see.