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Documentary Shows US, Mexico Fighting Drug Cartels


A new movie follows two communities -- one in the United States and the other in Mexico -- as they try to stop drug cartels from harming their cities.

Matthew Heineman is the director of the documentary movie, called “Cartel Land.” It tells about the work of cartels -- businesses or criminals that take part in illegal activity to make money.

It is late at night. Criminals are making drugs in the desert in the western Mexican state of Michoacan.

Matthew Heineman says he filmed the men as they were making methamphetamine, a powerful drug also called meth.

“The head chef, the head cook, the head of this operation started showing me around the process of cooking meth with this little flashlight, and with this little flashlight is what I ended up light, lighting the scene with.”

The movie shows the lives of members of the drug cartels and members of the community groups on both sides of the border. The community groups are fighting the criminals who have damaged their neighborhoods.

“In Mexico the violence is visceral, its real -- 80,000 people killed since 2007; 20,000-plus people disappeared since 2007.”

The documentary says much of the violence is centered in Michoacan.

Dr. Jose Mireles is a leader of a group of people in Mexico who are fighting the drug cartels.

He says, “There is a law called ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’”

The movie shows people in Michoacan who are tired of the fear and corruption that have affected their towns. It says the Mexican army is trying to take back control of the state from the cartels and reestablish the rule of law.

Soldiers take weapons from people living there. This angers the residents, who believe they need the weapons to defend themselves against the cartel.

She says, “If this happened to you, you would be on our side.”

Mr. Heineman says the drug cartels would not exist if there was no demand for meth.

The meth cook told Matthew Heineman that, “The United States is where the most drugs are sold -- all over the U.S.”

Tim Foley is a veteran of the United States Army. He lives on the American side of the border, in Arizona. He has formed a group to fight the drug cartels.

Back in the day, ‘vigilante’ wasn’t a bad thing. Say the bandits was riding into your town. The townspeople would all get together and, you know, defend their town.”

Mr. Foley and his group capture illegal immigrants. He believes some of those he detains are smuggling illegal drugs into the U.S. He brings the captured immigrants to the border police.

“This is what I consider to be 'The Wild, Wild West.' There is nothing down here, there's no law. I’m supposed to be able to pick up my telephone and go (say) ‘911 come help us.’”

Mr. Heineman says the drug cartels know how to smuggle meth across the border and into the United States.

“You know, you look up on the hillsides and there's cartel scouts looking down on you. You know, you, you listen to this scrambled radio traffic that they have, and you can hear the cartel talking about you. You can hear them pushing (moving) drugs through the valley.”

Mr. Heineman says U.S. border patrol officers do not believe they have enough people and money to fight the smugglers.

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

VOA’s Penelope Poulou reported this story from Washington. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for Learning English. George Grow and Kathleen Struck were the editors.

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Words in This Story

documentary - n. a movie that tells the facts about actual people and events

flashlight – n. a small electric light that can be carried in your hand and that runs on batteries

scene – n. the place of an event or action; a part of a play, movie or story in which a particular action or activity occurs

back in the day – informal expression in earlier times

vigilante – n. a person who is not a police officer but who tries to catch and punish criminals

bandit – n. a criminal who attacks and steals from travelers and who is often a member of a group of criminals

911 – n. a telephone number used by people in the United States to ask for police or medical help in an emergency

scout – n. a soldier or member of a group who is sent to get information about the size, location and equipment of an enemy

How are police in your country dealing with criminal groups that make, sell and smuggle illegal drugs? We want to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments section.

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