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Amongst Mexico’s drug wars

Scarlet bourganvilla trails down the pastel walls of Batopilas’s colonial townhouses.

There is a faded, understated beauty about this tiny village, which lies at the bottom of Mexico’s Copper Canyon.

Paint has chipped from the buildings in the same way that makes Old Havana so romantic.

Cobbles pave the only street and farmyard animals have as much right to be in the plaza’s bandstand as any tuba player.

But a rural idyll it is not.

Just a stone’s throw from this seeming tranquility are the marijuana plantations Presidente Felipe Calderón Hinojosa has vowed to destroy.
The canyon’s nooks, crannies and crevices make it a perfect spot for growing weed – and not being discovered.

Batopilas´s maginificent location has placed it at the very heart of the country’s violent drug wars.

Three guards armed with submachine guns appear at the small cantina bar where we’re sipping on cold cervezas and eating guacamole.
We walk past them without comment and head back to the guesthouse just a few yards away.

It’s quieter than a Cotswolds village in the early hours of a Monday, but a quick glance behind shows the men are following at a distance. Their guns are held across their chests, ready to fire.

They want to make sure we get back safely. Dead tourists don’t make good publicity.

The mayor has launched a crackdown on the banditry and that includes turning the village virtually “dry”.

In England, you risk being bottled in a bar brawl. In Batopilas, you get shot when the night turns messy.

About 100 km away, at the lip of the canyon, sits the bigger town of Creel.

Nine coffins have been placed in the main square outside the government building.

They represent the lives of the innocent residents murdered six months ago, caught in the crossfire between the drugs gangs and the military.
One of the victim’s fathers brought in the wooden caskets as a powerful call to end the crisis.

Back in Batopilas, pigs continue to snout among the flowers and women sweep their frontsteps free from dust.

But in the words of Dorothy Gale when she landed in Oz: “Toto, I´ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”.

Postcript: Since posting this note, executions of drug cartel members continue to happen on a daily basis. This week La Prensa – Mexico’s newspaper with the biggest circulation – reported that in the last 54 days there have been 462 narco-trafficking-related murders in Chihuahua state, which includes Batopilas.

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