Cartel Land is an excellent documentary from Matthew Heineman and The Documentary Group. It is best viewed from the safety of one’s couch, with a bowl of popcorn, pyjamas on and feet up (if you prefer) where you, the viewer is safe. Safe from the ravages of the drug culture which has taken hold of Mexico and now spreading across the ‘porous’ borderlands of the US. Cartel Land is a region which is lawless, akin to the remnants of the ‘Wild, Wild West’ where local townspeople are forced to defend themselves, their family and their property from ‘gun-toting bandits’. But these bandits are soulless (‘to think about what they are doing would screw themselves (sic) up’), without a concept of humanity, consumed by gang-ideals, and human life is meaningless.
We are introduced to two men who have decided to take a stand against the barbarity of the drug and human smugglers. They, in many ways are the only hope left for their communities since their communities have been forsaken, neglected by their respective governments. Their communities have been left with no option but to fend for themselves.
Tim ‘Nailer’ Foley (Arizona Border Recon, ABR) and general practitioner, Dr. Jose Miereles (Autodefensas) represent the ‘Loose Leaf Tea’ personality traits. They are community leaders, they are strong, resolute and unwavering in their beliefs. Their convictions are based upon ‘good vs evil’ and in doing so, they have reverence.
The evil brought upon the communities by the cartels (sinisterly named the Knights Templar) include familicide, the bashing of babies to death, beheadings and hangings from bridges. Let’s bring a degree of reference shall we: if this was ISIS, TV channels and print media would be inundated with the horrors.
Welcome to Cartel Land.
The documentary brings the viewer (through the medium of night-vision camera lens’) on the walking patrols lead by Tim Foley through the bush of the borderland wilderness in the ABR’s search for the cartel spotters and look-outs. By taking the ‘grunts’ out, they at least inflict some minor disruption to the cartel’s cross border smuggling operations.
From the Michoacán Province, the documentary reports the formation of the Autodefensas Group, their immediate impact upon removing cartel influence from rural towns and villages, the expansion (in popularity, and then membership population) of the ADG and the complexities of controlling this growth. The metamorphosis from an anti-cartel alliance into a fully functioning cartel, itself is documented horrifically well.
Cartel Land is a fascinating documentary with a powerful message. The over-riding message is that we, as humans may have noble convictions, but there are very few of us who can testify to rigidly standing by our convictions. When ‘pressure’ and adversity is applied, do we remain steadfast or do we buckle? Dr. Miereles and Tim Foley refused to buckle and remained strong and robust in their convictions. They paid a price but their fight continues.