Kurt Hollander, author of Several Ways to Die in Mexico City: An Autobiography of Death in Mexico City has an excellent but grim article on the decline of Tampico, Mexico.
The city has essentially been taken over by drug cartels and almost everyone that can leave has. It’s almost impossible to sell a house or business because no one wants to come to Tampico, so buildings sit empty. Hollander notes though that its a misnomer to call these cartels “narcos,” as their activities is much more broad than drugs:
“These cartels control all major criminal activity in Tampico, from prostitution and table-dancing clubs to arms and drug trafficking, pirated goods and extortion. The cartels control the newspapers, publishing warnings to rival groups and periodically killing reporters and editors who disrespect them (the state has one of the highest murder rates of journalists in Mexico).
The cartels also control the armoured trucks that deliver cash to the city’s banks. They make bank executives hand over information about clients, and get notaries to sign away properties at gunpoint. Most of the local law-enforcement officers were on the cartel’s payroll until the army recently decommissioned the police; only traffic cops are to be seen on the streets of the city these days.”
He writes that things really got went downhill for Tampico in 2007, when “almost 12 tons of cocaine were confiscated and the cartel bosses in Reyonsa, on the US border, told those in Tampico that they had to cover the losses. This started a wave of kidnappings…[and]…after that, wealthy citizens began fleeing the city. And when the wealthy left town, the cartel began targeting doctors and other middle-class professionals for kidnappings, provoking a further, middle-class exodus from the city.”
I’ve never been to the city but the photos in the article are both impressive and sad. Hollander writes that “the historic centre has long been compared to New Orleans for its French-style buildings with ornate steel balconies and art nouveau details, for its city’s rich musical tradition, and its draw as a tourist destination. These days it continues to mirror New Orleans but in its post-Hurricane Katrina phase: empty, abandoned, economically devastated, rife with crime. Over the past few years, more than 200 hotels, restaurants, bars and cafes, as well as half of all businesses in the centro histórico, have closed down. Hotels tend to remain empty, and most of its streets are deserted after dark.”
Here are a couple photos from the piece, which is worth reading in full.