Posted by: SSU Lingua Franca | May 1, 2013

Miss Bala and Operation Fast and Furious

Miss Bala and Operation Fast and Furious

By Michele C. Dávila

Miss BalaAccording to criminal statistics, in 2012 there were 30 assassinations per day in Mexico, 70% of which were committed by weapons purchased in the United States (Univision).  This is not a commonly-known fact in the United States. One of the reasons may be because it has not yet been depicted in a Hollywood movie.  But in 2011, writer/director Gerardo Naranjo filmed the movie Miss Bala (Miss Bullet), based on true events, in which there is a glimpse of the violence in the warzone that exists on our southern border.  The website Rotten Tomatoes shows the film receiving 87% favorable reviews, but there are very few people that have seen it in the United States. Here I will talk briefly about the movie and about its historical context, giving details about “Operation Fast and Furious,” established by the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and its arms trafficking to Mexico.

Miss Bala is the story of Laura Guerrero, whose dream to become Miss Baja California suddenly becomes a nightmare when Lino Valdez, the capo of the region, takes a shine to her and unwillingly Laura starts to participate in Mexico’s violent war.  At the end she wins the crown in a ridiculous and obvious way in front of the cameras, without undergoing the normal procedure.  This scene is a replica of the famous case of Laura Zúniga, Miss Sinaloa 2008, who was arrested when she was found in a truck full of arms outside of Guadalajara, Jalisco.

In the movie, Laura also loses her reputation when the police, in connivance with the drug smugglers, chooses her as the scapegoat for the staged attempted murder of an army coronel, and is presented in the news as a prize of the war against crime.  In the last scene we see Laura being dumped alive out of a car in a solitary street.

Laura is both accomplice and victim because she has two paradoxical reasons for staying and helping Lino.  The first is that he promised her the pageant crown, something Laura really desired. The second reason becomes the decisive factor for her staying on: the gang knew where she lived and could kill her father and brother if they so desire.  As a result, Laura seems to have no emotion during the film; her face is impassive and quiet.

There is another important scene in the movie that the American movie reviewers did not mention.  The capo sends Laura across the border to the United States with thousands of dollars strapped to her torso, and there she meets with an American who in return gives her high-caliber arms.  The main contact the drug traffickers have in the United States is someone who has the advantage of possessing military-style weapons for sale.  Who is this guy?  The movie does not say, but if we track the firearms we can begin to understand.

It is now known that from 2006 to 2011 the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) ran a series of operations, including Operation Fast and Furious, in which they allowed American firearm dealers to sell weapons to illegal buyers from south of the border.  The purpose was to track the guns to the Mexican druglords, and consequently, dismantle the drug trafficking in the area.  It is estimated that more than 2,000 firearms were sold, of which only 710 had been recovered by 2012. None of the cartel “capos” have been arrested.[1]

Operation Fast and Furious began in October 31, 2009 when four individuals purchased AK-47s in Arizona.  The ATF’s Phoenix office was in charge of the investigation and chose the name of the operation because the suspects were based in an auto-repair shop and participated in street races, just like the Vin Diesel movie franchise.  The Sinaloa Cartel and its biggest enemy, the Juárez Cartel, are the two warring groups that have benefited most from the firearms, and were the perpetrators of two massacres that outraged Mexico because many of the victims were innocent people.  The Mexican government started investigating the increase in cartel warfare and the American arms since the Aliviane Massacre in 2009 in a rehabilitation center, where 17 were killed, and the Salvarcar Massacre in 2010, with 16 young men murdered.  According to an investigation by Univision aired in 2012, the operation became only questioned by the United States when DEA agent Brian Terry was killed provoking the “gunwalking scandal.”[2]  Jake Tapper, a journalist for ABC News, stated that Operation Fast and Furious started nine months after President Obama started office, although similar programs had been started during the Bush presidency.

As a result of the scandal, for the first time in congressional history the House of Representatives voted on June 19, 2012 “to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for refusing to turn over documents tied to the botched Fast and Furious gun-running sting—a discredited operation that has become a sharp point of contention between Democrats and Republicans in Washington.”[3]  In the end, the different operations were stopped.

If you want to understand what it is like to live in a state of siege, you do not need to go to the Middle East.  Miss Bala reminds us that in a place as close as our southern border, whole communities live under constant threat of violence.


[1] “A Review of ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious and Related Matters,” U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, November 2012, http://www.justice.gov/oig/ reports/2012/ s1209.pdf

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