Book Review: Midnight in Mexico

Courtesy: Penguin Books

Midnight in Mexico: A reporter’s journey through a country’s descent onto darkness

by Rebecca Aguilar

Jour 5050
Dr. Busby
November 5, 2017

Imagine turning the key in your car and wondering if it will blow up. Or, worrying that someone will shoot you and end your life. Murders sometimes happen randomly and sometimes they are planned. Alfredo Corchado would know as the Mexico Bureau Chief for the Dallas Morning News.

In his book “Midnight in Mexico,” he shares the dangers of the job. “In Mexico, they kill you twice: First, with a bullet, an ax to your head or a bath full of acid. Then they spread rumors about you.”

Corchado’s beat in Mexico was to cover the ruthless gangs, dangerous drug cartels, murders of women in Juarez as well as corrupt police and politicians. “One thing had become abundantly clear in my years of writing Mexico: There was no solace in reporting about organized crime- just grief, heartache, threats and death.”

But in July 2007, Corchado would become the target. It would be the last time he would feel safe. One phone call would put him on edge for years. A U.S. investigator called him to tell him, “They plan to kill an American journalist within twenty-four hours.” The investigator had inform ants inside one of the most dangerous drug cartels in Mexico.

Most reporters would pack their bags and get the hell out of Mexico. Not Corchado, a man determined to find out who wanted him killed and why.

In her review for the Washington Post, Marie Arana said “Even as he tries to batten down that story, Corchado documents his own race against time with white-knuckle alarm. Searching for clues about the death threat against him, he gives readers an intimate sense of the murky alliances…”

This 288-page book is full of interesting details by a man torn between his love for his job despite the dangers. “I was forty-seven years old, unmarried, no kids. I had lived for my work, which now might put a bullet in my head.”

Corchado talks about his devotion and love for Mexico. the country where he was born. He also a loyalty for the United States where he grew up. Even his most trusted source knew his past. “…how we’d come from Mexico to work as farmworkers in the United States. He knew where I’d grown up, about my struggles to belong on one side of the border or the other.”

Nina Lakhani with the Independent said of the book “The story is as much about identity as about violence and power, as Corchado grapples with being too Mexican in America and too American in Mexico, an outsider in both worlds.”

NPR’s Jasmine Garsd who also reviewed the book said “ What I loved about Alfredo Corchado’s book Midnight In Mexico is the way Corchado takes us beyond the numbers. Those numbers are there — he’s a newsman at his core — but he beautifully weaves in what it meant for him, as a Mexican-American seeking his own roots, to confront a brutal reality.”

The numbers are the statistics of the dead in Mexico. The innocent victims caught in the web of crime, gangs, cartels and corruption. Many of the murdered are the journalists killed for doing their jobs. Most of the murdered are the victims of the Zetas, a gang of Mexican military deserters. They are ruthless killers.

Reporters Without Borders, a watchdog group says “Mexico continues to be the Western Hemisphere’s deadliest country for the media. When journalists cover subjects linked to organized crime or political corruption (especially at the local level), they immediately become become targets and are often executed in cold blood. Most of these crimes go unpunished…”

The organization reports since 2006, 100 journalists have been murdered in Mexico, and 90 percent of the killings remain unpunished.

Corchado weaves an interesting story about his work but also his love for his family and Angela, his girlfriend of ten years. She was a television reporter also on the Mexico beat who by association with Corchado was also in danger. “If a cartel hitman wants to kill you, he will…And if the cartel can’t kill you, it’ll send you a message by killing a relative, a loved one.”

Tony Castro said in his book review for Huffington Post, “What “Midnight in Mexico” may lack in some deeper understanding of why Mexico historically is the way it is, it more than makes up for in riveting our attention Corchado’s own search for his potential killers – not knowing whether they are cartel killers or hitmen hired by some corrupt bureaucrat.”

Relief for Corchado finally came in July 2013 when the same U.S. investigator who told him his life was in danger called to tell him a Zeta gang leader had been arrested. Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, alias Z-40 had been captured. “The man who had put the hit on the very same U.S. investigator and later threatened the messenger, me —was in custody.”

Life of a foreign correspondent is very different from that of a local news reporter. I would recommend Corchado’s book for any journalists hoping one day to cover gangs, cartels and crime especially in Mexico. I would also recommend it to anyone who wants to understand why Mexico is a country with a history of corruption, but people there still have hope someday they will be safe again.

In the end Corchado decided with a nudge from his girlfriend to head north. “It was time to come home, to the U.S. side. My parents couldn’t agree more. Enough, they all said. Come home.”

Today Corchado still writes for the Dallas Morning News and still has an apartment in Mexico City.

Bibliography – Chicago Style

Arana. Marie. Book review: ‘Midnight in Mexico’ by Alfredo Corchado, on the country’s downward spiral, The Washington Post. (May 31, 2013)

Lakhani, Nina. Midnight in Mexico by Alfredo Corchado; Book Review (Independent. May 2014)

Garsd. Jasmine, Midnight in Mexico: The Alt. Latino Interview with Journalist Alfredo Corchado. (NPR, October 2014).

Reporters Without Borders (2017)

Castro, Tony. Midnight in Mexico by Alfredo Corchado Recounts Dangers of Reporting in Mexico. (Huffington Post, August 2013)