Mexico: Last day in Culiacán

On our last day in Culiacán, we find ourselves face-to-face with what has made this city one of the most violent in all of Mexico. In the morning, we receive a call from a reporter we've met, telling us that "desmadre" (a uniquely gruff Spanish colloquialism for chaos or subversion) awaits us just a half mile from our hotel.

We cross the river to a breezy, tree-lined boulevard awash in blue and red light. Behind a half-hearted police barricade rests a 1975 Chevrolet sedan pumped full of bullets. A woman is slumped dead in the front seat.

Reporters on the scene tell us that a car pulled up next to this one and shot over 62 bullets through it. One man in the car survived the attack, and was taken to the hospital. The woman bled to death. Police found two guns inside the cab.

Police place markers next to the shell casings and take photographs. The woman is dropped onto a stretcher and driven away. Finally, a tow truck arrives and carts off the shot-up sedan. Not 100 feet away, dozens of people out to breakfast at a local café look on.

This is a daily scene here in Culiacán, and its remarkable not only for its regularity but also for its boldness. The attack took place at 9:20 AM, in front of witnesses. What's also striking is the fact that there's little hope something like this will ever be "solved." The reporter who tipped us on this scoffed at the notion, and in truth it was hard not see the whole exercise on the part of the press, the bystanders and law enforcement as anything but going through the motions.

The only parties that did look alert were the masked federal police officers and military men perched at the perimeters of the scene, one hand on an automatic rifle, the other hanging near a sidearm. One agent, gazing warily at all the cameras, handed his helmet to a fellow officer and pulled a ski-mask over his head. Shortly after the tow truck left, the federales boarded their humvees and headed off to another part of the city.