Heartbreaking Photos of People Displaced by Mexico's Drug Violence


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Heartbreaking Photos of People Displaced by Mexico's Drug Violence

For years, Fernando Brito has been documenting crime and its consequences in his home state of Sinaloa.

Residents of El Verano, Tamazula, Durango, who had to leave their homes after allegedly being attacked by the Mexican Navy during the search for drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán last year.

In the mountainous region of the Sierra Madre in Sinaloa, Mexico, countless people have fled their homes in the wake of the ongoing violence of the drug industry. The area's lush terrain and ideal climate has made it the perfect place to produce marijuana and opium poppy; it's where the Sinaloa cartel emerged decades ago and where a manhunt for cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman led to a mass exodus of people attempting to avoid the violent tactics of government forces.


The internally displaced people of Sinaloa are the focus of award-winning Mexican photographer Fernando Brito, who decided to tell the story of these displaced people through images of forgotten decrepit buildings and the stony looks left on fleeing faces. Brito has decided to give an exclusive first preview of his new collection to VICE.

Brito became well known for his previous exhibition, Your Steps Were Lost in the Landscape (Tus Pasos Se Perdieron con el Paisaje), a collection of stunning photos taken of dead bodies and the surrounding area during his time as a crime photographer for a local newspaper in the state capital of Culiacan. He chatted with VICE in downtown Culiacan to explain more about the current situation in Sinaloa.

VICE: How did you settle on this topic?
Fernando Brito: I chose the issue of the displaced for different reasons, but the main reason is because I find it unfair and sad that people have to leave their homes, leave everything behind. Who is responsible for them? I'm simply looking to expose the problems of violence that is repeated throughout the state of Sinaloa and all of Mexico.

It's not a current topic. There's been injustice there for many years, and it will continue. You have to make the world see the mass exoduses, people who leave everything behind because of insecurity. It is an issue that I have been working with for more than three years.

When El Verano residents were returning home, they had to cross a river on their way. Two vehicles became stuck in the water, and a local villager helped pull several girls to safety.

And after the displaced are forced to leave their homes and communities, what happens?
Many of these displaced people are living in poverty and have miserable jobs now. They came from working the land; later they're working in shit because they were provided temporary jobs in landfills. That's how the government is supporting them. I think it's horrible because the responsibility of the government is that the people are in their homes and their villages. That's what you need to fix for them, rather than giving them temporary jobs, a pantry to live in or whatever bullshit. Their responsibility is quite another thing, and it doesn't happen.


But Sinaloa is considered one of the rich and more modern states in Mexico, is it not? Surely the government could do more.
We are supposed to live in a country that is modernizing. That we're moving forward is presumed, but the reality in this country is completely different from what is said in the national media and on TV. We will not move forward here in Sinaloa. We'll retreat. Only corruption advances. Organized crime advances, narco-politics advances, but society is going back. Even though Culiacan is a rich city, Sinaloa is a rich state. It does not show in the quality of life for many of the people here. The population is poor, and there is a lack of opportunity. It's just a question of looking around here, and you'll see. You go and ask the kids on the streets what they want to be, and they'll say narcos.

A rented room located in a house at the El Mirador neighborhood of the Sinaloan state capital, Culiacan. It is shared by two displaced families from the mountainous area of Sinaloa de Leyva.

Do you ever feel nervous living in Sinaloa with the kind of work you do?
I was born in Culiacan. I lived most of my life here—just four years I was gone. I went to live in Mexico City, and then I went to live in Spain. Then I came back. Obviously I am afraid, but I love Culiacan and don't think about going and living elsewhere. I feel a responsibility to do my projects here—I could go to any other place to live, but I can't because I feel a moral responsibility. Better to be here and try to do something. This is my bit. It's my contribution.

For years, you worked as a crime photographer documenting the near daily violence in Culiacan. How did you get into such a dangerous profession?
Like many young people at the time—well, not so young, I was twenty-none—I had never learned what was happening. I worked delivering pizzas, doing surveys, leafleting, washing cars. I was not interested in watching the news.


Well, one day I was offered work as a photographer for a newspaper. I already knew it was not what I wanted, but it was a good opportunity, because if there was anything I liked, it was taking pictures, and I got to work doing that. But then I realized everything that happens in Culiacan. I got sick, because I realized a reality that I had been avoiding.

Before I'd say, "No, why would I watch the news, it's only bad things." But the bad stuff really is happening. It is the reality. Whenever we say, I do not want to watch the news because they always show bad news, the bad thing is actually saying that. Because that means that you are moving away from doing something. That's what I understood at the time. Then I started a project called Your Steps Were Lost in the Landscape in 2006, two years after I started at the paper.

Teenagers from the town of Santa Apolonia, San Ignacio, Sinaloa, light fireworks celebrating the saint of their town. The inhabitants of Santa Apolonia fled the town ten years ago after one of its inhabitants was assassinated and stayed in the municipal capital of San Ignacio.

What was your inspiration for taking your work as a crime photographer and turning it into something else?
Above all, I thought that a photograph would survive longer as a collection than just in newspapers. You can take a photo, it's on the cover, but the next day, there is another cover. That's what happens in the newspaper, and with the dead also. It was the saddest thing: a dead body on the cover, then the next day another body on the front page, and no one remembered the previous person. It seemed really unfair to me because at the end of the month, they are no longer human beings, but nothing more than figures of the government, or of the newspapers.


So I started that project not with the intention of winning any awards, but rather with the intention of showing a photo of a dead person longer than the time it takes to flip a page in a newspaper.

How did it affect you personally, taking photos of dead bodies day after day?
Psychological issues, post-traumatic stress—I had no idea about all that, and when I learned about the symptoms, ah fuck, I have all of them.

From the series 'Your Steps Were Lost in the Landscape'

What do you think the future holds for your country?
I've always thought that something big has to happen for people to wake up. But this happened with the forty-three students [who went missing, resulting in protests and media coverage], but it really has ceased to be. People are still complaining, but nothing is going to happen. It was really upsetting to realize that we live in a country that the society can complain, but nothing happens. Until it is a truly nationwide effort to overthrow and remove powers, I don't want to talk about justice. We're not going have justice, and that is the most unjust thing that can happen.

See more of Brito's photos below from "Your Steps Were Lost in the Landscape":