Thousands have died in the war on drugs, and narco money is flooding the economy - so can the presidential elections this weekend change anything for ordinary Mexicans? Carl Dinnen reports.
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The corrido band said we could film them playing, but not their clients. Not at all. Not even by accident. The clients had come to honour the 'patron saint' of drug smugglers.
A question to the clients - probably traffickers, definitely menacing - was met with a silent stare. We didn't stay long.
The ‘saint' at whose shrine we were treading so gingerly is Jesus Malverde. The Vatican wouldn't recognise him but the traffickers revere him.
After a successful job they visit his shrine in Culiacan to drink beer and listen to corridos. Culiacan is the capital of Sinaloa state and the local cartel is considered the biggest narcotics shipping operation on the planet.
The musicians will have been paid in cash. Five years ago you could have also paid cash at the BMW dealership (although Culiacan looks too poor for one) or the powerboat centre (although Culiacan is 40 miles from the sea).
But tighter regulations have made that tricky, so now there is a lot of hard narco currency floating around.
Drugs industry worth $4bn
"Laundered assets make up 18 to 20 per cent of the GDP of Sinaloa" says Guillermo Ibarra Escobar, professor of economics at Sinaloa University.
That makes the narco economy worth about $4bn in Sinaloa alone.
The narco sector supports more than corrido bands. Near the shrine a woman tries to proposition us in the street by waving a calculator.
She is one of the money changers who line the roadsides shading under umbrellas. Every so often a car pulls up to exchange dollars for pesos (although Culiacan is a 14 hour drive from the US and tourists tend not to visit).
In a downtown hotel I meet a man who has seen where the dollars come from.
He used to work for the Sinaloa cartel. He describes a large room, sixteen metres square, filled with dollar bills. "I've seen vast quantities of drugs" the cartel man goes on "I've seen quantities of drugs you would not believe. I've seen 50 tonnes of marijuana, maybe more. And 3,4 maybe 5 tonnes of cocaine."
I ask how people in the cartels regard their work; "People think that if you don't do it somebody else will." he says "Those who have the opportunity, they do it. They see it as business. It's normal."
The cartel man is unimpressed with the Mexican government's efforts to wage war on the drugs trade "Everything is the same. The cartels continue working." he says. The war has been running since Felipe Calderon became president in 2006, nearly 60,000 people have been killed.
Calderon's term of office is ending. At the weekend Mexicans will choose a new president chances are it will be someone who wants to take a less militaristic approach to the crtels. The same approach is being considered in other Latin American capitals; stop the violence first, then think about dealing with the cartels.
That will be welcomed by the victims. Gerrardo Jessel's brother disappeared last year on his way back from a rehab centre. Gerrardo feels angry about the war "I think the war the president started was wrong. It was a failure. The only people who've lost through this war were the citizens. I lost my brother I don't know where he is. I don't know where I would have to go to find him."
Does anyone think the war is being won? On the streets of Acapulco we go on patrol with the elite Mexican Marine Corps. The unit are all wearing black facemasks to guard against reprisals on their families. They set up a vehicle check point and I talk to a young lieutenant. He remains as anonymous as the cartel man.
"Are you winning the war against the cartels?" I ask. There is an awkward pause. This wasn't in the script he'd been given to read to me. Then a sheepish admission;
"That's a good question."