Rotella, the Los Angeles Times bureau chief for South America, tells his alarming story of drug lords' domination of the US/Mexico border region by focusing on the frustrations and martyrdom of Mexican reformers. Mexico's marijuana and cocaine smuggling rings are flourishing and expanding into other kinds of criminal activity. A US crackdown on illegal immigrant entries along the border has allowed crime syndicates to triple the price of a guided border crossing, while would-be migrants are more exposed to theft and death during their journey. Money buys power, and with all this new cash, the influence of Mexico's organized crime families is expanding at a frightening rate. When drug lords do get arrested, Rotella suggests, it's only because police are acting at the request of a rival mob. Meanwhile, a string of assassinations goes unsolved. Rotella takes a look at the conspiracy theories surrounding the 1994 murders of Cardinal Juan JÇsus Posadas Ocampo and presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio, and suggests that the whole truth may never be known. Perhaps more disturbing is the mounting list of other assassinations--of those judicial reformers who were clearly killed because they couldn't be bought off. The reformist with a pragmatic approach is likely to survive the longest in this staggeringly corrupt political and judicial system, it would seem, and Rotella finds such a pragmatist in Duarte, a prison warden who cautiously negotiates with gangsters to replace their lavish prison condominiums with a rehabilitation training center. Yet like the brash police chief, the crusading prosecutor, and other agents of positive change whom Rotella profiles, Duarte too is eventually shot in a gangland-style assassination. Rotella admits that he and the many experts on the drug crisis quoted here are at a loss for solutions. But he makes it clear that Mexico's transition to greater electoral democracy will be threatened if more heroes don't step forward.