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Violence in Mexico: Are you at risk?

With lots of learning and amazing interactions, we closed our two-month Mexican Narratives summer season, the first one we have ever held online. Thank you so much to those who were there, asked questions, shared their own experiences, and generously contributed to our common understanding of this beautiful country. Even though you guys were not born here, I could see how much you love Mexico and how you’re rightfully entitled to call it “my gentle homeland.”

I felt I had to start by apologizing for choosing the topic of violence in Mexico to wrap up our learning experience this June and July. Unfortunately, this is an evolving topic that is a bit different, if not worse, every year that passes since 2006 and one that is much needed to understand the Mexico we are experiencing today. To make my apology a real thing, we began the session watching a video in which Tony Bennett, whom we lost last week, sings a duet with Mexican star Vicente Fernandez in a visit to Guadalajara. It was such a treat that we almost forgot all about violence!

Discussing the many negative aspects of the spiraling violence plaguing large swaths of Mexico, we focused on those that have particularly caught our attention. One of them is the thousands of people who have simply vanished as a result of the practice of resolving differences, or the drug business, through violence. The United Nations estimates that about 100,000 Mexicans have gone missing in the 15 years that the drug war has raged.

Our attendees promptly identified drug cartels as the source of much of the violent attacks that crowd Mexican newscasts every evening. However, we pointed out that as long as there is such strong demand for narcotics overseas, the “business of illegal drugs” is likely to continue in Mexico. We explained that before December of 2006, the Mexican Government had “whispery agreements” with cartels that they could conduct their business as long as violence was avoided as much as possible; officials would often determine “grounds of operation” for each criminal organization and warn that if they were not respected the Army would be deployed to sort things out. President Felipe Calderón pretty much “hit the hornet’s nest” in 2006 and disrupted all previous agreements, thus throwing fuel on a violent situation that was less than ideal to start with.

It comes as no surprise that by 2023, Mexico has several of the most violent cities in the world.

We heard experts, such as Ernesto López Portillo, who suggest that unless there is a policy change regarding drugs on the part of the United States and of Mexico, “things are not likely to change any time soon.” We had to agree that this is true not only for those two countries but for many others around the world. We also underscored that in Mexican law, drug offenses are labeled “crimes against health,” pointing perhaps to how much more appropriate it would be to deal with the drug issues from a public health perspective.

We pointedly considered whether this violence is widespread enough that people should feel threatened in most places. The answer was a resounding “no” because while the violence is real – and the shootouts can affect anyone – it is not directed “at everyone” but specifically at a rival criminal group or at law enforcement. After comparing the guerrilla war in Colombia, which lasted decades, and the current drug war against cartels in Mexico, we concluded that while in Colombia there was an all-out attack “against everyone” – with the goal of toppling the central government – here in Mexico there is a surgical attack strategy that mostly targets those involved in the drug trade.

It was amazing having this two-month season full of learning and amazing new insights on Mexico. Online courses that you can enjoy at your own pace, also full of interesting Mexican topics, will soon be available. Hope to see you there as well!

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