Climate of Fear as Mexican Drug Cartels Rule Roost

The casualty rate in Mexico’s drug war is higher than that of the US war in Afghanistan, leaving 40,000 dead in the past five years, mostly civilians. By comparison, an armed uprising in southeast Mexico in January 1994 resulted in 150 deaths yet prompted nationwide peace rallies, a speedy ceasefire and a national dialogue.

These days Mexicans pray that this endless war of unimaginable cruelty does not arrive at their doorstep.

The statistics fail to transmit the crippling fear which grips the living. In April, a family from Mexico City visited Acapulco and went into a restaurant. A bottle of whiskey appeared at their table.

“That man over there sent it,” said a waiter. A few minutes later the same man asked the father for permission to dance with his daughter, aged 15. The father refused. “Listen carefully,” the pushy stranger said, “this young woman is mine.”

The family left the restaurant, returned to their hotel, packed their bags and headed home. An hour later their car was intercepted and their daughter kidnapped. This story was one of 70 testimonies recounted at a massive peace rally in downtown Mexico in May (see sidebar).

Mexican president Felipe Calderón of the conservative National Action Party has responded to critics by comparing his crusade against the drug gangs to Winston Churchill’s wartime battle against the Nazis.

“We have might and right and the law on our side,” he said in a recent televised address, dismissing a public call for peace as a surrender to the drug cartels.

Calderón’s war on drugs has failed to produce results as the cartels have expanded from four to 12 and widened their targets to include migrants passing through Mexico. The country’s National Migration Institute has been implicated in the “sale” of captured migrants to gangs who demand ransom from terrified relatives.

In the past three years, 550 migration institute employees have been suspended for alleged abuses, some 15 per cent of the workforce. The cost of safe return can be up to $3,000, a golden business opportunity when 500,000 people cross the border between Guatemala and Mexico each year.

– Read the Full Article in The Irish Times.