How violence looks from the other side

Violence in Mexico is the inescapable question every time we visit the U.S. Aren’t you scared? Are you safe? Ever thought of coming back to the good ol’ U.S.A.? Surely, you must have considered it! Where would you go?

Ten years ago, when we announced our plan to move to Mexico, Charlotte, a good friend, reacted as if we were headed for Zimbabwe. She has never overcome her skepticism. Other friends refuse to visit us because they imagine Mexico to be a giant, lawless saloon—or drug den—where a stray bullet can blow your margarita right out of your hand in mid-sip.

These fears and reactions are based on, and constantly reaffirmed, by media reports—sensational, unbelievable, yet mostly true—about the sorry state of law enforcement in Mexico and the failure of the joint U.S.-Mexican war against the drug cartels which, aside from a few photo-ops of cops looking triumphantly at a table full of plastic-wrapped bricks of cocaine, heroin, or whatever, is a colossal, megamillion-dollar bust.

El Chapo (“Shorty”): Chiquito pero matón

 A week ago PBS aired a truly scary, ninety-minute special about El Chapo who, despite his diminutive physique, has grown to be the most feared drug lord and all-around criminal in the world, and who recently escaped, for a second time, from a Mexican maximum-security prison.

Whichever side of the border you live on, the show was engrossing yet repulsive, one of those spectacles that make you feel like you need a long shower afterward. Most amazing was an lengthy interview with a young Mexican journalist, a woman, who explained, in gruesome detail, how corruption permeates Mexico’s law enforcement, top to bottom, corner to corner.

Whether it’s enforcing traffic laws or prosecuting the most wanted criminals, everything and everyone seems to have a price in Mexico. Though it didn’t state so outright, the show intimated that El Chapo’s escape might have taken place with the complicity—”la vista gorda“—of the Mexican government, as a sort of quid pro quo, to avert a national outbreak of drug violence, led by the hordes of El Chapo’s Sinaloa drug cartel.
Nasty stuff, except that looking north at the U.S., from the perspective of one living in Mexico, the televised all-American mayhem of daily violence, murders, mass shootings, and killings of unarmed citizens by rogue cops, looks just as scary—if not more so—than anything Mexico has to offer.

For all the crooked cops we might run into on the way to a Mexican movie theater, at least we’re not afraid of getting shot by some loon when the show begins, as it happened recently in Lafayette, La. (three dead, including the shooter, and nine others wounded) or three years ago in Aurora, Colo.  (twelve people dead, seventy wounded).

In fact, last week a Washington Post story noted that during the first 204 days of this year there had been exactly 204 mass shootings in the U.S. or, if you please, one daily. Circumstances vary, of course, as well as the analyses and explanations, alibis and rationalizations, offered by politicians, civic groups and others, depending on whether they are pro- or anti-gun control, Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative.

After the Louisiana shooting, for example, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said that one solution to movie theater shootings is for movie goers to bring guns with them to the show. Would you like some ammo with your popcorn? That’s about as loony as anything we’ve heard here in Mexico, but it passes for legitimate political debate in the U.S., worthy of screen time on CNN.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a political
 genius whose mind never rests. 

A detailed listing of all the mass shootings in the U.S. in 2015 yields no clear trends. While clearly there are a lot of guns around, and a lot of dead and wounded people, no clear solution is in sight except the usual: a heap of flowers at makeshift memorials, a usually overweight sheriff standing behind a lectern, droning on about nothing, close-ups of weeping relatives, and TV news anchors shaking their heads.

There’s disagreement even about what constitutes a “mass shooting.” Do the victims have to be dead, wounded or some of each? How many dead makes it a mass shooting, two, three or four? Was the cause terrorism, racism, easy access to guns, a family row, or mental illness? Or better still, who the hell knows?

I vote for “who the hell knows,” and that is what makes these incidents so frightening, when we sit down here in Mexico, reading or looking at news of violence up there—in the U.S.

I had to chuckle when I read that one of the main distribution hubs of the Sinaloa cartel in the U.S. is Chicago. That means that our friends there—the city that incidentally was the U.S. murder capital for a while last year—effectively live closer to El Chapo’s drug network than we do in San Miguel, which is an eleven- or twelve-hour drive from the actual Mexican state of Sinaloa.

Maybe when we visit our Chicago friends in September we should inquire, with our brows furrowed by concern, about their safety.
One factor that to some extent equalizes the violence in the U.S. as well as Mexico is their governments’ inability to control it. Mexico is crippled by legendary corruption, while the U.S., among other factors, by a fatuous debate about gun-rights that has undermined any action by the federal government, even after the horror of the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Conn. in 2012, that left 20 children and six school staff members dead, in addition to the gunman, who killed his mother before the rampage at the school, and himself afterward.

The Economist magazine summarized the political paralysis in America on gun control with it’s usual dash of sarcasm: “Those who live in America, or visit it, might do best to regard [mass killings] the way one regards air pollution in China: an endemic local health hazard which, for deep-rooted cultural, social, economic and political reasons, the country is incapable of addressing. This may however, be a bit unfair. China seems to be making progress on pollution.”

Come to think of it, while impotent to control narcotics-related crime, the air in Mexico City seems a bit cleaner these days too.


7 thoughts on “How violence looks from the other side

  1. And here in Vancouver, BC, the bullets fly all over the place, while the local gangs fight for control… Mexico is as safe, or as dangerous as its neighbors to the north. Common sense prevails.


  2. I remember the time that there was a school shooting here in Ohio. My friend in D.F. immediately e-mailed me to ask if it were anywhere near where I live. The sad truth is that violence occurs everywhere, but I am probably no more likely to be a victim when I am staying in the Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City than when I am at home in suburban Cleveland.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s