Crime in Mexico is a topic expats would rather not talk about, particularly when visiting the U.S.
“Aren’t you afraid to live in Mexico?” we’re asked frequently, and annoyingly. Perhaps it’s a matter of pride, of not wanting to admit that yes, we’re often afraid, or worse, that we sometimes wonder if moving down here was such a clever move after all. So we clear our throats, ahem, and rave on instead about San Miguel’s perfect climate and low cost of living.
It’s an awkward conversation topic alright, like bringing up the murder rate at a dinner party in Chicago, or mentioning the perils of obesity to customers moseying around a Walmart in Texas.
Denial often rules even among long-term expats, who suppose they won’t be affected by the latest rash of crimes. If there’s an outbreak of burglaries in Colonia A, they interject that, thank God, they live in Colonia B. Or if a friend who lives in the country got beat up during a home invasion, they mention that whew!, they live in the Centro.
Of course, it’s all a game of whack-a-mole, a feeble attempt to vouch for our own safety when, in fact, crime is an endemic problem in Mexico that affects everyone, unless you live in a gated community, never step outside and survive on home deliveries of pizza and Chinese food.
Carjackings are the crime du jour. Two or three weeks ago, someone went shopping at the Costco in nearby Celaya and on the way back their supposedly “luxury” car was intercepted by four guys wiedling long firearms—and there went the victim’s car, wallet and, along with it, probably a thirty-roll bundle of Kirkland toilet paper, two jars of Hoody’s peanuts and other precious cargo. This incident, which took place at about 11 a.m., was supposedly witnessed by a line-up of cars and even a police patrol that sped by in the opposite direction.
Reaction to the news was typical. “I’m glad I don’t drive a fancy car,” or sillier still, someone suggested driving to Costco in a “caravan,” as if the sight of three or four carloads of frightened, elderly gringos wringing their hands will scare off young thugs.
|Climb aboard our vintage 1960 Suburban.|
Then on December 4, at 11 a.m., a Chevy Suburban belonging to the local shuttle operator BajíoGo, was intercepted, also on the road to Celaya, by three armed gunmen who took the vehicle and all its contents, and left the driver and the four passengers stranded. A 500-word statement from the owner of BajíoGo provided all sort of details about the incident though it didn’t mention whether, as they sped away, the assailants wished bon voyage to the hapless travelers who, for sure, missed their flights in Mexico City.
The expat conjecture machine immediately kicked into high gear. Why did the BajíoGo van go through Celaya en route to Mexico City instead of through Querétaro? Probable answer: because of road construction. Do late-model Suburbans call too much attention, as if they had a sign, “Rich Gringos Aboard!”?
|A safer ride to the airport and all
the white bread you can eat.
Two options occur to me. BajíoGo could use old, beat-up Suburbans, with loud Mexican music playing, and carjackers surely won’t bother such a jalopy. Better still, it could transport frightened gringos in retrofitted Bimbo bread trucks.
The security dilemma now hits us close to home. Stew and I had reserved two weeks in February at a Barra de Potosí beachfront resort, south of Zihuatanejo, and just this morning I received an email that a family of Mexican birdwatchers from San Miguel—birdwatchers, for Chrissake!—were assaulted on the way to Barra. Their binoculars, cameras, luggage and car are gone, along with, I imagine, their birdbooks.
Should we load up our late-model Audi and barrel on to Barra as planned, seven-plus hours of driving 80 m.p.h. through Michoacán, Guerrero and other parts of Narcolandia? Or fly out of Querétaro and rent a cheap car in Barra? That would be about a thousand dollars more expensive, but not as much so as losing the Audi and a suitcase worth of tee-shirts, shorts and underwear. Then again, some BajíoGo vans also have been carjacked on the way to the Querétaro airport so we might not even make it to our flight in the first place.
|Good luck, Gen. Hidalgo|
Amid this panic about carjackings, San Miguel just announced the appointment of retired Army Gen. Rolando Eugenio Hidalgo Eddy, to the newly invented post of “Security Czar.” He has an impressive résumé that includes battling drug cartels in the state of Sinaloa, when “El Chapo” and several other narcos ruled the day. He performed so effectively that he was subsequently detailed to the Mexican embassy in Moscow “for his safety,” according to Atención, a local newspaper.
Not mentioned in the article is that the general bears an unsettling resemblance to the typical Latin American military dictator, perhaps the late Augusto Pinochet of Chile without the moustache. But maybe that’s what we really need.
Atención devoted a great deal of space to the topic of public safety in San Miguel, including the general’s plan to set up a “Social Proximity Police” to better interact with residents of high-crime neighborhoods. He also promises to set up a Center for Communications, Computing and Command. I couldn’t figure out what any of this meant or, more important, how it’s going to make it any safer for us to get to the beach in February.