Mexico in Mourning
James Creechan, (Ph.D.)
A century ago, journalists John Kenneth Turner, John Reed, and George F. Weeks achieved international fame with investigative reports about social upheaval and bloody events in Mexico. Until recently, only a few reporters from outside Mexico reported the barbarous facts of Mexico’s latest bloodbath. “Mexico is in mourning” said one my Mexican graduates students during the 2008 Mexican Association of Canadian Studies Conference in Guadalajara, “and outside of Mexico no-one really knows about this tragedy”.
During 2008, the number of drug-related executions and violent deaths exceeded 6,000. In spite of a massive deployment of troops beginning from the first days of Felipe Calderon’s presidency, violence cascaded out of control and the numbers of victims approximates casualty levels in war zones more than murder rates in modern civilized society. During 2007, there were 596 homicides in all of Canada and Canadians were concerned that 1/5th of them– 117 total— were drug related deaths. When population differences are taken into account, there are 20 times more drug executions in Mexico than in Canada. The United States, and a population 3 times larger than Mexico reported ‘a mere 752’ gang related executions during 2008. But the story remained largely unknown outside of Mexico, and the magnitude of the bloodshed is not fully appreciated..
The numbers are disturbing, but the context and circumstances of the deaths are even more horrifying. There’s no reasonable economy of scale that can be used to make comparison to Canadian or American gang wars when the violent facts of Mexican drug executions are examined. Many murders are preceded by gruesome torture, and the most horrific of those deaths have been uploaded to YouTube as threats and taunts to enemies and snubs aimed at government officials. Especially different from Canada where few executions involve handguns and usually result in the death of an single victim, Mexican drug hits are routinely carried out with powerful weapons such as AK-47's (called Cuerno de Chivos) or AR-15 assault rifles, and a there have been many victims slaughtered with more than 100 shells. The Spanish verb ‘to murder’ or ‘to kill’ is ‘matar’, but it’s inadequate for describing the level of violence common in executions, and journalists routinely add the augmentative prefix “re-” meaning “even more”. The verb ‘rematar’ is more commonly used to try to give a descriptive account about the violence of most drug hits.
There have been executions carried out with fragmenting grenades, bazookas, and even bombs. An especially disturbing trend is to carry out these ‘hits’ by means of slashing throats, garroting, beheading and mutilation of unimaginable brutality. Gruesome discoveries are so routine that journalists now depend on a short-hand argot to contextualize these events for their audience; encajuelado for those bodies packed in car trunks, entambado when stuffed in petroleum or chemical barrels, encobijado when wrapped in tarpaulins or blankets, ensabanado if wrapped in a sheet, enteipado when victims hands are bound behind the back with masking tape.
And ‘solitary’ executions are exceptions rather than the rule: the overall crime toll includes a shockingly high proportion of multiple murder victims such as the one where 5 decapitated heads were tossed into a bar in Uruapan, another where 24 victims were kidnapped in Guerrero and moved en masse on mountain road and eventually executed at a road-side rest area in a national park north of Mexico City, where 12 headless bodies were laid out neatly beside each other on the outskirts of Merida in the Yucatan, and where 12 executed gang bodies piled on top of each other directly opposite a public school in Tijuana. Most victims belonged to rival gangs and were merely grunts and foot soldiers in larger economic battles over drug routes. Increasingly many innocent bystanders have been killed, and scores of honest policemen have been specifically targeted in a campaign of terror: 8 innocent people were blown apart and more than a 100 injured after a gang tossed fragmenting grenades into a holiday crowd in Morelia, and hundreds of police and soldiers have been murdered for simply doing their job. In Sinaloa state, 92 police have been murdered this year.
As horrendous a picture as this summary described, the number of known murders under-represents the overall horror of what has unfolded in Mexico. First, it doesn't include victims never found after street-abductions known as " levantónes", nor those bodies which are disposed of by gang specialists such as "El Pozolero" whose job was to dissolve bodies in acid. Furthermore, the violence, the drug executions and incidents of gang warfare are not the only crimes rising. The heavy army presence in some areas, and internecine warfare between drug organizations forced many street level thugs to seek supplemental sources of income. As a result, kidnapping, bank-robbery, and car-theft have risen sharply because the lowest level thugs in the drug chain have been cut off from their traditional share of a payroll.
The bloody toll in Mexico is only beginning to be known to Canadians and Americans— even though both of countries contribute to the violence because our prolific consumption of drugs generated the enormous profit for drug lords, and even worse, we supply the arsenals that are stock-piled in Mexico and are the weapons of war. Drug violence in Mexico is the outcome of several local and brutal struggles about the key routes used to ship contraband directly into the United States and to Canada. The skirmishes and battles are fought using ordnance and weapons moved directly from the United States to drug mercenaries and their hit men. Many of those are bought easily in the gun markets of Arizona and Texas. The purchase of sophisticated weapons and communication devices is financed using American currency with enough left over to be smuggled back along with the guns into Mexico by the bale-load. Ninety-percent of all cocaine consumed in the United States arrives from South America and then bounces through Mexico. At least 85% of all synthetic drugs (ecstasy, crystal-meth, amphetamines) consumed in the US is manufactured in Mexican labs and smuggled northward across the border, and the largest percentage of imported marijuana continues to originate in Mexico. Mexican drug business generates at least 35 billion dollars a year and probably reaches 70 billion dollars. These represent at least 10% and as much as 20% of the value of all of the goods traded under the NAFTA agreement.
Contraband shipping routes follow those that have been successful after trade agreements negotiated as part of NAFTA. Mexican drug bosses have become particularly adept at exploiting the chaos found at busy border crossings such Laredo and El Paso, Texas. The volume of trade at those two ports is enormous: forty-three percent of all land import commodities enter the US through these entries, and 49% of all exports go back along the southbound lanes of the same routes. More than 8,000 trailers move daily between Nuevo Laredo Mexico and Laredo Texas. Almost 3 million tractor-trailers a year transport food and commodities along this route, and drug cartels piggy-back and use the same routes to hide their contraband and generate the outrageous profits that finance the foot soldiers in this underreported bloody war in Mexico. The same trade routes carry trailers and trucks smuggling the weapons used in bloody battles, and ship back billions of dollars in profit subject to even less scrutiny and observation used to look for drugs moving north.
Mexico is in mourning and on its knees from violence, and Canadians and Americans haven’t heard the full extent of the tragedy eating at the heart and soul of good people to living in the shadow of violence.