A taxi driver is assassinated in a shopping center in Culiacán. Photo: Rashide Frias, Cuartoscuro
By: Alejandro Páez Varela | Translated by Valor for Borderland Beat
On December 11, 2006, with the country turning the other way— the opponents of the president in a yell— a war was launched without ever having been consulted with by anyone. It’s been a decade, recalls the author of this text, and “on the streets, the Mexican Army continues and there is a widespread feeling that it operates with impunity, a war of extermination. Crimes continue and armed groups have diversified their income relying on impunity. There is no effective state policy to compensate for damages to victims or to deter youths from armed groups. The police have not been cleaned up and narco-politics seems to keep the reserves that it had before the start of the confrontation. There aren’t major advances in the criminal justice system; torture, the UN says, is widespread; prisons are schools of criminals; money laundering operations continue to develop and now, all this time, a glimmer of light: the possibility that marijuana might at least be decriminalized.”
Mexicans, At The Cry Of War
Suddenly, as never before, the streets of many cities of our country lost a virginity that it had maintained since the 1910 Revolution: Mexican Army units were displaced but not to the barracks, not to any community in a tragedy by a hurricane or an earthquake. They came with their weapons in front to stay there, in the corners, on the sidewalks, where cops were before.
It wasn’t a minor change for a majority who were used to seeing soldiers on television. With them, from the night to the morning, bulletproof vests appeared, machine guns mounted in open vehicles, outlines of federal police. And what seemed to be a temporary thing kept spreading for months, and then years. Armored cars became common throughout the country while terms such as “executed”, “sicario”, “kidnapped”, “agitated”, “company”, or “decapitated” became part of the jargon of many in the media, of journalists and of the population in general.
In a few years, we added another term, which nobody knows whether it was coined in the press or in the streets, to that ominous language, but it clearly came from a new reality. “Narcofosas” (Narco-graves), for example, which refers to clandestine cemeteries scattered throughout the territory; “autodefensas”, which refers to the efforts of the citizens to defend themselves against criminals that seized physical territories and of the income of its inhabitants. Extortion was just a word until now, when it became a reality spreading throughout cities and in huge urban sprawls, such as the State of Mexico surrounding the capital. And among all the words that became common, a jarring: “kitchen”, and all its derivations: the verb “to cook” or the subject “the cook”. It refers to the massive disappearance of bodies in acids or burned in 200 liter drums. Bodies from the war between cartels or simply just victims of violence.
The sun became clouded for cities that were synonymous with relaxation and fun, like Acapulco, Morelia, or Cuernavaca. States with relative tranquility, such as San Luis Potosí or Guanajuato became restless lands. Life became impossible in societies that were already permeated by the narco, such as Ciudad Juárez, Apatzingán, Tijuana, Chihuahua, Piedras Negras, Nuevo Laredo or Reynosa.
The pus of violence that came with the war spread throughout towns and villages, and at the dawn of this reality, names of new criminal gangs appeared and consolidated their presence at almost the same time that the federal government showed off the arrest of heads of drug trafficking groups.
The decapitated became common, as well as heads in coolers, mayors and journalists assassinated, police officers kidnapped and tortured. Entire towns entered psychoses, from north to south, while the hidden powers were sharpening up their tools they used to control: they dared to dictate, through social networks, “curfews”.
And it all happened in the blink of an eye.
“The president doesn’t listen.” Photo: Cuartoscuro
If The Bugle With Its Bellicose Accent
Certainly, the war on drugs is not new and hasn’t lasted for a decade. History attributes it to Richard Nixon, who declared drugs as “public enemy #1” in the United States in 1971. Mexico, a production and transit territory for a century, joined the late 20th century under pressure from Washington, particularly over allegation of corruption and omission that came from the agencies, in the Executive and Congress.
However, it was Felipe Calderón Hinojosa who first put on a green suit. During the next 10 years, Mexico would see terrible events as a result of the above, and there aren’t any indications that this, at times looking like a civil war, is ever going to end. Organized crime, which we had become accustomed to operating silently, unleashed a counter-offensive and issued a challenge to the Mexican State. The spectacular declaration of war of Calderón alerted criminals that operated openly and without great intelligence apparatuses for their company, also known with the authorities.
Perhaps Mexico is going through the longest civil war of the 21st century, sparked by what appears to be a tactical error. The government miscalculated, it seems, the forces that it faces. It miscalculated the reaction of those who tried to intimidate. It miscalculated because, many experts say today, it looked for a political benefit in the war and not give an answer to crime.
Historically, the presence of drug trafficking groups generated some tension in states such as Tamaulipas, Chihuahua, Baja California, Sinaloa, Guerrero and Michoacán. But since that December 11, 2006, the phenomenon of violence associated with these criminal gangs was spreading throughout almost the entire country.
10 years after Calderón started this war, violence continues. And while we overcome from a tragedy, another one occurs, and we tremble because in a decade, there are many dead that have not been dug up. And this is a reality, not a metaphor. More than three years ago, 27,000 missing acknowledged and the federal government has stopped counting.
Mothers, fathers, entire families walk by foot in the fields in search for their missing; they open up the ground with their teeth, they dig. The State can’t return their children; the justice system, inundated, doesn’t give them any hope. The police, corrupt, are not encouragement to anyone and so these families look for a bone, a hair, whatever gives them peace. Whatever tells them that their loved ones are dead and can at least aspire for inner peace.
Ten years have passed and Mexicans can’t explain how we got here. Ten years in which it is impossible to even count how many tragedies. Migrants shot; students who were swallowed up by the earth; kids assassinated for pyrrhic debts from their parents; youths abducted by criminals
who use them as sex slaves and for those that do well, return pregnant; men and women burned alive; a prison in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, with crematoriums to disappear entire families and tens of thousands that have fled their homes to be delivered to the hands of fate by the lack of a government that guarantees their safety.
A person wrapped in a blanket, among thousands. Photo: Rashide Frias, Cuartoscuro
A Tomb For Them Of Honor
Everything has a story behind it. Such is the case of the war launched by President Calderón.
Since mid-2006, Mexico was in a political shock. The country was basically divided into two: the supporters of Andrés Manuel López Obrador and those of Felipe Calderón Hinojosa. Obrador, from the left, argued that there was fraud in the presidential elections and had taken the symbolic Paseo de la Reforma, in the heart of the Mexican capital itself. Calderón, from the right, defended a victory that, according to official figures, was achieved with a difference of only .58% of votes.
That year was a tough and exhausting campaign. President Vicente Fox Quesada stuck his hands in the election to support his party and Calderón, he would later accept something expressly prohibited by election laws. López Obrador accused robbery and was ready to fight. Calderón responded pragmatically to those who question his legitimacy, "haiga sido como haiga sido” (regardless of how it may have been), he said. The phrase would make history.
In this environment, faced with the country, Calderón entered the Chamber of Deputies through a back door taken by the opposition and among shoving and shouts of “fraud”, he put on the presidential sash. It was December 1, 2006.
In this atmosphere of political confrontation, his legitimacy questioned, 10 days after the embarrassing inauguration, Calderón Hinojosa announced, out of nowhere, the launching of the War on Drugs.
There is no public record that this war was planned well in advance. It was not in campaign speeches. There wasn’t any consultations with scholars of the phenomenon of drug trafficking or organized crime. There isn’t information confirming intelligence meetings with the various parties involved in an action of this magnitude, such as the United Nations, the U.S. government and its intelligence agencies such as the DEA. There isn’t any record that Calderón consulted with his counterparts in other countries in the region.
On December 11, 2006, Calderón announced an operation in Michoacán. Federal police agents were taken to “contain” the bloodshed in the state, which suffered an outbreak of violence. But members of the Mexican Army and the Mexican Navy also appeared, which until then, had not been specifically designed to take on tasks which had been constitutionally been responsible for the police.
From that day, President Calderón would make several appearances dressed in military uniform. He would boost the career of its main operator, Genaro García Luna, and his project of a super federal police. He would also increase the budget for the armed forces, which involved one of the most questionable events in the recent history of the country, and with greater economic, political, and social cost.
The war would take its course even though after the first several thousand dead, dozens of opinion leaders from all sectors would ask the then president to review his strategy.
“President Calderón doesn’t listen,” many said, even within his party.
His apparent deafness of the problem, however, had a very high cost for Mexicans, who to this day, continue to pay, even with their own blood.
Ten years without progress. Photo: Cuartoscuro
At The Resounding Roar Of The Cannon
Almost 10 years later, it isn’t difficult to summarize the War on Drugs in Mexico as a failure. Insecurity has spread throughout the country, according to official figures. Consumption not only rose when Calderón was in power, but also with Enrique Peña Nieto. The figures of kidnappings, homicide, and extortion increased. The number of grieving families and the so-called “collateral victims”, a term used for civilians killed in armed actions, grew. The areas for growing poppy increased, and in the United States, the main consumer of drugs produced or passed through Mexico, deaths from heroin became an epidemic in this decade.
When you get to the first decade of the conflict, with nearly 200,000 dead, tens of thousands missing and hundreds of thousands of displaced persons, human rights violations have put Mexico in the eyes of the world. The armed forces are accused of summary executions and forced disappearances; local police, are accused of being on the payroll of criminal groups. In almost any great tragedy, in the great massacres of Veracruz to Sinaloa and from Chihuahua to Guerrero, there is at least one security force involved. In other words: the justification for launching this war, which was to submit criminals and give strength to the State, has collapsed.
On the streets, the army remains, ten years later, and there is widespread feeling that it operates with impunity, a war of extermination. Crimes continue and armed groups have diversified their income relying on impunity. There is no effective state policy to compensate for damages to victims or to deter youths from armed groups. The police have not been cleaned up and narco-politics seems to keep the reserves that it had before the start of the confrontation. There aren’t major advances in the criminal justice system; torture, the UN says, is widespread; prisons are schools of criminals; money laundering operations continue to develop and now, all this time, a glimmer of light: the possibility that marijuana might at least be decriminalized. A decade later, Mexico is worse than before and the authors of this error called the War on Drugs have not been held accountable.
This December 11, 2016, on the date marked by history as the first decade of war in Mexico, there is much to regret and nothing to celebrate. Drug trafficking groups adjust themselves—comfortably– to their new reality, while citizens, as usual, pay the piper.
Source: Sin Embargo