The Canadian government recently published a travel advisory for Mexico, warning of the high levels of violence in the northern border area. As I read La Jornada today, there are reports of three people decapitated in Tijuana, and another five executed in Chihuahua. In the past year, nearly 6,000 people have been killed in violence related to the drug war. In the past month, around 800 members of the police force have been put under criminal investigation for presumed involvement in narco trade and trafficking. In response to the worsening crisis, 50,000 officers from police and army forces have been deployed around the country.
While much of the coverage focused only on northern border areas, the increasing wave of violence is sweeping the entire country. What is rarely mentioned in news coverage is that the state of Guerrero—beachside and touristy—is the most militarized part of the country. In this area, wealth and poverty exist side by side. The state of Guerrero has some of the poorest rural inhabitants. In some areas, entire villages migrate, or even abandon their homes to struggle for survival elsewhere. It is probably also the state with the highest levels of migrants, including migrants under the age of eighteen. 20% of the population over 15 does not know how to read, 25% of its inhabitants do not live in a house that has access to the sewer system, 30% do not have clean water, and half of the state’s inhabitants live in overpopulated housing
The main city in this state is Acapulco, a big port where drugs are shipped in and later transferred via land routes to US markets. Quite like Colombia, it is evident that drug dealers benefit from these activities, but you can bet that politicians and large business owners do as well. Also, like in Colombia, where the coca plant is not native, drug cartels and local peasants have started their own “push” for the local economy—planting what are probably the largest plantations of heroin in the Americas.
But there is more history behind the latest events.
In the 1960’s, Mexico suffered an economic crisis. Guerrero was an exporting state, and social movements were very strong. This is where Mexico’s Dirty war really started. The government put in place a structure of repression to keep the old hacienda families that have always controlled the state in power. So, the drug war is a continuation of long-standing imbalances of power between the rich elite and the poor masses.
Traveling through the state, we read reports of the high levels of corruption in the police. In Acapulco, local residents post signs intended for the police: Alto a la corrupcion! They are speaking out against the impunity of police officers, who stop, arrest, beat, and kill people as a means of extortion. All the while, the government’s response has consistently been to send more troops and quell dissent. Recently, two local activists were disappeared and later found dead. While the government and the media focus on the narco war in the north, it is worth remembering that the conflict’s origins lie in age-old corruption and social inequalities. Maybe Guerrero is more at the epicenter of the problem.