Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ask la Gringa: Drug War Truth, Is it Safe?

Due to several emails received recently on the subject of drug violence in Veracruz, this post will attempt to answer the heart of all of them - what is really going on there concerning the drug war, and, is it safe? Can I visit/move there? With kids?

I should preface this subject by informing readers that we no longer live in Veracruz city full-time, thankfully. Although we moved for different reasons, the violence that has erupted in Veracruz this year has been astounding. Went from relative peace and quiet to what seems to be an escalating war with no end in sight. Our information and insights are limited, but our sources and experiences are reliable. My answer is based on that.

What is really going on?
Violent confrontations between rival drug cartels, Mexican military and now suspected paramilitary groups. Specifically, the drug cartel that previously controlled drug flow in Veracruz (los Zetas) were supposedly protected by the former state governor, whose term ended in 2010. New governor is not 'in' with them, so the opportunity arose to challenge the Zetas.

Army troops and the Sinaloa cartel have been the main opponents to the Zetas, who are known to be exceptionally ruthless and violent. They have expanded operation to all kinds of activity beyond drug trafficking, mainly kidnapping, assassinations, and all kinds of extortion. Politicians, police and big companies are known to be on their payroll, all of whom want their hands in the pockets of small businesses and civilians.

Plata o Ploma (Silver or Bullet)
Common saying throughout Latin America, which means, take the bribe or take a bullet. Obviously the bribe is often chosen. Drug wars feed on bribes. Drug bribes cannot be stopped or fought because drugs are illegal. This raises the product price sky-high because only the most ruthless criminals with no regard for human life, let alone the law, will run the ring. Make billions. And kill anyone who gets in their way.

They bring murder, extortion, bribes, violence, and all sorts of other evil into the industry. No amount of 'defense' dollars will defeat it. This is the root of the problem, along with rampant corruptibility in Mexican society.

Is it safe to live/travel there?
This depends on one's personal comfort level. Over 100 dead bodies have been found in the past month, with several others missing. This sounds alarming. However, the majority of these victims were involved in drug trafficking/bribes/extortion that led to their death. And, in a city of over 600,000 inhabitants, I like my odds if I'm a law-abiding civilian.

That said, the innocent do get caught in the crossfire. Had I or a family member been been amongst the killed or injured due to grenades thrown into the city's Aquarium, statistics would have been meaningless. A journalist neighbor of ours was murdered in his home, along with his wife and son. My sister-in-law received phone calls threatening kidnap if she didn't pay up, just this week. She tells our nephew that the shootings at night are fireworks, so as not to scare him. And there is a noticeable decline in traffic after dark. People lock their doors and only go out if they have to. Checkpoints, troops, and even tanks are common throughout the city.

People are fearful. Although unlikely, the threat of violence does exist in Veracruz. More so than in the past years of my residency and visits. I personally do not feel threatened during my few-day visits, although sometimes the sights are unsettling. I would not live in Veracruz should a safer city be an option. Xico is still peaceful, as are many other areas in Veracruz state and Mexico. Not all of Mexico is dangerous. We hope it stays that way.

If you would like to ask la Gringa in Veracruz a question, please use the contact form or leave an anonymous comment on the Ask la Gringa page. Ask la Gringa questions will be posted anonymously and kept confidential. Names will not be published other than what you choose to sign your message with.