Violence, Death Toll Rising in Mexico's Drug War

By Paul Gaita 09/05/19

Thousands of lives have been lost in Mexico's ongoing war against the drug cartels.

Image: 
police in Mexico

Since 2006, the Mexican government's war against drug cartels has claimed about 150,000 lives, with some 29,000 homicides in 2017 alone.

But as reports by Time noted, the violence has spread from northern cities like Tijuana to Gulf Coast states like Veracruz. The number of casualties has also grown, and include children among the victims.

But public response to these grisly increases has been muted, as Time's coverage indicated. Approval ratings for new President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador remained at 70%, which it suggested was an indication that either public faith in his non-violent approach was intact, or that the Mexican people have grown inured to such catastrophes.

Homicides in Mexico neared 35,000 in 2018—a sizable increase over the 2017 statistics—but less attention appears to be focused on the killings.

Innocent Bystanders

Even the murders of children do not appear to have raised much concern. As Time noted, the shooting deaths of three young children and their parents by a cartel in Coatzacoalcos, in the Mexican state of Veracruz, drew headlines across the country. But when gunmen attacked a home in Ciudad Juarez in August 2019, killing three girls between the ages of four and 14, the press coverage was decidedly reduced.

"It seems like we are becoming accustomed to this, to people killing children," said activist Lenit Enriquez Orozco, whose own brother has been missing since 2015. Though the cartels' tactics have gone unchanged since the dawn of the drug war in 2006—bodies are still left in public, attacks on social gatherings continue to amass huge casualties—public response has dwindled.

"It's politics as usual," said security analyst Alejandro Hope. "This should generate generalized indignation" against the government and the cartels, he noted, but so far, it appears to have had little to no impact.

Waging War On Cartels

Though President Lopez Obrador acknowledged that violent crime is his most significant hurdle, he has kept to his campaign promise of focusing on unemployment as a solution to the cartels' grip on the public. He has also avoided violent confrontation—an about-face from predecessor Felipe Calderon, who initiated the government's war against the cartels in 2006 upon taking office.

Obrador's policy has resonated with the public. The Time feature quoted Carlos Angel Ortiz, whose niece was one of 28 people who died in a fire at a nightclub in Veracruz, which cartel members set on fire after blocking the exits as punishment for an infraction by its owner.

"It is like the president says, 'Only the people can save the people,'" said Ortiz. "We have to look out for each other, and report crimes more." 

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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