Juan Villoro: Mexico is a gigantic necropolis after 10 years of the drug war

Mexican soldiers. Photo: Getty images.

Mexican soldiers. Photo: Getty images.

By: Juan Paullier / BBC Mundo

December 19, 2016

Juan Villoro doesn’t hesitate. Witch hunts, great irresponsibility, and total failure.

Upon completing 10 years last December 11 from the start of the so-called War against Drug Trafficking in Mexico, the writer can only find dark words to define what this disastrous period has meant for the country.

There’s not even clarity about the impact in numbers. The dead as a consequence of this conflict could be around 150,000, the disappeared almost 30,000.

From religious cartels to thousands of displaced: 5 collateral effects of the War on Drugs in Mexico

“Mexico,” Villoro tells BBC Mundo in an interview, “has become a gigantic necropolis.”

The writer has no doubt about the negative result of the strategy of fighting the cartels that then president Felipe Calderón started in 2006.

“The State has lost total sovereignty, social inequality has increased, and the consumption of drugs has not gone down. It has then been a total failure because it has been understood that the only solution for fighting the problem of drug trafficking is military and the only thing that has come, it seems to me, is the proof that each bullet is a lost bullet,” he assures. Villoro, 60, admits that back then it was impossible to know what the president’s decision was going to imply for the country.

“None of us calculated the dimension that it was going to reach,” he explains, “the bloodbath in which we were going to insert ourselves because of the immense irresponsibility of President Felipe Calderón, who did not know completely the enemy that he was going to confront, and had no strategy in that regard.”

How and when did Mexico become so ferocious?

And in spite of the fact that the governmental focus has not yielded results, there is no sign from the group in power that it is looking for an alternative.

“The military strategy has been a disaster because there has not been a withdrawal of the violence, there has not been a decrease in the trafficking of drugs and it (the military strategy) has only contributed to accentuating the blood bath. There isn’t any evidence from a practical point of view that might endorse this strategy. If it hasn’t fulfilled its purpose, it’s time to change the focus, but that hasn’t been done.”

Although when Enrique Peña Nieto arrived in the presidency four years ago the discourse was different in the beginning; in practical terms and on the ground the situation has not changed.

“There were encouraging signs in the sense that he said that drug trafficking ought not be focused on as a national security problem but as one of public health,” Villoro asserts about the arrival of Peña Nieto, “(but) sufficient mechanisms were not created to be able to modify the strategy.”

Then followed a militarist inertia, he comments in the interview with the BBC, and he recognizes that the social reforms of this government stimulated illusion but were failing one by one and that the president lost credibility because of the Ayotzinapa case and the corruption scandals.

Some cry, others throw parties, others take “selfies”: it’s the harsh encounter of the families with the bone fragments of their disappeared family members.

One doesn’t have to take care of the bad ones, but rather of those that seem good

Villoro emphasizes a central moment of these ten years upon remembering Calderón’s statement about the existence of 7.5 million ninis in the country; in other words, youths that don’t work or study.

“Curiously, the very same president that gave that statistic didn’t do anything to confront the problem,” he says. “Evidently that kind of youth are the perfect culture for drug trafficking; they don’t become gunmen because they have a demoniacal calling. The best rational sensible offer that they face is that of entering drug trafficking.”

It’s the existence in the background of a more complex social problem that has not been attacked and that is not solved with soldiers in the streets attempting to capture drug cartel leaders. And it’s not just about complementing and diversifying a military strategy.

“As we could see in the Ayotzinapa case,” Villoro asserts, “the drug traffickers and the authorities are completely colluded (…) then attacking the drug traffickers means investigating the government.”

That is where one of the greatest challenges is found at the time of fighting the situation. And to introduce the theme remembers a sentence from the Mexican writer Elmer Mendoza: “One must not take care of the bad ones, but rather of those that seem good.”

By having too many interests at play, what’s lacking, he considers, is the political will to confront the problem.

Those who “seek to maintain an honorable facade and serve as a contact or as an associate with drug trafficking: those are the people that have a lot to lose if it becomes known that they have contact with organized crime, therefore they are the ones that most threaten the journalists, the ones that are in charge of protecting an apparently institutional society from organized crime.”

The zones of silence in the war on drugs in Mexico

“All societies of the world have corruption and all have a zone where the illicit becomes apparently licit (…) but the problem in Mexico is that this has reached an enormous scale, so then the range of impresarios, militaries, police and politicians colluded with organized crime is enormous, and then it’s very difficult to fight it and this is the sector that is the most dangerous for whoever tries to do it.”

And if here the magnitude of the phenomenon reached unimaginable heights in part it’s because of having the United States on the other side of the border.

“It’s important to understand that we are neighbors of the country that consumes the most drugs in the world and that sells the most arms in the world… that defines much of the Mexican situation.”

What Villoro doesn’t find much understanding of is the brutality of the violence.

“In some way the executioner feels more protected with this extreme annihilation,” he says, “but it’s a difficult phenomenon to explain and there would be nothing more grave than that this would begin to seem normal to us,” he considers.

Being an optimist belongs to the dissidence

Villoro emphasizes the need to set pessimism aside despite the fact that the atmosphere doesn’t help to see things another way.

“Optimism is a big challenge and is a radicalness. Being an optimist today belongs to the dissidence, belongs to the rebel (…) it would seem that there aren’t many possibilities to be optimistic but I believe that it’s worth it to think that things can be different,” he asserts.

He takes advantage of the issue of optimism to explain that Mexicans should not become resigned to having the country that they have today and he adds that Mexico, its reality, is schizophrenic.

]We’re talking about a rich country, despite the fact that almost half the population is poor, the tourism increases, the industries grow and there is a creative cultural atmosphere framed within a nation of “two speeds.”

And he illustrates this divergence with an example: the city of Guadalajara is the scene every year of the most important Spanish language book fair and at the same time he remembers that cadavers were found outside of that very same event.

He considers the roadmap that includes the State taking control again of the zones from which it has withdrawn and the drug traffickers acting at their own pace, as well as the legalization of some drugs.

“In a country where the State does not impart justice, it offers no labor options, guaranties no security, the drug trafficker is the one that by substitution fulfills those tasks and that is what is grave. There are of course ways of reclaiming the State’s presence, that is undeniable, it’s difficult but it can be done.”

And in that plan that he proposes he also warns of the need to integrate the society and that a part of it will be shaken by a dangerous indifference towards the horror that crosses the country.

Although the authorities have more responsibilities, he remembers a comment of the writer Cristina Rivera Garza about the people that practice a sort of “militant indifference, an apathy as a way of life so as not to assume the responsibility for doing something.”

“There is everything so that we are indignant and so that we take action, but at the same time it’s always more comfortable to do nothing. Then there is an apathy cultivated by broad sectors of the population and there are also sectors of the population dedicated to fomenting that apathy,” he points out.

“Many times the indignation stays in a tweet.(…) If we are going to change the world in that often underrated space that is reality, one must pass from criticism to transformation,” he thinks.

Villoro considers that if these ten years of the drug war have left any lesson it’s that this is the path that must be left behind.

“The only pedagogy has been that of error, we know that it should not be done, at least not in this way, and it’s the only good thing that we can get from these years”.


Originally Published in Spanish by Desinformemonos

Monday, December 19, 2016


Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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