Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The "real" Cancun

Last night, several molotov cocktails were pitched into a strip club in the heart of Puerto Juarez, killing six women and two men at last count. The local and national press have suggested that those to blame belong to Las Zetas, the very same narcogang presumably behind the terrible massacre recently discovered in Tamaulipas. There may also be some link to the capture, two days ago, of a capo, Edgar Valdez Villareal, aka La Barbie, whose activities extended to Quintana Roo. The story has apparently been picked up by the media in the U.S. and Europe, provoking further concern among those in the tourism industry here in Mexico lindo.
A couple of clarifications are merited here. First, this did not occur in what gringos think of as Cancun. Rather, it occurred in a part of the city that virtually no gringos ever venture into, although some think they have (they have typically ventured as far as the city center, Cancun viejo, if you can call anything built after 1970 old in a country full of colonial architecture. The city center is still very tame but a tad decrepit and third worldish looking in comparison to the hotel zone but nonetheless sends many Americans into a kind of panic). Puerto Juarez, where this incident occurred, is another world altogether. This part of the city started as a shantytown in the 1970s in the shadow of the planned city created by economists from the Banco de Mexico. It is now very much part of the city proper but still the hood in terms of criminal activity, which is very unfortunate for the many honest and hard-working Mexicans who live there. Second, while this is a particularly grisly incident, especially because it involved women working in the bar who had in all likelihood been victimized quite enough, narcocrimes are not new to Cancun or the Yucatan peninsula in general. Drugs have been moving through the peninsula in large quantities (think tons) since the 1970s, when drug busts by mostly local police occurred every couple of months at least, and the laundering of money is clearly one of the major factors driving the Riviera Maya's rapid development in the past couple of decades. As a consequence, the narcochavitos have been killing each other and the occasional police officer for years, with bodies found quite regularly in the ditches and sidestreets of Puerto Juarez and Solidaridad, the equivalent of Puerto Juarez for Playa del Carmen, in similar neighborhoods in Merida on the Yucatan side of the peninsula, and even occasionally in Chetumal, Quintana Roo's sleepy capital, which sits right on the border of Belize. Quintana Roo's murder rate is still very, very low compared to most states in the federation. Is it only a matter of time before such incidents occur in the hotel zone or on Playa del Carmen's strip of restaurants and nightclubs? That's anyone's guess. Until now, a level of civility has prevailed with regard to the tourist economy, perhaps because the narcotraffickers recognize that the industry provides a convenient shelter for them, in terms of covering up both the transport of their products and for washing their profits in region's many hotels and restaurants and commercial plazas, etc.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A grenade is a grenade

This past Wednesday night a grenade exploded at a bar (Pinkcheladas--check out its FB site for a load of interesting comments about this venue's past notoriety, from fires to fights and a great deal of delincuencia in between) in Puerto Vallarta, killing one so far as of this morning and causing serious injuries to a number of others present. The U.S. consulate immediately issued a security warning about possible sites of retaliation for the incident, which was presumed to be the result of some sort of narcobronca. The guy fingered for possession of the grenade is allegedly linked to the Sinaloan cartel. State and local authorities, included the governor, Jalisco's AG, and others responded defensively to the consulate's warning, arguing that the incident had been an accident rather than an actual attack, and that therefore, the consulate's position was overkill. Their position is quite predictable in light of the fact that the state of Jalisco is heavily invested in the tourism industry and that such reports have very real economic repercussions. Nonetheless, one must ask the obvious question--does it really matter if it was an accident or a purposeful attack? Regardless, some drugged up and/or drunk guy working for a cartel was walking around with a grenade, presumable with the intention of using it at some point. I don't think anyone should cancel their vacation yet, but one might stick to the more gringo-esque bars if venturing out at night.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

La nota roja and Venezuela's violence

The NYT is running an article on Venezuela's murder rate, "Venezuela, More Deadly than Iraq, Wonders Why", which apparently exceeds that of Iraq at the moment. While some grim events have occurred in recent days in Mexico lindo, one does still hold out hope that the narcochavitos stick to murdering each other rather than everyone else. In Venezuela, the causes are many but its remarkable inequality (perhaps the greatest condemnation for Chavez--that his Bolivarian revolution has accomplished so little on that front) combined with a gun culture have combined to create a deadly culture.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Back to the future in Mexico lindo

Mexico has changed so much in recent years, between NAFTA, the narcos, its recent and still fledgling democratization, etc., but some things remain constant here. Here are a few of the sights, sounds and smells from the first few bittersweet days back in Mexico lindo.
-teenagers making out in an illicit corner of the water treatment plant.
-children selling sweets in the street
-a young woman, lacquered in makeup, and a much older and more prosperous man, perhaps in his fifties, conversing intimately in a car parked on the street
-maids scrubbing down the tiled entrances to wealthy homes with bleach
-gardeners manicuring every last leaf and blade of landscaping
-water jug sellers announcing their passing in the streets
-a handicapped man in a hand-pedaled cart begging along a busy avenue
-portly couples heading to the park to work out in matching jerseys
-two elderly women dressed in black watching the world go by from a balcony
-women of all ages tottering around in six inch heels
-middle class men sporting brightly colored polo shirts, usually of Italian origin (the shirts, not the men)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Dangerous DC

By the way, did you know that DC's murder rate is four times that of the DF (that's Mexico City to you gringos, aka el defecal to more cynical locals)? And a think tank in Mexico, which I have not had a chance to check out yet, claims that Mexico's murder rate is still lower today than it was a decade ago when the PRI, who many assume looked the other way while the narcos built the foundations of Mexico's current drug economy, was about to lose their first presidential election (well, by official counts anyway) in seven decades. Brazil and a number of Caribbean and Central American countries look quite nasty in comparison to Mexico lindo too. Thanks to USA Today for this surprisingly positive bit of a reality check--see the article in this past Wednesday's edition (8/4/2010).

Monday, August 2, 2010

Narcos in the neighborhood

About a week ago, La Jornada, Mexico's main left-leaning paper (think The Nation, but a daily and quite a bit more credible in terms of investigative journalism and with a much larger and more varied readership) published an editorial that again raised the whole "failed state" debate I mentioned previously. The recent massacre of seventeen people in Torreon, Durango, apparently committed by inmates from a local prison who were permitted under the cover of darkness to leave the facility and use state-owned vehicles and the weapons of their own prison guards to carry out the killings raises serious questions about Mexico's penal system and its penetration by the narcos (apparently this kind of thing goes on all the time). In true La Jornada style, the editorial pointed out, quite rightly, that the prison system also suffers from serious problems with human rights abuses, so that the overall perception of the penal system is one that the paper characterized as "extreme weakness." A few days later, the headlines in all of the major papers trumpeted the news of the killing of two major figures in the Sinaloa cartel in neighborhoods uncomfortable close to our soon-to-be home. So while the Mexican state may indeed be on the ropes, it is by no means a complete failure, but as public opinion increasingly leans toward the consensus that the war is futile and endless, I'm just hoping that the gunfire will have abated by the time we hit town.