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Dying to Live in Mexico

Cuernavaca, Mexico — In 2011, some 12,000 people were murdered in situations presumably related to the drug trafficking industry in Mexico. In 2010, the number was more than 15,000 killed. Between December 2006, when Felipe Calderón of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) took office and declared a “war on drug traffickers” and January 2012, depending on the source, some 47,000 to 60,000 people have been slain, and some 5,000 disappeared. This grim fact has become the centerpiece of Mexican politics and an inescapable force in daily life throughout much of the country.

But neither the number of people killed nor the cruelty of the killings can be understood without simultaneously taking account of another pair of figures. First, Calderón has repeatedly said that more than 90 percent of those killed were involved in “the struggle of some cartels against others.” Calderón does not cite a source for this estimate. The underlying logic, however, is clear: if you’re dead, you’re guilty. The perennial official refrain is “en algo andaba,” or, they were up to something; they were in the game.

Second, according to information that the Mexican Federal Attorney General’s office submitted to the Mexican Senate in April 2010, the government investigates less than 5 percent of all the homicides presumed to be related to organized crime, and thus falling under their jurisdiction. How can Calderón claim that 90 percent of the dead were somehow involved “in the struggle of some cartels against others” if the government does not even investigate 95 percent of the killings?

Submerged in this vortex of drug-war violence and impunity, Mexico has become the world’s most dangerous country for journalists. The Mexican National Human Rights Commission has documented 66 murders and 12 disappearances of journalists and received more than 600 complaints of abuses against journalists since 2000, with more than 40 of the killings having taken place since 2006.  Four journalists have been murdered in the past few weeks.

While the Mexican state refuses or fails to investigate the killings and crimes, Mexican journalists have not surrendered to silence. Mexican reporters continue to walk the streets, dig through public records, visit crime scenes, talk to witnesses, and build sources in an effort to report and publish on the violence, the fear, the government complicity and incompetence, the horrors of organized crime killers, and the daily efforts to survive it all.

Jospeh Nevins, jonevins at vassar.edu
Nevins is the author of Dying to Live: A Story of U.S. Immigration in the Age of Global Apartheid, is a compelling account of U.S. immigration and border enforcement told through the journey of one man who perished in California’s Imperial Valley while trying to reunite with his wife and child in Los Angeles. It provides a valuable perspective on the historical geography of U.S.-Mexico relations, and immigration and boundary enforcement, illustrating its profound impact on people’s lives, and deaths.