Mexico’s Violent Cycle

A heavily armed member of the Mexican Federal Police patrols in the state of Chihuahua in 2010.

by Rick Rockwell

How long does Mexico have to suffer before its violent cycle ends?  This question comes to mind because Mexico City’s Human Rights Commission announced last week that March of 2012 was the most violent month on its records when it comes violence aimed at the media.

Unfortunately, Mexico is known for upticks in violence against the media during election years; this has traditionally been used not only to curb critical media but also to act as a repressive measure to those who might be cowed by such bloody examples used against their colleagues and competitors.  What many north of the border may not realize is that Mexico is suffering its worst instability and violence since the Mexican Revolution of a century ago. More than 47,515 people have been killed in the Drug War during the administration of President Felipe Calderon, (for more, please see: “Stepping Up for Journalists in Mexico’s Drug War” and “In the Freefall of Insecurity, Mexico Unsafe for Many Journalists”) widely regarded as the weakest Mexican president since the revolution.

The attacks included: a grenade assault on the regional outlet of Mexico’s most powerful television network Televisa in Matamoros; a car bomb explosion outside of Expreso, the most popular newspaper in Ciudad Victoria, in the border state of Tamaulipas; a shooting at a reporter’s home in Durango; and assaults against journalists in the state of Oaxaca.

Some might easily shrug off these attacks as what might be expected in the battle between free speech and drug gangs that don’t take kindly to bad press.  But the situation is more complex. Human rights lawyer Netzaí Sandoval has presented a petition to the International Criminal Court in the Hague signed by 23,000 Mexicans accusing Calderon for covering up human rights abuses by Mexico’s military and police forces in the war.  Last month, the U.N. issued a report saying the Mexican government was both incompetent and sometimes complicit in the cases of thousands of disappearances connected to the Drug War.  So this conflict cannot be seen in the linear American fashion of dark versus light.

It says something that Mexico City’s Human Rights Commission has not seen anti-media violence this bad since it was established in 1993.  It speaks to the escalation of the Drug War and begs the question that opened this post.

Some have compared Mexico’s downward spiral to that of Colombia in the late 1990s.  Thanks to various factors, Colombia battled back from its status as a weak state, turning the corner in 2002 on its long civil war, which has merged with the wider regional Drug War.  This weekend’s Summit of the Americas which has truly marked Colombia’s comeback on the world stage would not have been held there if the drug gangs and guerrilla forces had not been pushed to the margins and borders of that country in the past decade.  The cost in almost five decades of war for Colombia is about 150,000 killed and at least 3.5 million internal refugees.

The brutal Mexican theater in this war has already produced a third of those casualties in about ten percent of the time.  How much more can Mexico’s struggling democracy and embattled media take?  Perhaps Mexico’s next president has better answers.

(The photo is by Jesus Villaseca Perez of Latitudes Press via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.  To see a report from Al Jazeera about the battle for territory between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Zetas Cartel in Mexico, please check below.)

About rickrockwell2011

Rick Rockwell is the Director of the School of Communication’s International Media program at American University. Rockwell is an award-winning journalist and author. His book, Media Power in Central America, won an award from the American Library Association. Please see the additional links for a full profile.
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