On 15th June, 2017, Crisis Group published a report describing the country’s extreme violence as ‘A War without a Name’, with senior analyst Froylán Enciso stating “The Mexican government’s denial that the country is suffering from an armed conflict is proving hard to sustain,” while earlier in the year, Foreign Policy listed Mexico as one of the top ten conflicts in the world to watch in 2017. Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, author of Los Zetas Inc. described the country as being in a state of civil war. “The present analysis concludes that Mexico’s armed conflict has the characteristics of a civil war, more specifically a “new” or “modern civil war”: characteristically criminal, depoliticised, private, and predatory…driven by economics…rather than grievances.”
Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario set in the turbulent city of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico with Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operatives dipping in and out of the maelstrom of the cartels’ ‘drug-war’ clad in full-military equipment supporting a rogue member of the Medellin Colombian cartel in collaboration with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) further builds a narrative of war which is difficult to deny. However, it was not the modern Heart of Darkness conjured by Villeneuve or the antics of Walter White in AMC’s critically acclaimed Breaking Bad and his ruthless seizure of Gustavo “Gus” Fring’s drug empire built on blood-drenched methamphetamine which conveyed the reality of Mexico’s conflict.
Rather it was the disturbing reality that Mexico’s transnational criminal organisations, as supposed to terrorist organisations such as Al-Qa’ida and Daesh, were spearheading a new form of asymmetric warfare and the nature of the violence being perpetrated. Furthermore, the shocking statistics tell there own terrible story, one which the world has largely ignored in Mexico and the wider region of Central America. According to The Guardian, Mexico has registered a record number of murders in 2017, making it the deadliest year in the country’s modern history with “23,101 murder investigations (being) opened in the first 11 months of this year, surpassing the 22,409 registered in the whole of 2011, according to figures published on Friby the interior ministry.”
150,000–200,000 Mexican men, women and children have been killed or disappeared in drug-related violence and the wars between the cartels, government (to journalists such as Anabel Hernandez, one and the same as the cartels it fights) and vigilante groups. Flagrant human rights violations being committed by all sides with increasing impunity. The wars between the cartels including the Sinola Cartel and the ultra-violent Los Zetas in the early 2000s and a subsequent declaration of a “War on Drugs” by former president Felipe Calderon, have sent rates of homicide and violence soaring since Operation Michoacán began in December 2006.
Extra-judicial killings, torture, rape, narco-graves (narcofosas), disappearances and mass killings defined the brutal violence in Mexico with journalists and politicians being targeted and killed with impunity. Thousands have been displaced, and are either fleeing to the United States or relocating to other areas of the country. In a shocking 156 page report published in June, 2016 by the Open Society Justice Initiative and five independent Mexican human rights organisations, their research concluded that “both Mexican government forces and the Zetas drug cartel have committed crimes against humanity against civilians over the past decade.”
This security crisis is not exclusive to Mexico alone. Latin America has experienced 2.5 million murders since 2000. This startling statistic published by the Igarapé Institute, a Brazil-based think tank reflects a growing need for the world to come to grips with the dismal failures of the so-called “War on Drugs” and for new methods to be adopted to tackle both the public health crises where drug-use is soaring and to address the transnational and global criminal organisations flourishing in Latin America, North America and Europe. The migrant crisis along the United States’ border is being driven, first and foremost, by the appalling violence in Central America.
These statistics have been harshly matched by images, stories, videos and personal testimonies reported by multiple human rights organisations, journalists, bloggers, photographers and charities which bring the numbers to life in surreal horror. The toll of the ‘War on Drugs’ and the evolution of the transnational criminal organisations are having far-reaching consequences, enormous human rights costs and are fuelling a major public health crisis across the world. The United Kingdom’s narcomania (ranked among the world’s biggest users of the cocaine) , is vastly contributing to these multiple issues.
By tying drug consumption more closely to the brutal violence, corruption, human rights violations and war crimes perpetrated by governments and criminal organisations, prohibitive policies which nurture conflict at home and abroad and fuel addiction should be lifted and in-turn violence could be curbed more effectively, reducing political and economic costs for governments at home and the countries plagued by paramilitary violence and conflict. Those who are benefiting from Mexico’s turmoil whether they be private security companies, arms dealers as well as international and regional governments must be brought to account.