Until recently, homicides had generally been crimes of passion; now we are witnessing more ambitious crimes with a distinct public and theatrical twist.
zenry has lost access to any reliable account of the current dreadful events. In other words, the drug murders
have achieved their purpose: their symbolic importance
is far greater than the numbers involved.
But why is this happening to Mexico? And why now?
We should keep in mind that poverty alone does not determine a country’s vulnerability to drug corruption; if
that were the case, there are many other countries that
would have fallen prey to the drug trade years ago—
Ecuador, for instance. Of course in many cases the cultivation and production of narcotic plants does take place
in remote areas like the Chapare region in Bolivia or the
provinces of Huila and Caquetá in Colombia. In these regions, campesinos are indeed desperately isolated, grow
crops that sell at pennies above production costs and
have little access to the kind of education that might
improve their children’s lot. It is also true that when a
campesino or a drug carrier (or “mule”) is jailed on trafficking charges, he or she is likely to spend years in jail
before a trial is even scheduled, and if a trial finally takes
place it is likely to be a farce.
But it is also true that in other places—the mountains
of Sinaloa, Mexico and the comunas, or poor neighborhoods of Medellín, Colombia, for example—poverty and
hardship are not dire enough to explain why a young
person would decide to put his (or her) life at risk and
join the drug world. Here poverty is relative; it is not a
matter of hunger but rather a poverty of opportunities, a
daily confirmation of the terrible social inequality that
pervades this hemisphere and eats away at the self-esteem and optimism of so many youths. And so we must
return to the figures on unemployment and the lack of
opportunities for the young in Latin America.
We see time and again how those who become involved in the drug trade are often the brightest members
of the community. All they want is to be somebody! And
so the gamble becomes not “Íll risk my life in exchange
for a sack of potatoes to feed my family, who hasn’t eaten
in two days,” but rather, “I will risk arrest in exchange
for the latest Nikes,” or “I’ll risk my life in exchange for
a pick-up truck” (Ford Cheyennes being the ultimate
status symbol in the Sinaloa hill country).
Nations become prey to the drug trade for differ- ent reasons. Boliviaś heyday as a producer of coca leaf—the most important ingredient in cocaine—was made possible by the arrival in the Chapare region of a wave of unemployed
miners. The government-operated silver and tin mines of
the Bolivian highlands were gutted out and unprofitable,
and so thousands of miners were fired overnight. Desperate for a livelihood, many of these miners migrated
to the Chapare—a region that even today is out of the
way but which the buyers of coca paste could reach easily by means of small aircraft or by boat along the hidden water paths that feed into the Amazon Basin. The
combination of fertile land and desperate workers led
to the first great cocaine boom.
In the case of Colombia, the drug trade continues
to be a huge business despite the elimination of all
the kingpins from the epic days of the drug trade: the
Rodríguez Orijuela family in Cali, Gonzalo Rodríguez
Gacha in the central altiplano and, in Medellín, the
Ochoa clan and Pablo Escobar. They are gone, but the
market for cocaine lives on because control of the drug
trade devolved upon two clandestine armed forces: the
guerrillas and the paramilitaries, both equally tenacious,
skilled at logistical organization and also heavily armed