We live in the state of Guanajuato, which has the dubious honor of having the highest number of homicides to start the year in 2020. The current issues stem from the hostile takeover of areas controlled by Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel. The shoot-outs are sometimes random, and civilians are sometimes caught in the cross-fire.
On the other hand, some instances of cartel violence are targeted attacks. Extortion, kidnapping, and murder are the three primary methods of control. While most of the time the focus is on someone from a rival cartel, sometimes innocent family members are involved.
A high-profile incident occurred in 2019 when nine women and children were murdered in Chihuahua, all members of the La Mora Mormon community that has been in the area for decades. The Mexican government claimed the murders were a case of mistaken identity, however, both local police officers and cartel members have been arrested leading to the speculation that it was a targeted hit.
It should surprise no one that the cartel and certain officials of the Mexican government are in cahoots. The 43 teaching students that disappeared in 2014 were arrested by the police then turned over to the Guerreros Unidos cartel by whom they were tortured and murdered. The mayor of the town Iguala and his wife were later arrested for their involvement along with several high-ranking police officers. The bodies of 42 of these young men have not yet been found.
From 2006 to 2012, the cartel have been responsible for between 60,000 to 100,000 deaths in Mexico. Between 2007 and 2014, the Mexican government has been linked to 23,272 reported disappearances. Not all disappearances are reported because of the fear of repercussions, therefore, the actual number could be significantly higher. Mass graves throughout Mexico are the final resting place for the bodies of thousands of those who have disappeared either by order of the government or the cartel.
Ties between Mexico’s political party PRI and illegal drug traders can be traced to the beginning of the 20th century during the US period of Prohibition. The political, police and military infrastructure that was subsequently designed in Mexico was intended to support the cultivation, manufacturing, and distribution of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana for export to the United States. The Dirección Federal de Seguridad (DFS) organization was formed to organize and control drug trafficking.
For decades, this system functioned without restriction. In the 1990’s PRI’s 70-year reign ended. The addition of new political players with no prior connection to the cartels upset the system. Sections of the Mexican government began to challenge the set-up. Thus began the government-sanctioned assassinations of drug-enforcement agents, governors, mayors, clergy, citizens, lawyers, judges, social activists and journalists. And there we have narcoterrorism in a nutshell. While cartels battle over territories, dissenters are silenced by the government.
Our family has been personally affected by cartel violence. My husband’s 25-year old nephew and a friend were taken from his home in our town after he was trespassing on a rival’s territory. His decomposing body was found outside a nearby village a month later. The other young man who was taken with him has not been found. Officially, the murder investigation is still open. However, we know that no one will be held accountable for his death.
Many young men and women that are recruited by the cartels are not willing participants. Cartels sometimes conduct raids on alcohol and drug rehab centers as a form of conscription. Other times the cartel itself is running a rehab center, making it that much easier to recruit vulnerable men and women.
Yet another way that the cartels add to their ranks is by kidnapping migrants from other Central and South American countries who are crossing Mexico with the hopes of claiming asylum in the United States. Approximately 20,000 migrants a year are kidnapped by the cartels in Mexico. Some are sold, some are murdered, and some are recruited.
If you find yourself in an area that is experiencing cartel violence, you may want to consider relocation. Mexico is a huge country and there are many areas, even those controlled by the cartel, where life is relatively peaceful. If you choose to remain in an area that has the potential for violence, you must develop your situational awareness.
Situational awareness is being aware of your surroundings. It involves identifying potentially dangerous situations. The first step in developing a situational awareness mindset is recognizing that there is a threat. These days, any activity you engage in, from grocery shopping to heading to a wedding, can become life-threatening if cartel violence breaks out in the area. Just because you yourself are not involved in drug distribution or trafficking does not mean that you are safe.
The second step in becoming situationally aware is to realize that you are responsible for your own security. The Mexican government is often involved with the cartel. Even if arrests are made, Mexico has an extremely high rate of impunity. Relying on the police is not a safe option.
Situational awareness does not mean you are hyperfocused to search out danger, every minute of every day. No one can maintain that level of vigilance. Rather, it refers to taking your surroundings into consideration as you go about your business. If you are in a restaurant, take note of the exits, for example. If you are walking, pay attention to sounds that indicate danger, like shooting or shouting, and take evasive action.
Practicing this state of relaxed awareness will help it to become second nature. The idea is to have a window of opportunity before a dangerous situation explores for you to take action to protect yourself. Being tired, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or being distracted will reduce your overall situational awareness and should be avoided as much as possible when you are in a potentially dangerous situation.
If a violent situation develops, get as far away from it as possible, as quickly as possible. Then stay away from the area for as long as it takes to return to some form of normalcy.
Situational awareness is something that even children can learn to develop. Back to the LeBaron incident, a 13-year old boy helped six of his siblings to safety, hid them in bushes and walked 14 miles to get help from relatives. He understood that the situation was deadly. He did not freeze in panic but took steps to ensure the safety of his younger brothers and sisters, who are alive today because of his efforts.