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Each mans death diminishes me (not really)

10 February 2009

More than 200 U.S. citizens have been slain in Mexico’s escalating wave of violence since 2004 — an average of nearly one killing a week, according to a Houston Chronicle investigation into the deaths.

(Lise Olsen, Houston Chronicle, 8 February 2009 )

It’s a little less than one a week, actually, and I’ll grant that sounds somewhat alarming, but…

Look at the murders Ms. Olsen focuses on…  the alarm bells quiet down, and the bullshit detector lights up.

Of course, Olsen isn’t going to look at the unsympathetic victims — gangsters, gunrunners and narcos from north of the border — but she does mix in those who are tangentially victims of the so-called “drug war” (like the El Paso nurse killed during a gangland hit on a gangland funeral) with totally unrelated murders — the Houston man travelling with a 16 year old runaway to the back of the back Guerrero where his family had a long-standing (as in centuries) feud with another local clan.  And — the guy she describes as an “ex-marine” (sic… as any Marine will tell you, the only ex-Marine was Lee Harvey Oswald) — who… by the way… was in his 80s, camping out in an isolated spot in the Baja and apparently knew his assailants.

The kid from Kansas, beaten up in a Matamoros disco, sounds like a genuine murder, but after the wild spin on the Toronto kid killed after being ejected from an Acapulco nightclub, color me skeptical.  Not that the kid didn’t die, and not that tourists don’t sometimes put themselves into really stupid and dangerous situations, but there may be a lot more to the story than we’re told.

And — buried way down towards the end of the article — is the mention that a few of the murder victims’ killers were from the United States.

And, although nothing in her article mentions any murders in the state of Tlaxcala, for some reason Olsen includes the new to me information that the “mostly rural state described in the Mexican press as a base for some of Mexico’s notorious human trafficking gangs, the clearance rate [for murder investigations] was just 8 percent.”   I have to say I haven’t heard of these “notorious” gangs in Tlaxcala, but then I don’t read everything, and some paper may have indeed have referred to some Tlaxcalan riff-raff with such wording (or “notorio”… which just means “notable”).     Tlaxcala, like most rural states, it is experiencing a wave of emigration, but that has nothing to do with dead gringos.  I’m not sure what the low clearance rate has to do with the story, either.

Olsen DOES, to her credit, quote a Mexican Deputy, Juan Francisco Rivera Bedoya of Nuevo Leon, who says he “believes most American victims get killed after crossing the border to participate in illegal activities or venturing into unsafe areas. ”

However, in talking about the 75 or so “missing” Americans (mostly from Texas and California), there is no indication on how many of these were involved in illegal activities, now many went to Mexico to disappear (I’m surprised the number of officially missing is so low… there are lots of people who come here to drink themselves to death or escape their families… but their families may just not bother reporting those disappearances) or those — who like Ambrose Bierce, who disappeared just before the Battle of Ojinaga in 1911 — went to Mexico to die. Before leaving as a Hearst correspondent to cover Pancho Villa’s northern campaign, Bierce sent a letter to his sister reading,  “To die in Mexico — that is euthanasia.”   He was in his seventies (elderly for his time), asthmatic, had a heart condition,  given to bouts of depression and had written throughout his career on suicide as a ethically positive act.   Thrill seekers and danger junkies– crazies, alchoholics and the suicidal — are a reality in any ex-pat community.

I don’t think Lise Olsen had a “hidden agenda” in this article, but I was extremely bothered by her mention of Colombia.

U.S. authorities who monitor border crime argue they are legally limited in helping families of Americans killed or kidnapped in Mexico, where they can investigate by invitation only.

Colombian officials, with decades of experience fighting drug-induced violence, have signed international treaties to tap U.S. crime-fighting databases used to track bullets, guns, fingerprints and DNA of criminals.

Mexico is not Colombia, where there had been a civil war since the 1950s, nor is it a “client state” with an government whose legitimacy depends on U.S. arms and aid for its survival.  Nor, thankfully, is Mexico anywhere as bad off as Colombia, where the President labels legitimate dissent and critical news coverage of state-sanctioned violence as “terrorism”.

The Calderon Administration may be of dubious legitimacy, but Mexico has no reason to cooperate, given that fifty homicides a year among the 12 to 15 million U.S. visitors a year somewhat a lower priority than, say, increased efficiency in state run hospitals, or better maternal and infant care, or extending judicial reforms throughout the country, so those rare murder cases can be brought to trial.

Pos Data: At the risk of sounding like a “supercilious mexicophile” – as Catamaco News referred to me — I would never have commented on the Houston Chronicle article with a headline like “24 American drug dealers killed in Mexico.” Twenty-four dead drug dealers sounds like a bad weekend in Houston, and I don’t shed too many tears for dead narcos.   More importantly, I would never be so gauche as to refer to the citizens of a single one of our hemispheric neighbors by the generic term “American”… which is viewed by myself (in my supercilious way), and by  my many Mexican, Peruvian, Brazilian, Colombian, Canadian, Panamanian and other (including Falklander) readers, as not only imprecise, but “maleducado”.  

2 Comments leave one →
  1. otto permalink
    10 February 2009 9:16 am

    “…More importantly, I would never be so gauche as to refer to the citizens of a single one of our hemispheric neighbors by the generic term “American”… which is viewed by myself (in my supercilious way), and by my many Mexican, Peruvian, Brazilian, Colombian, Canadian, Panamanian and other (including Falklander) readers, as not only imprecise, but “maleducado”. …”



  1. Safety in Mexico, continued « Heather in Paradise

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