Yesterday was a National Holiday here in Mexico. It honored the Mexican War for Independence of 1910. It’s one of six holidays on which all government offices, schools, and many businesses close. The people step away from their routines to remember and proudly honor their heritage and the sacrifice of those who lost their lives for a greater cause.
Traci and I strolled to the Jardin here in San Miguel de Allende yesterday and witnessed a moving remembrance ceremony, but it was not for the war 104 years ago. It was for the 43 students missing (and assumed dead) from the city of Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico. The demonstration was filled with signs and speeches and crowds chanting. While there was a solemn, calm resolve on the surface — raw emotions of anger, sadness, frustration and idealistic determination were also evident.
By now most in the States probably have heard (at least) the shorthand version of the tragic event: In September, a group of 43 students from a school that trains kids from poor and rural communities to be teachers had been on the road. They were protesting education reforms when they stopped in Iguala to demonstrate. It is known that local police fired on them and six were mortally wounded. The rest have disappeared. There’s evidence that the mayor and his wife ordered an attack on the students. There’s also evidence (and reportedly admissions) that the mayor and the local police had ties with the local drug cartel and that cartel was enlisted in the “disappearance” of the students and the disposal of the “evidence.” The details emerging are of a horrific level of senseless violence and cruelty.
The barbarism is hard to imagine. The sheer number of victims is shocking. It’s also the kind of story that supports the U.S. media’s sensationalist, broad-brush portrayal of Mexico. It fosters the misconception that this kind of action is possible (or even likely) in every town and on every street corner south of the border. It engenders fear, pity, revulsion, condescension, a sense of “that wouldn’t happen here” superiority……..or just “that’s their problem” apathy.
Without a doubt, politicians and cartels are at least in cahoots (if not totally intertwined) in some places. This corruption is a Mexico problem and the solution will need to come from within. In the meantime, maybe the reaction that should be triggered north of the border is one of empathy and contrition, and a willingness to own up to some complicity……a realization that the U.S. has its own house cleaning to do. For starters, let’s admit that the enormous North American demand for illegal drugs plays a huge role in fueling the activities, including filling the coffers and the armories, of the cartels.
Ending the ongoing and pointless “war on drugs” by federally decriminalizing, legalizing, and controlling recreational drugs would strip the cartels of much of their power and influence. It would also mean hundreds of thousands fewer U.S. citizens imprisoned for non-violent drug crimes in which the only victim is that recreational user that is incarcerated.
So when you watch the news, if your reaction is along the lines of “what’s wrong with those people?”…consider the role that U.S policies and consumption play. Then, as you reflect on American values, consider our own plentiful examples of senseless violence: Kent State, Oklahoma City OK, Virginia Tech, Philadelphia MS, and Sandy Hook NJ, among others.
Traci and I watched a few speeches yesterday. In the most moving of them, the main speaker slowly stated the names of each of the missing 43 to the crowd in the Jardin. After each name the throng of protesters shouted out in unison a corresponding number: “UNO” after the first. “DOS” after the second…and so on…until all 43 were named and counted. The protesters were angry but focused, and were calling for change. They want their countrymen to stop killing each other. Shouldn’t we all?