COLIMA, Mexico — After her son Alfredo was killed last year at his auto parts shop, Carmen Plascencia de Carrillo noticed that two half sisters skipped the wake and funeral.
“Maybe your son was involved in other things,” Mrs. Carrillo recalled them explaining, to her fury.
A brother of the victim, Rafael Carrillo, found neighbors keeping their distance from him. He was also told not to come to a cousin’s wedding for fear he might pose a risk to other guests. A sister’s food stand experienced a decline in customers.
From what the reporter was able to dig up, Alfredo de Carrillo seemed to be the victim of an extortion racket—some Mexican officials didn't answer the reporter's calls and others were typically vague—but the community is now afraid to get anywhere near his family.
The article is a good step in documenting some of the underreported social damage of the drug war.
But it misses one important point: the drug war isn't about an "underworld" and an "overworld." The drug war in Mexico is part of the world, a single economy that is integrated between government and narcos, and has been growing in that direction since the early 1900s. (For some evidence on this, see here, here [they arrested the mayor, the police chief, a city trustee and nine others, all of whom pleaded guilty], here, here, here, here, and pretty much anywhere else you care to look.)
The laws might look clear, but their enforcement is fuzzy, and not everyone is treated equally—and they haven't been since the landed gentry (politically influential people growing cannabis and opium poppies) and a few friends in the military started to coalesce into drug-trafficking organizations shortly after the Harrison Narcotics Act passed in 1914. And here we are today.
It's worth remembering this when you read drug-war stories that pretend there's still a clear line between the cops and the robbers, the political chiefs and the narco chiefs. "Drug war" itself may now be a misnomer. It's not the Allies vs. the Axis powers, the good guys vs. the bad guys—it's just one bloody economy where business disputes are settled with chainsaws instead of lawsuits.
It's also worth noting that an entire generation of children is currently growing up who have learned the ethics of drug war—corrupt cops and elected officials, unchecked assassins, rampant suspicion among communities, the routine murder of innocents, the assumption that victims are implicated by their own victimization—as their internal blueprint for the social contract.
And the next stop on this train? Africa. Hopefully, the lessons we've learned the hard way in the Americas will not go unheeded across the Atlantic.