Last weekend, seven dead men were found slumped in white plastic chairs in a central plaza in Uruapan, Mexico, a city that has seen an increase in drug violence in recent years. The local media has reported that messages were left at the scene, written on poster board and pinned to some of the victim’s bodies with ice picks. The Mexican state-run news agency Notimex has asserted that it is believed that organized crime groups are to blame. Moreover, these seven deaths were part of just 30 violent deaths across Mexico this past weekend.
"WARNING! This is what will happen to all car thieves, burglars, and muggers, as well as kidnappers, rapists and extortionists," the signs read.
Uruapan has been tapped by the government for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto's program, which seeks to "not only combat the effects of violence, but also its structural causes" by focusing on the social and economic risk factors that play into drug violence and cartel recruitment. The goriness of the crime has shed light on this new strategy, showing that the president will have to take a more aggressive approach if he wishes to curtail drug violence.
Some groups like the International Crisis Group have praised Nieto’s strategy, asserting that by going to the source of the drug violence problem (a lack of opportunity due to low socioeconomic status) this approach will be a successful model for other countries to follow.
However, given the violence that continues to afflict cities like Uruapan, it’s become clear that this strategy needs to be given a second look.
While Nieto astutely notes that drug violence is deeply rooted in social and economic causes, and that without solving these problems drug violence will never go away, he can’t ignore the need for more immediate action to curtail the violence that is happening now.
Fixing the social and economic problems that cause drug violence is a long-term solution, one that some Mexicans aren't willing to wait for. If Mexico does not find a way to alleviate the drug violence in a more short-term way, they may have to fight another battle: against rising self-defense groups that have started forming in some areas where government troops haven’t been able to stop cartel violence.
Sergio Mejia, the head of an association of restaurant and business owners, told CNN that the government is too timid and too slow, and that "If there is no immediate response, it leaves us no choice but to join the fight."
Even a U.S. State Department report to Congress noted that, while Nieto’s efforts to curb drug violence have been largely successful, this success has resulted in "smaller, fractured organizations that have violently attempted to consolidate their power," resorting to kidnapping, extortion and human trafficking.
Nieto should continue with his program to attack the cause of cartel violence at its socioeconomic source. However, he should also work to find short-term protection of civilians against drug violence in order to mitigate the occurrence of these grisly crimes as the nation moves forward. While this is much easier said than done, it is clear that solely taking a long-term approach to stopping drug violence is not what Mexico needs.
Read more (WARNING: extremely graphic images) past the jump at the Borderland Beat.)