Most everyone’s first reaction when they learn you live in Mexico is “do you feel safe?” There is simply no debating the fact of the amount of violence generated by the drug cartels in Mexico. The vast majority of the violence is directed by cartels against other cartels, with the second highest amount between the government police/security officers and the cartels. There are still numbers of innocent civilians who either get caught in the crossfire or are victims of violent criminal attacks.
Media north of the border play up the stories for several reasons. First, there is no local element to offend: that is, cover violence in Chicago and some Chicagoans will take offense; cover violence in Mexico and who is going to get upset? Second, the more theatrical violence (e.g., decapitations) makes better copy. Third, it reinforces an existing stereotype, namely, “look at those crazy, violent people south of the border!” Truth be told if there was no violence, there would be no story.
So what brings this topic up for me today? Here’s a good example of how violence really plays out within the expat community.
There was a large shoot-out this past Thursday just down the road near a dusty little village called el Molino. About 30 kilometers (~20 miles) from where we live, regional police went looking for an officer who was reported missing. They received gunfire from a van and several vehicles on a dirt road, and returned fire, killing five. Some assailants escaped on a motorcycle, leading to additional police activity in the area.
Our experience? We were driving through our village of Ajijic in the noontime traffic when a fleet of police trucks came barreling through the small carretera. Later we could hear some more police sirens heading in the same direction, as our house is just a few blocks off the main drag.
We checked the local online boards, where several posters were asking “what was going on?” and others were opining about “bad things west of town.” More news from Twitter sources and local media indicated some of the basic facts I related above, although it sounded more like police shot bystanders in those accounts.
By Friday morning, there were several accurate accounts, including coverage in the local english-language newspaper, the Guadalajara Reporter. Still no mention of whether the original “missing officer” was found, hurt or unharmed, or whether that part of the story was even correct.
So we saw some police, we heard even more, and we read some online concerns. Yes, there was a shooting down the road. It’s even a road we use when going to the local Costco, although the gun-fight happened off a side dirt road. I recall living in the DC suburbs, driving around with my wife and saying “hey, isn’t this where that shooting/stabbing/mugging happened?” In that respect, it is not very different.
Could we have been involved in the violence? Yes, if we had wandered off on a dirt road in a notoriously lawless area. Does the violence sometimes find its way into more populated, otherwise safe areas? You betcha. There is a huge difference between knowing the odds and taking precautions on one hand, and living in fear on the other. That applies to Mexico, New Mexico, and anywhere else.