Five boys and five girls aged between 8 and 21 were brutally killed on Sunday as they travelled in the back of a pick-up truck returning to the farming community where they lived. According to the authorities the youngsters were returning from another town where they had been to request financial support to finish their studies. On the way home they were stopped at a false road block by a man wearing military fatigues. The pick-up truck was then surrounded by several armed men who opened fire with high-powered rifles and grenades, eight of those killed were below the age of 18. The authorities are still at the beginning of their investigation into the incident; however as always the finger of blame points at organised criminals involved in the illegal drugs trade. The region where the massacre took place lies in between the states of Sinaloa, Chihuahua and Nayarit and is referred to as the “golden triangle” because of its links to the drug trade.
The peasants who live in these communities frequently find themselves in the middle of the drugs war and are exploited not only by the drug cartels but by the authorities that are meant to protect them. These communities mainly consist of uneducated agricultural workers with no one to turn to . They are often recruited at gunpoint to work in fields cultivating marijuana; refusal to do so often results in death. However, compliance does not ensure survival and as different cartels struggle to control lucrative trafficking routes to the US, scores of innocent Mexicans are being gunned down for even the slightest affiliation to a rival cartel or the government. What can an eight year old boy or girl be guilty of?
The traditional drug trafficking routes are perhaps as contested as they have ever been, with at least seven criminal cartels competing to traffic cocaine, heroin, marijuana and amphetamines across the US border. This has meant that the cartels are branching out and creating new routes as the battle for profit rages. In recent weeks there have been reports of gunmen terrorising residents in small towns on the US-Mexican border, forcing residents to flee so that the cartels can work unhindered. Many local politicians in these towns have already been murdered, houses have been torched and warning notes have allegedly been left in town squares warning residents to leave or be shot. This latest massacre is proof that these threats are not to be taken lightly and that no one is too young or innocent to receive a bullet in the name of the drugs war.
What astounds Mexican citizens is the inability of the government to stop these summary executions. The majority happen in regions where military presence is high although cartel gunmen seem to operate without reserve. What can be done to solve this tragic situation? Last week the Mexican president stated in a meeting with US military advisors that he was “open” to the idea of a US military intervention in Mexico. The Mexican military is already receiving large amounts of funds for training and equipment from the US government to turn the tide in the war on drugs. However the effectiveness of this policy is debatable as many founders of “Los Zetas” – one of Mexico’s largest drug trafficking cartels known for decapitating their rivals – also received US military training. Let us also not forget that similar violence against the civilian population in Latin America was carried out by US supported governments and paramilitary forces in order to stop the spread of communism during the Cold War.
After four years of President Calderon’s escalated war on drugs, new levels of brutality continue to shock the Mexican population. On Sunday, it was the massacre of ten youngsters in Durango, but noone is in any doubt that there will be many more deaths before this war is over.