Look, I’m no purist.
I believe in redemption. I believe that most “bad” people can get mostly better, become model citizens even. As a rule, I give everyone the benefit of the doubt until they have absolutely, unequivocally, proven me foolish, which is something that doesn’t happen nearly as often as the pessimists among you might suppose.
But what the hell is going on here? Seeing members of drug cartels openly carrying their illegal weapons as they hand out charity to those in need is just too much to handle. It produces in me a visceral no before my brain has even had a chance to fully reason over it.
Is this where we are now, really? The Mexican government machine is so weak that absolutely nothing can be done about murderous criminals becoming an actual shadow state? Please tell me that narco gangs haven’t been allowed to take over the nation’s role in supporting poor citizens through these difficult times. It feels like a nightmare.
I have a feeling the government would have said, “No, no, thank you, absolutely not!” if they’d been asked their opinion on the matter, but they didn’t get asked about their opinion, as far as I can tell. This, of course, is another problem. If criminal gangs are being charitable with impunity, there’s not much hope of controlling any other aspect of their efforts.
My biggest fear here is that the “What’s the harm? They’re doing good work!” narrative will take over among enough people that it makes it seem like a valid side to take, which it is not.
It feels like a sexually abusive parent trying to insist over and over that when he’s not terrorizing his child, he’s giving it a loving and caring home. It’s just too much, and it fills me with a kind of dread that I’m (thank heaven) not very familiar with.
To be clear, they are not doing “good work.” They are doing manipulative work aimed at getting ordinary and often desperate citizens on their side.
Their actions accomplish several things: first, it gives them legitimacy and respect. If push comes to shove and there’s an attempt to run them out of town, who will come to their defense and insist that their crimes are “no big deal” compared to all the good they’ve done? You guessed it.
What especially worries me is that this isn’t the first time that something like this has happened. Remember that time when the Cartel del Noreste (CDC) played Santa Claus, handing out gifts to children? Then there was the Children’s Day celebration put on by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG). Or how about the time that the CJNG handed out bags of supplies to stricken residents after Tropical Storm Priscilla?
This is diabolically successful way for them to influence the hearts and minds of young people, who will remember them as yes, perhaps a bit scary, but mostly as men who did the right thing when it was time to do the right thing.
And that’s what I keep coming back to: what on earth must children think? I can’t even imagine the collective sociological trauma and confusion that will come from children growing up and being shown more kindness from their society-wide abusers than their country.
What’s the particular power these groups hold over the government? I’m sure in some part it’s simply their weapons. But to what extent is it a real respect? After all, a very large percentage of police officers are not even certified to be police officers in the first place. I often wonder what kind of training they get for dealing with those in drug cartels. Perhaps none, and I am being unfair.
Might any of the gang members truly be helping from the heart? Sure, it’s possible. Humans hold all kinds of conflicting dualities inside of them, and those working in the criminal organizations are, indeed, human.
But for goodness’ sake, Mexico, beat them to the do-gooding! AMLO: your whole schtick has been to transform society by ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to develop their full potential and the ability to live a dignified life, no matter how “low-skill” one’s job might be.
You’ve been trying hard to accomplish that while at the same time embracing a non-violent approach to gang violence, and this is what we get: government officials and police twiddling their thumbs and whistling while avoiding contact with criminals with automatic weapons getting to show off how good and vital they are to the community. Few things both scandalize and outrage me, but this scandalizes and outrages me.
To the Mexican government: get out there and do something about this! You’re a half a thread from losing complete control of this country. Please.
Sarah DeVries writes from her home in Xalapa, Veracruz.