Sarah DeVries
Father of the bride, left, and the wedding couple. Father of the bride, left, and the wedding couple.

Outrage over a narco wedding and grotesque opportunities

The fact that these families have the ability to close a church to the public is just too much

My own outrage surprised me when I read about the daughter of El Chapo getting married in the Culiacán, Sinaloa, cathedral to the nephew of another well-known criminal.

The church was closed off with yellow tape and armed guards stood at the doors. Even her brother, Ovidio Guzmán, was in attendance, as I suppose he was in the mood to celebrate after his attempted arrest led to the eruption of the entire city and his quick release.

Talk about untouchable.

Many are offended by the sight of people they deem undeserving of receiving any kind of help or favors — take the myth of the Welfare Queen as Exhibit A (and beggars on the street as Exhibit B, for that matter). I personally am offended by people who already have every privilege they could possibly want being handed even more.

I can’t help but wonder if, in the face of rare public criticism, the cartel families will take a page from U.S. Republican politicians and B-level soccer players alike, falling down and pretending to be judged and persecuted victims.

“Don’t we have a right to celebrate, too?” I imagine them saying.

On second thought, they obviously don’t give much thought to public opinion, and why should they? They’re criminals and the ruling elite of Mexico, and they know very well that no one can do anything about it (or at least hasn’t been able to yet).

Because when you can hire your own military force, the option of the official state is to either go to war (we already know how the first attempt at that one turned out) or “go along to get along,” neither of which is a fine choice. (For an excellent analysis of how these criminal organizations get and hold power, have a look at this interview with author Ioan Grillo).

There’s a lot to be outraged about these days, and normally a social event would be fairly far down on my own personal list. But the fact that these families have the ability to close a church to the public — and that the church is apparently “very close” to the families — is just too much for me.

The story of Mexico — and perhaps the world right now — is of powerful, shameless people doing pretty much whatever they want and getting away with it. WHAT is happening? Is there any hope left for us?

AMLO took power promising a new strategy against narco gangs and their recruitment schemes. Criminal gangs prey on kids with pretty much no hope of ever “making it” in life, which is easy to do when there are so few real opportunities to get ahead in an honest way.

After all, why go through all the trouble of getting an education and competing for a job that’s only going to pay you 6,000 a month working some of the highest number of hours in OECD countries anyway?

Our continuing failure to change this in any fundamental way can’t, of course, be blamed solely on the president, who inherited this issue. And I agree that improving the economy and society in general is a major key to reducing the gangs’ power. But while we work on that we need a military strategy, too.

How do narcos keep their power? Money and guns, and to a large extent by presenting a kind of grotesque opportunity and benefits to those who have little through legal means.

As Grillo says, we need three things to reduce the power of criminal gangs: drug policy reform (in the United States as well), fighting “for the hearts and minds of young people who are recruited into cartels,” and building trustworthy and effective police forces. We may not be able to do too much about U.S. drug policy, but can definitely make some dents in the other two with money, of which Mexico has plenty.

It’s time to offer real opportunities and decent compensation for honest work — including police work. Until we do, the cartels will continue along their terrible path of constant regeneration and unchallenged rule.

Sarah DeVries writes from her home in Xalapa, Veracruz.

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