La vida no vale nada (Life is worthless)

Reporting from Mexico: Roberto Carlos Gutiérrez Martínez

First I must say that it a pleasure to be part of this project, and to be able to present a local perspective from Mexico and Latin America on issues with global reach and significance. That said, I must confess that this first note was not an easy endeavor. Over the past few days I have consulted with friends and my staff on the various topics of importance to discuss; the suggested issues ranged from the drug war in Mexico, usually represented in the foreign media by pictures of dead bodies hanging from bridges, to economics and the rising price of eggs in the country, a clear sign of the prevalence of monopolies and inefficient public policies, to the coming political change in the country, among others. I will be discussing many of these in upcoming columns.

My topic today will focus on the drug war – not in the traditional sense however, but through the far reaching implications it has had on the country. A few days ago a university professor who was driving on a main avenue in the city of Leon, Guanajuato was shot and killed over what seemed to be a case of road rage. According to the transit police description of the incident, the two cars involved crossed each others’ paths, and then proceeded to speed up to block the other’s way. The driver of one car managed to block the path of the other, got out of his car, and shot the other driver twice in broad daylight. The victim was the professor.

Road Rage and Violence in Mexico

This prompted me to reflect past the individual case of the professor, to what is happening in our society which allows such a horrific event to happen…

It is not exclusive of “violent Mexico” of course; similar events happened recently in a Colorado movie theater and last year in a summer camp in Norway. However, the key difference is that the lack of efficiency in the Mexican legal system makes it very likely for criminals to go unpunished. It is in many ways “the perfect storm”.

Among the various elements that favor this kind of behavior and violence is a delayed response from the authorities, usually overwhelmed and with limited resources – in most cases criminals are not caught during the first 48 hours of a crime. Sadly, too often those that are caught are not the real criminals but innocent people, usually poor, who can´t afford to bribe the officers. They end up in the hands of an even slower and complicated judicial system. Unlike the US justice system, in Mexico you have to prove your innocence to be set free, as shown by the excellent documentary “Presumed Guilty” (http://www.presuntoculpable.org/en/index.aspx) (it is an unsettling but stark look at the state of justice in Mexico, for those who can muster the courage to watch it).

Besides the likeliness of going unpunished (or having the blame shifted to others), we have another serious problem, which is the value we are giving to human life. Life is worth so little now that people feel free to shoot someone over a mundane driving dispute.  In a proud country where communal bonds, family, and friendship have been historically the ties that kept our country strong, through multiple wars or occupations, it seems to have all been forgotten in the throes of unrestricted violence and impunity. Just one decade ago it seemed that Mexico had escaped the pandemic of drug fueled violence that had griped so many countries across Latin America.  Now, unfortunately, my beloved country finds itself in the eye of the storm.

There is a famous Mexican song that refers to this region of the country, and says:

Life is worthless

life is worthless

always starts crying

and thus ends crying

that’s why in this world

life is worthless

 

Beautiful Leon Guanajuato

With your fair gambling

Life can be bet there

And the winner be respected

Back in my Leon Guanajuato

life is worthless

In this case the song became true, life became worthless in this Leon, Guanajuato, as in many other parts of the country. The main reasons are impunity and lack of respect for human life.

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