Thursday, July 9, 2009
"We Bring Fear"
When I was in college, more years ago than I care to remember, a fellow classmate took off, with his guitar one Spring break to go backpacking in Mexico. The following week when classes resumed, his seat was empty. I was told he had been murdered. I don’t remember the details—a robbery gone bad? Memory is a funny thing. You remember most vividly the thing that most stood out in your mind at the time--the initial impression—and at the time (and this remains my most vivid recollection, unerasable)--was one of fear. Fear of going to Mexico.
Many friends since have gone there and absolutely loved it. Relatives who’ve been there bring back photos of gorgeous scenery, colorful markets, pristine beaches, they come back with smiling faces, and they can’t wait to go back. I’ve read writings of ex-pats happily entrenched in their new chosen life there: “It’s warm, it’s beautiful, it’s cheap [to live there]”. Then I think of my murdered classmate. Hey, robberies happen. A few years ago I attended a goodbye/good luck celebration for a local teacher who would leave in a few days to Mozambique for 3 years to work with the poor. En route he stopped off in Johannesburg, where one evening, returning back to his hotel, he was accosted, struck down and robbed. He fell into a coma and died. A random act of violence. Should one refrain from going to Johannesburg because of that? Should I refrain from going to Mexico because a former classmate was murdered there decades ago, in a similar act of violence? That’s irrational. And yet—subconsciously, a whisper of that old fear remains. (To be truthful, today it has more to do with flying on an airplane to get there, than anything to do with the destination, Mexico or otherwise. )
And yet … how safe would it be, say if you went there, not as a tourist, but as a, say, photographer/journalist? What if you saw something … were an unintended witness to some disturbing event, and asked questions about it, or more specifically, wrote about it? Apparently, if this were the case, you had better think twice about it:
There is a man driving fast down a dirt road leading to the border… He is very frightened and his 15-year-old son sits beside him in silence … The father and son are fleeing to the United States. Back in their hometown of Ascensión, Chihuahua, men with assault rifles are searching for them. These men are soldiers in the Mexican Army and intend to kill the father, and perhaps the son, also. As the man drives toward the border crossing at Antelope Wells, New Mexico, he thinks the soldiers are ransacking his house. No one in the town will have the guts to speak up.
The man knows this absolutely. His name is Emilio Gutiérrez Soto and he is a reporter and that is why he is a dead man driving.
There are two Mexicos.
There is the one reported by the US press, a place where the Mexican president is fighting a valiant war on drugs, aided by the Mexican Army and the Mérida Initiative, the $1.4 billion in aid the United States has committed to the cause. This Mexico has newspapers, courts, laws, and is seen by the United States government as a sister republic.
It does not exist.
There is a second Mexico where the war is for drugs, where the police and the military fight for their share of drug profits, where the press is restrained by the murder of reporters and feasts on a steady diet of bribes, and where the line between the government and the drug world has never existed.
The reporter lives in this second Mexico.
On October 27, 2006, a videojournalist for Indiemedia.org named Brad Will was filming a street barricade in Oaxaca manned by protesting teachers and members of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), when he was shot at and killed by a policeman, former paramilitary and two municipal officials. 
Physicians for Human Rights, a 1997 co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, conducted a forensic examination and review of the ongoing investigation by Mexico's Attorney General at the request of Amnesty International and Brad Will’s family. Last spring, based on that review “and in light of allegations of corruption and mismanagement of the investigation by Oaxacan authorities,” they recommended “an exhaustive and complete federal-level inquiry into Will's death and into those of others killed and injured in political violence in Oaxaca during the past two years.” 
That was more than a year ago. Despite Physician for Human Right’s conclusive expert forensic findings, the Mexican Attorney General rejected those findings, seemingly preferring to stick to his own government's, which contain inconsistencies and despite PHR’s "offer to present their report to the appropriate authorities and testify in a formal, judicial setting," Mexico has never formally replied.  It doesn’t appear that the Mexican Attorney General is particularly interested in hearing alternate theories, however well-founded or scientifically based, to get to the truth of the matter. At least that was my opinion, as a general reader.
No question, Mexico is a dangerous place. (So’s the USA, depending on where you go and with whom you choose to hang out. So are a lot of countries.) It’s also a wonderful place. But we’re not talking about Place here. We're not even talking about people. We're talking about Fear.
I’m not normally a cusser but I curse the Fear Mongers of the world—all those who bully, intimidate, torture and terrorize their peoples, just because they can. Who stop at nothing to suppress the truth. Who manipulate and propagandize and spend enormous amounts of money to insure that only one viewpoint is allowed—theirs.
It’s like a disease, Fear. People get infected with it and it spreads. You can even inherit fear. Fear of sickness, fear of violence, fear of death. Fear of being bombed to smithereens. Fear of retaliation if you tell the truth. Fear of "Terrorists!" Fear for your sanity. Fear for your Life.
Fear of Fear.
Some have learned that it can be used to their advantage, to instill Fear. And, if you follow current events, you'll note it's everywhere nowadays. From little bullies in the kindergarten to institutional thuggery, the message is clear: Be Afraid.
Not today, thanks.
Is it safe to go to Mexico today? (Depends on where and under what circumstance.)
Should I write about what I see there? (Are you wearing a bullet-proof vest?)
On second thought ... is my intimating, by citing some disturbing, but isolated instances, that one should "Travel at your own risk" in going to Mexico somehow an example of fear mongering, on a lesser scale? The US State Department issues travel warnings for certain countries described as having "long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable." Mexico is not listed as one of them.
But elsewhere they say, "Mexican and foreign bystanders have been injured or killed in violent attacks in cities across the country, demonstrating the heightened risk of violence in public places. In recent years, dozens of U.S. citizens have been kidnapped across Mexico." .
Wait, there's more:
Some recent Mexican army and police confrontations with drug cartels have resembled small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and grenades.
Large firefights have taken place in many towns and cities across Mexico but most recently in northern Mexico, including Tijuana, Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez. During some of these incidents, U.S. citizens have been trapped and temporarily prevented from leaving the area.
Robberies, homicides, petty thefts, and carjackings have all increased over the last year across Mexico generally.
Cities have recently experienced public shootouts during daylight hours in shopping centers and other public venues. More than 1,800 people have been killed in Ciudad Juarez since January 2008.
Assailants have worn full or partial police or military uniforms and have used vehicles that resemble police vehicles.
[This travel alert, by the way, "expires on August 20, 2009", at which time, presumably, they will either remove or update it.]
Anyone been to the gang-infested 'territories' of LA lately? Do other countries issue travel warnings to their citizens thinking of traveling to Los Angeles, to avoid, for example, 18th Street? In Los Angeles County alone there are 75 Blood gangs; 200 Crip gangs; 500 Hispanic gangs (in East and South LA); and 20,000 members in the Asian gangs. That is only one county, in one state.
Violence is everywhere, some places just more prevalent than others. So ... if the U.S. State Department is telling is like it is, then--again, depending on where you go in Mexico--you might want to just be a little extra (what's the word?) .... AWARE.
I am reminded of two friends, in my former life. One was a woman named T., who was invited to go with a group of other women, by bus, for a day-trip to a large shopping outlet. It was free, and she was interested in visiting the store they'd be touring. But .... "It might rain." She didn't go.
The second was a man called "M., going into a war zone. "When your time's up, your time's up. Why spoil the day by worrying about it?", he said, grinning.
The people who go about and do the things they want and love to do, regardless of the nay-sayers. They assume everything's going to be all right, but are prepared if it isn't. Then there's, ha ha, the rest of us. "I'd love to go, but ....." (Worry Wart speaking). "Nonsense. Nothing's gonna happen. They lie." (Rosie Coloredglasses speaking).
Little anecdotes aside, suggesting that what it basically boils down to is Attitude, doesn't reflect the whole picture though. The truth is, murders happen in Mexico, gang murders occur frequently in LA, massacres here, genocides there, and perhaps even, in some secret, paneled boardroom or biolab, hints of the possibilities of mass annihilation. One cannot live one's life in fear.
I suppose the truth will out, one day. About everything. Meanwhile, across the street, at this very moment, on the upstairs balcony of the house on the corner, a woman is scrubbing her mailbox. I fully understand. We have some rather, shall we say unabashedly impertinent crows here that consider our mailboxes their personal dumping grounds, so to speak. They swoop by to desposit their little white droppings, Squawk, Squawk, hello, PLOP!--their favorite place, second only to the car's rear windshield. Where was I? Oh yes, washing ... you can actually be outside washing today, or hang your washing out today. After 5 plus days of rain, and more rain, of intermittent showers, sprinkles, downpours, clouds, grey sky, and threats of even MORE rain--the sun is finally out again!!
And why am I sitting here behind a computer screen, instead of being "out there"?
Enough. Word explosion again.
Over and out for today.