Michoacan has been horribly affected by all this — with some areas controlled by squads of roving criminal bands against which the local police are powerless. In one town I visited often, residents tell me a cell from one of the groups disputing control in the state with what amounts to a roadblock at the entrance to town inquiring who is coming through and what their business is.
Michoacan is a great state. I spent dozens of trips wandering through the state, looking for stories about, in those years, mostly immigrants, as so many Michoacanos have migrated to the US.
Those kinds of trips are now impossible due to the spread of the violence.
The idea of combining and coordinating police forces has some appeal — instead of the use of the military, as ex-president Felipe Calderon resorted to. Soldiers aren’t trained or prepared for police work, after all.
Problem is, that many police forces aren’t either. I’m wondering whether local police forces can be effectively used at all. Or state forces, for that matter. They are not just corrupt in many cases. They are poorly funded, equipped, trained, educated.
This is why, after all, Calderon resorted to the military — something for which he was widely criticized. He had no other weapon at his disposal but soldiers.
I’m reminded of a conversation I had recently with a man in Los Angeles who is from a rancho near Apatzingan. He told me that he returned home and on two corners he saw headless bodies. Whenever a police issue arose, officers sent citizens to the cartel gunmen to get them resolved, as they were the real power.
It’s possible when this new strategy plays itself out, we all may understand better why Calderon acted in the way that he did.
It’s interesting that the militia also is part of the usos y costumbres system under which many Mexican Indian villages are governed — unpaid municipal labor by each member of the community, including policing.
The questions are brought on by the rape of six Spanish tourists last week, and by a constant narcoviolence going back to the real beginnings of Mexico’s cartel war — that being roughly 2004-05, when heads were placed on stakes and that kind of thing.
The state of Guerrero has been infamous within Mexico for its wanton violence, brought on by its intense heat, poverty and caciquismo – a term referring to the political and economic control by certain families and individuals.
Here’s what Jose Carreno Figueras, from the Tec de Monterrey, had to say:
“You have to remember that Guerrero was always a problem state, and that except for a few enclaves — like Acapulco, Taxco and Zihuatanejo –where there were appearances of authority, it was never far from being ungovernable. Political bosses, criminality, banditry, injustice have always been part of the perennial panorama of Guerrero.”
You just never could see much of it from an Acapulco hotel room — until recently, that is.
For those who read Spanish, Jose Antonio Alvarez Lima had the following remembrance of Acapulco in the 1960s’s glory days, and its fall in the 1970s — calling the city “a mirror of our own failure”:
“Durante los sesentas, disfrute Acapulco y mi primera juventud. Era el paraiso. Quizá uno de los sitios más bellos del mundo, junto con Río. En los setentas, el populismo echeverrista llenó los cerros de invasores sin servicios y se inició el deterioro desastroso que hoy conocemos. Acapulco es el espejo de nuestro fracaso. De la corrupción generalizada, la demagogia, la codicia y la indiferencia.
“El mismo futuro que espera para Cancún y las Rivieras Maya y Nayarita. Nunca tan pocos y tan rápido han hecho tanto daño a la naturaleza.”
The family members of Unique Russell told me about this family tradition that dates to the 1960s of getting together at these two duplexes on 97th Street for a day-long July 4th, including barbecue and firecrackers in the street.
This pair of beige duplexes acted as a center for a family that included many dozens of people and a long list of last names. In the house lives `Granny Cherry,’ now blind and well on in years, great-grandmother to the girl who was killed.
Pictured are two of the girl’s aunts, Emily Sharp-Williams and Mary Dill.