We’re stepping out of our room in our Casa Particular in Cuba. Our taxi for the airport has arrived – next stop – Mexico.
As we grab our backpacks, our hostess – a lady in her 70s or 80s leans forward to embrace us and give us kisses, wishing us well on our journey. She is tearful, as though we are her children, all grown up and flying the nest. Our sweet hostess doesn’t speak a word of English but chats away quite merrily and oblivious in Spanish. Of course we don’t understand a word but she is just so lovely we can’t help but smile and nod, and just love her.
She asks us where we were going to next. “Mexico!” we say excitedly. Her expression changes completely, she backs away. Even the room seems to get darker. She starts talking very quickly in Spanish, shaking her head a lot of the time and covering her eyes. She can tell we can’t understand a word that she is saying, and decides to show us what she means. “Mexico..”she says… and then runs a long pointy finger across her neck and extends her tongue as if she were cutting her throat.
Oh great, yep, we’re gonna die – thanks. Bye now!
The 43 Missing Students
A Dutch girl who was staying in the room next to us explained what had happened recently in Mexico.
In the state of Guerrero, 43 male students went missing.
According to official reports, the students hijacked several buses and travelled to Iguala to hold a protest at a conference led by the mayor of Iguala’s wife. The mayor, José Luis Abarca Velazquez, received word of this and organised for the police to apprehend the university students, concerned that his wife María, might be humiliated.
Official investigations concluded that once the students were in custody, they were handed over to the local Guerreros Unidos (“United Warriors”) crime syndicate and killed.
43 young boys!
The mayor and his wife fled after the incident but were arrested about a month later in Mexico City. Iguala’s police chief, Felipe Flores Velasquez, remains a fugitive. The mass kidnapping of the students led to nationwide protests, particularly in the state of Guerrero and Mexico City, and international condemnation. In November the Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam gave a press conference in which he announced that several plastic bags containing human remains, possibly those of the missing students, had been found by a river in Cocula, Guerrero. At least 80 suspects have been arrested in the case, of which 44 were police officers.
Writing about this incident is deeply saddening but I feel like I should mention it, as I saw many protests during my time in Mexico – all peaceful, but completely heart wrenching. The tragedy of what had happened just seemed unbelievable, especially in Mexico, where I never once felt unsafe. I mean, I travelled across the whole of the country by bus…mostly at night time!
What is completely tragic and shocking is how the police and politicians are linked with Cartel activity and Narco Culture. I’ll say it again – “44 police officers arrested” in connection with the 43 missing students.
Narco Culture in Mexico – Drug Cartels
Narco culture in Mexico is a subculture that has grown as a result of the strong presence of the various drug cartels throughout Mexico. It is so popular it even has its own music, literature, film, religious beliefs and practices and language associated with it. Think Breaking Bad.
It’s quite prominent if you explore certain areas, especially in Mexico City. We were lucky enough to have a friend take us to a market in one of the poorer suburbs, where you could buy Narco affiliated merchandise – statues used for worship, and so on.
I saw quite a few images of a normal looking man painted onto stones or candles – apparently a Robin Hood style bandit who stole from the rich to give to the poor. He lived his life running from the authorities. The Narco have him down as the patron saint of drug traffickers, the poor, and the marginalized.
Seeing a few shrines and statues was one thing, sadly we did witness something that I strongly assume was related to Narco crime. As we were driving into Acapulco, Guerrero – the same state in which the kidnappings took place, we got stuck in traffic. Someone explained that there had been an accident up ahead and that we would have to wait. As we drove past I made the mistake of looking out of the window.
A man lay face down on the steering wheel of his car. The side window was shattered. Military police stood around the scene taking pictures. There was no ambulance. The man was dead. My thoughts turned immediately to his family. Did he have a wife? A child? I shuddered and stared ahead in silence.
After a while I said to Seamus “So how did that happen? I mean, there wasn’t any other car and his car didn’t seem to have a scratch on it, just a shattered window..and where was the ambulance?” Then it dawned on me.
Shootings happen everywhere, even in London, but with everything I’ve read about Mexico I began go wonder whether this was more of a common occurrence – and it had happened in broad daylight.
I took this picture in Mexico City before we left:
There was one picture for every missing student on each tree leading up to the castle in Chapultepec Park. I hope, for Mexico, that nothing like this ever happens again. I hope the Narco activity ends. I hope it ends soon.
Check out my highlights and travel tips for everywhere I travelled to in the world: Cuba, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, The Galapagos Islands, Argentina, LA, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia and Japan.