Escaping The Cartels: SMU Students Flee From Violence in Mexico

November 4, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Natalie Blankenship
nblankensh@smu.edu

Sitting outside Fondren Library at Southern Methodist University, junior Luis Webb appears to be just like any other student.

He is a member of a social fraternity on campus, studies for classes and enjoys making new friends. He is majoring in business management and lives not too far from campus. But Webb, a native of Torreón, Mexico, is here like a growing number of SMU students in part, to escape the drug cartel violence at home.

“We can’t go out, we can’t leave,” Webb said. “Most of my friends are going abroad and leaving to study.”

A friend of his, junior Juan Pablo Muro, said there are several people that have come to SMU this year from Mexico, and several more are planning to come next year. The office of international student and scholar services was unable to be reached to confirm the exact numbers.

Another friend from Monterrey, Mexico greets Webb with a handshake that only two men of a different sort of fraternity would know. Mexicans here for similar reasons. The Mexican students are a close-knit community on campus, and they come together to support each other. When he’s hanging out with his roommate from Juarez, Mexico and his other friends from Mexico, they agree that this is the place to be for opportunity.

Beginning in 2008, an influx of Mexicans began to head towards the United States to flee the violence brought on by the drug war, Webb said. The drug war has been going on since 2006, but it has only gotten worse and is at its peak. The drug cartels will even negotiate with the Mexican government and the president to decide which parts of the country each cartel will dominate.

“It’s like Afghanistan. You see soldiers, police, all the guys with the machine guns just patrolling the city,” Webb said. “Sometimes you will hear guns shooting and grenades.”

Rick Pauza, a public affairs officer for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Laredo, Texas couldn’t say much about the statistics of how many Mexicans were fleeing to the U.S., or for what reasons. One thing he did know was that there has been a lot of cross-border traffic.

As far as Webb’s hometown, Torreón, the “area” hadn’t been claimed by the drug cartels until a few years ago. Webb says it is now one of the most dangerous city in Mexico. The cartels are basically attempting to “win” the city because, “it’s the center of all distribution of the drug,” he said.

Webb has also witnessed narcomantas, or threatening posters from the cartels. They also communicate through songs called narcocorridos and even communicate to the people through videos they post on YouTube. On top of this, there is a blog that Mexican citizens log on to post photos, text and videos of violence that has occurred and where to avoid it.

“They show all the things they don’t show on TV,” Webb said. “Images of people who have been killed, things like that.”

And there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. People are living in frustration and fear, with no dreams and no future because they have been told that it will get better but it keeps getting worse. People are afraid to go out after dark and aren’t able to trust anyone, Webb said.

“It’s sad because all of the investment and people who can transform Mexico in some way are just running,” Webb said.

The violence has affected everyone and has really created a new lifestyle for the college-aged kids in cities like Torreón and other dangerous cities like Monterrey and border towns. Webb’s friend Muro, from Matamoros, Mexico, said the streets are always empty at night and young people can’t go out anymore.

“[They] have to cross the border to go out [at night] in Brownsville, Texas,” Muro said.

But because Matamoros is on the border of Texas and Mexico, the citizens have actually gotten used to the violence. The first thing you see when you enter the city is armed soldiers driving around in Hummers with machine guns, he said.

“It’s gotten to the point where the people that live there think it’s normal,” Muro said. “You hear [the news] and you’re just like, well, it happened again.”

Because of the violence and attacks that occur daily, some people are used to it, but others appear to be a lot more nervous in day-to-day interactions, Webb said.

“If you hug [them] or if you drive by them, you will feel these peoples’ nerves, and feel their fear that someone is trying to get them,” he said.

Feeling much safer at SMU, Webb says he tries to keep in touch with his friends from back home through Skype and Facebook, and talks to his parents once a week. What he misses most is the mole, claiming Tex-Mex shares hardly anything in common with actual Mexican food, other than the name.

Whether Webb and his Mexican friends are hanging out at Umphrey Lee, the Dedman Center, or out at a restaurant or bar off campus, they usually try to avoid talking about what is happening back home because they are tired of hearing about all of the tragedy, Webb said.

The comfort is that there are other people in the same situation at SMU and they can come together to talk about what’s happening in Mexico, or maybe just hang out together and have a good time.

“When we do [talk about the violence back home], we always say that we are lucky to be here,” Webb said.

The friends often discuss how the drug war can be fixed. Webb said he thinks the first step is getting people to stop doing drugs, which will never happen. Next, the Mexican government needs to stop negotiating with the cartels. Finally, another solution could be legalizing some drugs like marijuana, but there are many advantages and disadvantages that come with that, he said.

But he agrees that being in a safe haven like SMU provides a blanket of comfort for students who are escaping violence from their hometowns.

“Here it’s nice,” Webb said. “You can walk outside and I don’t feel like I have to look around to see if someone is going to kidnap me or shoot me or something.”

Global News Blog: In Mexico, Covering the News is Dangerous Business

May 9, 2009 by · Comments Off 

Posted by Madison Wertz

One of the reasons I feel safe in this country is that I know our media is at least making an effort to keep the public aware of what is going on; unfortunately this is not the case with the current situation that is going on in Mexico right now.

CNN is reporting that they sent a team of reporters into Camargo, Mexico, which is in the heart of the drug war. Reporters are claiming that any kind of news investigation is extremely dangerous and getting inside information about the drug war is incredibly challenging.

The CNN article could only find first person interviews from those somewhere in the grey area; the information they gathered illustrates that tensions have heightened in Mexico. The articles key interviewer revealed that in the most intense areas of the drug war the Zeta, the local name for the drug lords, are the ones running the show.

The key informant states he himself had been recruited by the Zeta two years ago and that the Zeta gave him three options: to pay them $100,000, to work for them or to die. He worked for the Zeta for two years until his so called “debt” was repaid. According to the informant, if you are going to do any kind of work in the red hot zones of the drug war it is going to be for the Zeta, unless you would like to be killed.

Looks like the media, particularly Mexican media, has their hands full. The price of delivering the truth to the public or death is a high one and from what it sounds like, I would imagine that the Zeta most likely have people in the Mexican media as well. I am not sure what the immediate response should be from the Mexican government but I would think that some kind of protection should be set in place for their top news stations. Then again who do you know you can trust and how can you recruit them?

The hard thing about all of this that Mexico officials are already having enough trouble recruiting people into taking government positions, those offered the opportunity fearing they are going to be killed. I guess this is just another hard blow for Mexico.

For more information click here