The violence was once terrifying, she said, when grenades exploded near her church in broad daylight about five years ago. Then, children in the city were kidnapped, disappearing without a trace. Then the bodies of those executed were dumped in the streets.
And then it happened one day last month where gunmen broke into her house, dragged her 15-year-old son and two of his friends and shot them dead, leaving Guadalupe – who didn’t want her full name to be. disclosed. , because he is afraid of men – too terrified to leave the house. “I don’t want the night to come,” she said, crying. “To live in fear is not to live.”
For most of the population of Fresnillo, a mining town in central Mexico, a spooky existence is the only one they know: 96% of residents say they feel insecure, the highest percentage of any Mexican city, according to a recent survey from the statistics agency.
The economy may be booming, presidents and parties and their promises come and go, but for the 140,000 residents of this city, as in many across the country, there is a growing sense that it doesn’t matter. changes, violence remains.
Since the Mexican government began the war on the drug cartels almost 15 years ago, murder statistics have increased inexorably.
In 2018, during his presidential candidacy, Andrés Manuel López Obrador presented a grand vision of the remake of Mexico – and a radically new way to fight violence. He said he would stop the failed tactics of his predecessors. Instead of arresting and killing drug traffickers, as previous leaders did, he would focus on the causes of the violence. “Hugs and not balls,” he said. He wins the election hands down.
But three years after the landslide victory, and with his Morena party in charge of Congress, the drums of death continue to drum, suggesting that López Obrador’s approach has failed. This creates crippling hopelessness in many people.
“We are living in hell,” said Victor Piña, who ran for mayor of Fresnillo in the June election and saw an aide shoot alongside him at a pre-campaign event.
Zacatecas state, where Fresnillo is located, has the highest murder rate in the country, with 122 dead in June, according to the Mexican government. Lately it has become a national horror show, with corpses hanging from bridges, in plastic bags, or tied to crosses.
Across Mexico, murders have declined by less than 1% since López Obrador took power, according to the country’s statistics office. It was enough for the president to say, in a speech last month, that there had been an improvement in a problem his administration had inherited. “There is peace and calm,” he said in June.
Many in Fresnillo disagree.
“Hugs and not balls don’t work,” said Javier Torres Rodríguez, whose brother was shot in 2018. “We lose the ability to shock each other.”
Among other strategies, López Obrador has focused on attacking what he sees as the root causes of violence, funding social programs to improve education and employment for young people. His government has also investigated who funds organized crime. In October, authorities said they had frozen 1,352 bank accounts linked to 14 criminal groups, including powerful drug cartels.
But the series of agendas and lawsuits have not converged on clear public policy, critics say. There is “an unstoppable situation of violence and a tragic deterioration of public safety in Mexico,” said Angelica Duran-Martinez, associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. “There is no clear security policy.”
López Obrador also doubled his support for the armed forces, embracing the militarization that had also marked previous governments. A central pillar of its approach to tackling crime has been the creation of the National Guard, a 100,000-member federal security force, deployed in some 180 barracks across the country. Last week, López Obrador announced that the Guard will receive an additional $ 2.5 billion.
In Fresnillo, the National Guard has not done enough, according to Mayor Saúl Monreal, a member of the Morena presidential party. “They are here, they are present, they are on patrol, but what we really need now is to fight organized crime,” he said.
He was re-elected in the midterm elections in June. It is one of the most violent trials on record in Mexico, with at least 102 people killed during the campaign, another sign of the country’s security violations.
The Monreal family is powerful in politics. His brother David is governor-elect of Zacatecas. Another brother, Ricardo, is the leader of the Morena party in the Senate and has said he intends to run for president in 2024. But even the political importance of the family has failed to save the city or state.
Bordering eight other states, Zacatecas has long been vital to the drug trade, the crossroads between the Pacific, where narcotics and drug-making ingredients are landed, and the northern states bordering the United States. Fresnillo, which is central to important roads and highways, is strategically vital.
For most of its recent history, villagers say they have been left alone. This started to change around 2007 and 2008, when the government’s attack on the cartels caused them to divide, evolve and spread. In recent years, the region has been embroiled in a battle between two of the country’s most powerful criminal groups: the Sinaloa cartels and the Nova Geração de Jalisco.
Caught in the midst of the struggle are locals like Guadalupe. She remembers that as a little girl she would sit on the sidewalk with neighbors until midnight. Now the city is desolate after dark.
Guadalupe doesn’t let her children play in the streets unsupervised, but even that hasn’t stopped the violence from tearing her family apart. The night her son was killed in mid-July, four gunmen broke into her house, dragging her son Henry and two friends who had stayed there to sleep. There was a shooting and then the attackers left. It was Guadalupe who found the bodies of the teenagers.
Now she and her family live in terror. Too afraid to stay in this house, they moved to Guadalupe’s parents in another neighborhood. But the fear remains. Her 10-year-old daughter can barely sleep, she says, and Guadalupe still dreams of her son’s death. The motive and identity of the killers remain unknown.