For the last 22 years, Teun Voeten has been covering wars and
conflicts worldwide and has seen the whole gamut of barbaric acts
humans are capable of inflicting on each other.
But according to him, nothing compares to the recent drug violence in
Mexico in terms of the sheer brutality and cruelty. He was able to
photograph some of the worst atrocities he had ever seen and was
shocked even more by the brutal acts that are posted in gory videos on
YouTube by the perpetrators themselves in a disturbing sort of twisted
The violence in Mexico has passed a threshold and turned into a new
kind of war where lawlessness, chaos and anarchy has become a goal in
itself, a necessary precondition for criminal entrepreneurs to exploit
local resources – narcotics in the case of Mexico.
Impunity rules. 98% of murders in Ciudad Juarez, a city on the
Mexico-US border, are and probably never will be solved. Anyone can be
killed, any time, for any reason while the killers can walk away
Journalists are even used by the cartels to publicize their ferociousness as to
terrify the competition. With more as 81 journalists killed over the
last decade, Mexico has become one of the deadliest places for the
media. Most murders are classified as 'drug related' an excuse not to
investigate them any further. The police and forensic detectives are
completely overwhelmed by the workload leading to a general atmosphere
of lawlessness in which the state can no longer guarantee the safety
of its citizens. Some parts of Mexico are de facto controlled by
organized crime. This is not helped by endemic corruption ranging from
tacit complicity to active participation in illegal activities. For
many a policeman, it is not a moral but a practical question of taking
bribes or being killed: plata o plomo - silver or lead - as the saying
Documenting the narco violence poses big challenges. The combatants
are anonymous and there are no pitched
battles. Unlike guerrilla
movements with a political agenda, DTOs (Drug Trafficking
Organizations) don't have a public relations department that caters to
journalists and tries to win their hearts and minds.
So far, foreign reporters have been left unscathed but the
local, investigative journalists pay dearly.
The frontal attack on the cartels, a strategy devised by former
president Felipe CalderÃ³n has failed. Despite the deployment of tens
of thousands of soldiers across the country, the murder rate has shot
up with an estimated 50, 000 people killed in drug-related violence
since 2006. The causes of the scourge are hard to disentangle.
Traffickers, consumers, bankers, corrupt politicians and unreliable
law-enforcement agents all form a perfect self-perpetuating system.
Some parts of the chain however can be weakened. Stricter gun control
on the border would deny organized crime the enormous firepower they
currently have. Tighter financial regulation to prevent money
laundering would make illicit activities less attractive.
Legalization has been suggested as one solution and could work for
which makes up an estimated 30% of current profits of the
But the cartels are ruthless businesses that have shown great
creativity and flexibility in maximizing their gains. If one branch
becomes less profitable, they will try new sources. Already, the DTOs
have diversified into human trafficking and the kidnapping and
The drug violence is not an isolated case of gang warfare but has huge
social and political implications. The erosion of a civil society and
a gradual takeover by organized crime, the nascency of a new
disposable class of excluded people who choose a deadly criminal
career, the devaluation of human life and dignity; all these elements
present a nightmarish scenario. Mexico's new president Enrique Pena
Nieto has pledged to try and reduce violence, focusing less on
catching cartel bosses, and has suggested that he is open to a "new
debate" on the drug war, not ruling out legalization.
The book Narco Estado is now available to order from Teun Voeten's website by clicking HERE.