Sunday, March 14, 2010
Trouble in paradise
The weather here is pretty perfect (give or take a few gray or cool days) and the people are super friendly. The cost of living is about 1/2 to 1/3 what it is in Canada and the beach is gorgeous. But there is trouble here in Mazatlan.
Part of it comes from the economic downturn north of the border, which has affected businesses here and the result of that is an increase in crime. It used to be that the crime here was what you might call opportunistic--thefts from unlocked cars or houses and things disappearing from a yard. But now we're hearing stories of people who get gold chains ripped off their necks while walking around or cars being stopped and people robbed on dark roads at night. This isn't common but it shows how desperate some people are here in Mexico. These things are troubling but really they've always been part of life. You can take precautions against thes: don't wear flashy jewelry and don't drive at night on remote roads. Things like that.
But the latest problems here are centered around the drug wars. The state of Sinaloa is the home of drug cartels battling things out. Last year we heard that these drug guys were in Culiacan, a city a few hours north of here, and a place to be avoided because there were killings taking place. This year things have heated up because Mexican president Calderon has declared war against the drug lords. Now we are hearing more grizzly stories. Stories of repercussions against the police as well as those involved in the drug trade.
In January there was a shooting in a night club along the Malecon and six people were killed. These hits appear to be targeted against people who are involved somehow, and we didn't feel too vulnerable because we don't go to night clubs. But last week the violence came to our own neighbourhood. On Tuesday night while were at home cooking spaghetti and meatballs with our visiting friends, two people were killed just a few blocks away.
Outside the Oxxo store where we go to buy ice cream bars after dinner, there were many machine gun shots and a grenade was thrown into the police car, killing a 28 year old woman and a 40 year old man, both police officers. A grenade? Oh my God! The photo above is the shrine that marks the spot. The number refers to the police car number, I believe.
The people in Mazatlan are shocked and upset; not just the people from Canada and the USA, but also the Mexican families that call this city their home. Our Spanish teacher Pati is terrified for her two teenaged sons who, like any teenagers, travel around town with their friends. And the tourists and visitors are starting to have second thoughts about how safe they are on the streets.
Now I know that violence occurs in many places in the USA and Canada and that the violence here is targeted, not random, so you're OK as long as you mind your own business--unless you just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But this latest incident has kind of soured our outlook on Mazatlan and that's a shame.
It's been five days now since it happened and we're still trying to make sense of things. One thing that's changed is our attitude toward police in cars. Previously I looked at them as protecting us, but now when I see them I begin to worry and think about heading in the opposite direction. Isn't that a sad comment on things?
I'm just glad that we don't have any other visitors scheduled to come down here. And that we'll be heading home in a couple of weeks.