As activists, we talk about the war on drugs on a daily basis. But you don’t really feel like you are in a state of war until you see the military on the streets, until you have to pass through a checkpoint. One of the scariest parts of these checkpoints is that you are never completely sure who is in charge. This insecurity permeates all parts of life and makes you dislike the military, or the state police, or whoever is forcing you to go through the checkpoint. This does not bode well for confidence in government institutions.
In Veracruz, where I’m from, my friends and family go through checkpoints on a daily basis. They have become accustomed to them. I visit on a monthly basis and I still get nervous going through them—even when I have no reason to feel this way. And the checkpoints have been changing as the political environment has changed.
Under the administration of former president Calderon, checkpoints were heavily guarded, you never knew where they were going to turn up. Rifles were aimed at you as you passed through, faces were covered. We were in a state of war.
As that government left and the new administration, led by Peña-Nieto has taken over, there has been a marked difference. A few months ago, we passed through the checkpoint and no one was there. It almost felt scarier to not having anyone guarding the post. It made you wonder where they were, if they were chasing someone, or if they would jump out from the jungle.
And now, they wave you through the checkpoint using a flashlight.
It has become clear that Peña-Nieto will not be using the same war rhetoric, but at the same time, the statistics paint a story that is very similar to that of the previous government. Drug-war related deaths still remain high. Human rights violations by the government are still occurring. Citizens are arming themselves as vigilantes because there is a lack of government presence. All of this does not bode well. Although some might think that Mexico is on the road to recovery, it will take much more to get us to a place where access to justice increased and people feel safe traveling across the country. Organized crime continues to have a stranglehold on our country and it will be up to civil society organizations, along with concrete policies to begin to turn that around.