The Monterrey massacre

There has been widespread condemnation of the massacre of 52 people at the Casino Royale, in Monterrey, Mexico, on August 25. It was the single biggest attack on innocent civilians in Mexico’s drugs conflict, which has seen some 40,000 people killed since 2006. Worse yet, it took place in broad daylight, in the middle of the city. It is believed that the senseless attack might have had something to do with the alleged links between drug gangs and the city’s gambling business and gang demands for protection money.

In Monterrey and across Mexico, as grief and incomprehension give way to indignation and anger, even as the government’s promises of justice are taken with a pinch of salt and perhaps a shot of tequila, there is a growing belief that something more has to be done in the government’s long-running battle to wrest power from the drug cartels and restore some semblance of security to the country. In this respect, there might just be a hint of a silver lining to this bloodstained cloud. Public revulsion at the massacre is so profound that there are hopes that the tragic event could prove to be the turning point in Mexico’s war against organised crime, as the nation unites in pain and outrage.

Some in Mexico have depicted the massacre as an act of terrorism. Others have preferred to view it as a bloody criminal action, devoid of ideology. Semantics aside, it is perhaps a mixture of both: a criminal atrocity, rooted in terror and a complete disregard for the rule of law and the sanctity of life, another in the frightening catalogue of decapitations and piles of corpses that have become almost commonplace in the north of the country. Indeed, the Monterrey massacre may well be an apocalyptic reflection of what happens when a country, willingly or unwillingly, cedes power to organised crime and the drug gangs.

The national dialogue on crime and security in Mexico has taken on a new urgency as a direct result of the Monterrey massacre. All are agreed that a firm political will must underlie robust police action to combat organized crime. But there is a growing consensus that this must be underpinned by strong anti-corruption measures, the promotion of fundamental moral and social values, citizen participation and a renewal of respect for human rights and the rule of law, if there is to be any success in reining in and ultimately defeating the phenomenon of organised crime. For, otherwise, as in the case of the Sicilian mafia, traditional values such as honour, family and friendship, are perverted to the extent that the legality of the state is almost totally undermined and an alternative system of power holds sway.

Tragically, it usually takes an atrocity like the Monterrey massacre to highlight the dangers of acquiescence and complacency and to provoke a mass response of repudiation, either in support of or to force a change in government policy. Only time will tell if the energy and the will exist to effect a sea change in attitudes to Mexico’s ongoing state of crisis and to turn the tide against the power of the cartels.

We do not believe it too alarmist to say that we in Guyana and the Caribbean should take note. We will recall that, last May, the Jamaican government declared a state of emergency, as it took extreme measures to break the power of drug lord Christopher ‘Dudus‘ Coke and his ‘Shower Posse.‘ Nearby Trinidad and Tobago is now into its second week of a limited state of emergency, as part of an aggressive response by the government to a spike in murders, gang activity and drug-related crime. The Minister of National Security of St Lucia is said to be monitoring developments in Trinidad and Tobago, as his government also faces an upsurge in violent crime. And we in Guyana are, of course, no strangers to the insidious influence of the narco-traffickers and wanton violence, even as we continue to await the results of the inquiries into our own massacres and several unexplained murders.

In Guyana and the Caribbean, governments would do well to revisit existing national and regional security strategies, with a view to securing popular buy-in, coordinating strategies, sharing intelligence and pooling resources. If not, we may be left to contemplate, as in Mexico, a state of corruption and criminality built on a culture of terror.

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