(AP) — Mexico’s drug war appears to be back — and it may be worse this time around than in the bloody years of the government’s 2006-2012 offensive against drug cartels.
Back then, the worst of the violence was confined to a few cities. Now it is spread out throughout the country. Once it was not uncommon for gangs to kill adults but leave children unharmed. Now, the killing of children alongside their parents has become all too frequent.
Perhaps the most disconcerting change: Bloody cartel violence outraged Mexicans and captured international attention for the drug war, which saw 27,000 homicides during its peak in 2011. Today, even though the number of Mexico’s homicides soared to near 35,000 last year, the bloodshed seems to draw less attention and indignation.
It has all left many Mexicans wondering which way to turn.
That was evident this week in Coatzacoalcos, an oil industry city in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz where residents say gangs have been fighting over turf and extorting business owners with threats of violence. Late Tuesday, suspected members of the Jalisco cartel showed up at the Caballo Blanco nightclub, blocked its exits and set a fire that killed 28 people trapped inside, apparently because the owner had either refused to make extortion payments or sold drugs from another gang.
Vanessa Galindo Blas lost her common-law husband, Erick Hernandez Enriquez, to the blaze. Both were natives of Coatzacoalcos, but had been discussing moving away.
“We had talked about leaving here for somewhere safer, so our kids could have a better future,” Galindo Blas said Thursday as she stretched her hands out over Erick’s bare metal coffin. On it rested a photo of him wearing an “I Love Coatzacoalcos” T-shirt.
But they could never agree on a place to move, in part because violence is now a problem across much of Mexico, so no place is really safe.
From 2006 to 2012, much of the drug war killing occurred in a string of northern Mexico cities — Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana, Culiacan, Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo. “Now it is more dispersed, and that also makes it harder to control,” said Alejandro Hope, a security analyst in Mexico.
But counting down all the similarities — deadly arson attacks, bodies left piled in heaps or hung from overpasses, massacres at parties, beheading videos posted on social media — the parallels between now and then are all too clear. “It’s like deja vu all over again,” said Hope.
Another disturbing trend is that young children are being gunned down by killers targeting adults. The Sinaloa and Juarez cartels once prided themselves on their targeted killings, which riddled intended targets with bullets while leaving family members untouched.
Now, children are being killed with chilling frequency. In June, a young boy was killed along with his father in Sonora state. In July, a 10-year-old was killed during a robbery in Puebla state. In August, gunmen burst into a home in Ciudad Juarez and fired 123 bullets that killed three girls, aged 14, 13 and 4, along with an adult male who apparently was the real target.
Two years ago, Coatzacoalcos made headlines across Mexico when a man, his wife and three young children were gunned down by a drug cartel. In contrast, the shooting of the three Ciudad Juarez girls drew less attention.
“It seems like we are becoming accustomed to this, to people killing children. I don’t want to become accustomed to that,” said Lenit Enriquez Orozco, an activist in Coatzacoalcos.
The worst part… Mexico has a lamentable record in investigating and prosecuting killings — over 90 percent of crime go unpunished.