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Is the Impact of Violence in Mexico Similar to War Zones?

El Universal, Mexico

The impact that drug-related violence has on citizens in Mexico is similar to what people living through war experience, according to the president of the Red Cross, in a controversial comparison that has been made before.

In an October 21 interview with El Universal, Peter Maurer said that violence — whether perpetrated by war or violent crime — has the same consequences.

“The impact of war on disappearances, the displacement of people and the rupture of communities is the same whether the violence is derived from war, [or] is instigated or is generated by a conflict between the state and organized crime groups,” Maurer told El Universal.

Maurer pointed to a recent visit to Mexico’s embattled border state of Tamaulipas following a day of intense violence. The impact of the violence could be seen in school closings and the difficulties that community members had with accessing basic social services, he said.

Mexico and other countries that are being confronted by heavily armed criminal groups are increasingly deploying the military to help increase security in violence-wracked areas, he commented.

“I am not saying that this is good, bad or irreversible … but if it happens without the necessary instruction, we will see more problems.”

This is not the first time that Mexico has been compared to countries at war. Year after year violence in Mexico is contrasted with that of war-torn countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. In 2016, Mexico was labeled the second-deadliest country in the world behind only Syria, a claim Mexican officials vehemently rebuked.

Many experts have stressed that equating Mexico’s drug-related violence to that of an armed conflict or civil war is an “uneven comparison.” That may well be true, but Maurer makes a good point when he talks of the consequences — rather than nature — of the violence and the way it impacts people’s quality of life and access to basic services such as health, education and justice.

Violence in Mexico over the last decade has forced hundreds of schools to close, and driven more and more people from their homes. Nearly a third of municipalities in Mexico have fewer inhabitants than they did a decade ago. Corruption and inefficiency are major barriers to justice, and victims of violence often have to live with the consequences, with little or no help from Mexico’s institutions. The poor response to the violence from the state only increases the distrust and lack of confidence of Mexicans in their justice system.

Maurer’s words may also be another attempt to place Mexico’s current levels of violence in the framework of human rights violations and international law. In 2011, Mexican activists asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate former President Felipe Caldéron for alleged war crimes during the so-called “war on drugs” that Caldéron launched in 2006 shortly after taking office, but their bid was unsuccessful.