February 5, 2016


Mexico’s vicious drug cartels

From Feb. 12-17, Pope Francis will be in the country that has replaced Colombia as the world’s most dangerous place for priests. He will be in Mexico.

Mexico is known for its citizens’ great devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Unfortunately, it is also known for its vicious drug cartels that don’t put up with interference by those who preach Christianity.

Various paramilitary groups, traveling in armored vehicles, exercise essentially unchallenged authority over entire regions of the country, and the Catholic Church is usually the only voice speaking out on behalf of the interests of ordinary people.

The number of people killed in Mexican drug warfare since 2006 is estimated at 179,000. Mostly they are casualties of the eight major cartels fighting each other or the Mexican government, but not all. Often, they are people who have spoken out against the cartels. The murders are meant to frighten others to keep silent.

For example, Father Francisco Sanchez Duran was beaten to death in his church of El Patrocinio in San Jose, south of Mexico City. He had been critical of local bands of thieves.

In another case, the body of Father Salvador Ruiz Enciso was found in a Tijuana neighborhood, with his hands and feet tied, beaten so far beyond recognition that positive identification had to rest on DNA testing. He was killed because he was persuading young people to stay away from gangs.

In December of 2014, Father Gregorio Lopez’s body was found with a bullet in his head. He was the third priest killed during 2014 in Guerrero State.

In central Puebla State, Father Erasmo Pliego’s beaten and burned body was found on a road. He was the 11th Mexican priest to be murdered, usually after being tortured, in the past three years. Two other priests are missing and presumed dead.

It’s not only priests who are being killed. On Sept. 24, 2011, the decapitated body of Maria Macias Castro, a leader in a Catholic lay movement, was found on a road near Nuevo Laredo. Her naked corpse was accompanied by a note saying she had been killed for using her blog to expose the activities of a local drug cartel known as the Zetas.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said that Maria Castro’s murder was the first murder ever documented for the use of social media. Macias blogged under the penname “The Girl from Laredo,” and was a champion of the poor, especially migrants. She was only 39 when she was murdered.

She is hardly the only journalist who has been murdered by cartels. According to the Mexican Human Rights Commission, Reporters Without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, between 2000 and 2012 several dozen journalists were murdered for covering narcotics-related news. Offices of Televisa and of local newspapers have been bombed.

The drug cartels are powerful and ruthless. They exist because of the drug problem here in the United States. They control approximately 70 percent of the foreign illegal drugs that flow into this country, including cannabis, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines. Many of these drugs are produced elsewhere, but they flow into the United States through the Mexican cartels.

It’s a matter of supply and demand. As long as the demand for drugs is so strong in this country, a way to supply that demand will be found.

One of the cartels, Sinaloa, was in the news recently because of the recapture of its head, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who had escaped from a Mexican prison through an elaborate tunnel. Before his recapture, he met secretly with film star Sean Penn and Mexican TV star Kate del Castillo to discuss the making of a movie about him. Penn subsequently reported on his interview with Guzman in Rolling Stone.

In Apatzingan, Michoacán State, Father Andres Larios told America magazine correspondent Tim Padgett that the drug cartel La Familia Michoacana dumped 20 severed heads in the town square. Father Larios and other priests in Michoacán have received death threats if they continue to speak out against the drug cartel.

Michoacán is one of the places the pope will visit during his trip. Surely, knowing this pope, he will condemn the drug cartels.

—John F. Fink

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