Mexico drug war casualty: Citizenry suffers post-traumatic stress
Outwardly, life seems normal; but as drug war kidnappings, extortion, and violence brush closer to the average citizen, experts say, the mental terrain looks like post-traumatic stress.
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That might mean placing bars over windows, no longer going out at night, or opting not to visit friends or family in other parts of the country.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Veracruz, Mexico: Life under military protection
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In a national survey headed by Mr. Benitez, the security expert, 80 percent of those surveyed say they worry often about drug trafficking violence; 61 percent have stopped going out at night; 30 percent no longer drive the state or national highways because of fear of drug trafficking violence; 22 percent have quit going to public events like concerts or sport events. (Even that poll was affected by the violence: Pollsters were briefly kidnapped in the state of Guerrero.)
Benitez says habits vary greatly depending on location. For example, in the state of Nuevo Leon, where Monterrey is, 53 percent of respondents said they no longer go out to eat, compared with 18 percent in Jalisco.
In a shootout: Tweet; walk, don't crawl.
In Veracruz, Carolina's lifestyle has changed dramatically. Some of it she calls practical, some she recognizes might verge on paranoia.
The first thing she did after the shootout in her neighborhood was sign up for a Twitter account, where by punching in #VerFollow residents are updated on the latest shootouts, military patrols, or any other suspicious activity someone feels the public should know about.
She checked #VerFollow so often – about 10 times a day, she says, before going to work, between tutoring jobs, and on her way home – that she purchased a BlackBerry. Today when anything big happens – like the grenade hurled steps from the city's iconic aquarium – she calls both her husband and father.
"The thing I worry the most about is getting stuck in the middle of it," she says.
Social media has become an important tool in many violent parts of Mexico because the nation has become one of the most dangerous places in the world for traditional journalists – 34 were assassinated between 2007 and 2010 – who self-censor. One reporter in Veracruz, who doesn't use a byline and didn't want to be named in this story, explains that he worries about the limits of freedom of expression but says that he sees no other option. "Some people call us cowards," he says. "People from outside can come in. But here they know us; they can identify us. I have lived my whole life here."
In that absence, the influence of Twitter and Facebook has soared, a point underscored on a Thursday in August when information circulated on both sites that children would be kidnapped from schools by the Zetas. Parents stopped what they were doing and, running red lights, headed to their children's schools.
Miguel Angel Matiano, a local union leader, was at a hospital visiting one of his members, when a friend called him about the threat: "I dropped what I was doing and fled." He brought his two children home and kept them there until the following Monday. "It was like a horror movie from the US."
As Carolina recounts that day – taking children in her school one by one to their parents, focusing on her breathing so she wouldn't break down or show fear – it is the only time she tears up.
Teachers in Mexico are among the innocent victims in this fight. In other parts of the country, like Acapulco and Ciudad Juárez, drug gangs have threatened to extort them. In Veracruz, rumors spread after the school incident that Zetas also wanted to kidnap teachers, perhaps because they are a bridge to students.