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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In the wake of controversy and confusion in Veracruz, Calderón lamented publicly that Veracruz had been left in the hands of the Zetas. He announced Operation Secure Veracruz on Oct. 4, tripling the number of troops in the state to 1,500.
In search of 'innocence' and a dance beat
But will troops – more of the same strategy – make a difference?Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Veracruz, Mexico: Life under military protection
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Residents – from the Gomez family, to the priest, the union leader, the journalist, the state governor's spokesperson, and the business leader – all support their arrival and say Veracruz is already safer.
But will this splinter the drug traffickers and spread crime to another locale? And how can they be sure it won't return?
For Sergio, the sound of Navy helicopters overhead is not solace enough to make him trust that safer days are ahead. He plans to leave Veracruz, something he has contemplated over the years but an idea that turned into action in the midst of violence.
There is not a mass exodus from Veracruz, at least one that officials can demonstrate, but in Ciudad Juárez, where the drug war was stubbornly centered for most of 2009 and 2010, locals have counted thousands of "refugees" leaving the city for El Paso, Texas, and other places in the US, by counting abandoned houses and boarded-up businesses, among other parameters.
Six months ago Sergio put a property he owns up for sale, in hope of profiting enough to relocate to Spain with his wife first, and have the children follow later. Part of the draw, apart from the cultural experience, is a return to freer times.
"In Spain, you can walk at any time of night by foot. In car, you can take the highway," says Sergio, who has yet to sell the building because, he thinks, violence has dampened the market. In the past he has always dealt directly with clients; this time, to avoid extortion or kidnapping, he is going through a middleman and has implored that his name not be used in any advertisements or communications with potential buyers until it comes time to sign legal documents.
It is "innocence" that Carolina also says she longs for. On the face of it, her life is not dramatically different. She goes to the movies with her new husband or they watch them in their room, strewn with clothes and shoes, at her parents' home, where they are living to save money. She feels grateful that she works in the job she has wanted to do since she was in elementary school. She goes out to dinner with friends and their kids.
And yet, the little changes mount to cast a shadow over her quality of life. She says that when she goes to a restaurant, she always makes a mental note of how to exit. (Her 18-year-old cousin was recently at a restaurant and had to dive for cover under the table as a shootout erupted.) Carolina says the last time she went to a bar was last spring. She chooses not to dress in short skirts or wear much makeup anymore. She doesn't want to draw needless attention.
She says she can't seem to shake the intensity of noise from the shootout near her house, something that returns to her each time she hears a loud noise on the street.
From time to time, she has nightmares. The most recent involved a gunman bursting into her school and taking three children.
What does she miss most?
"I would just love to go to a disco," she says, simply. "I need to feel the punchis, punchis, punchis," she says, to the beat of her favorite techno music. "But at this risk? I do not feel it is worth it."