In 2006, newly elected Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels. His intension was to take a stand against the violence, corruption and drug trafficking that had been increasing since 2000. Seven decades of one-party rule in Mexico ended and shifted the balance of power amongst drug cartels and corrupt officials. But Calderon’s war on drug cartels has only made the situation worse.
Mexico’s drug war is more than an armed conflict. It is a humanitarian crisis that has changed the lives of countless innocent people. The total drug war death toll has now reached over 30,000 people, and behind every murdered victim there is a family left to live with the consequences.
The feminization of Mexico’s drug war has become an undeniable reality. Women are becoming widows at alarming rates, left to fend for themselves in a shattered economy and easily lured into criminal activity such as drug trafficking and kidnapping: the only financial options available to support their families. Ciudad Juarez, the “front-line” of Mexico’s drug war, is the most extreme example of the many cities throughout Northern Mexico currently plagued by drug war violence and crime. And in the women’s prison of Ciudad Juarez, the country’s most dangerous city, an estimated 80 percent of the inmates are there for narcotics related crimes. The number of women in prison for federal crimes in Mexico has risen by 400 percent over the past three years.
In addition to women, there are countless children forever scarred by a childhood engulfed with violence, death and insecurity. In Ciudad Juarez alone, approximately 10,000 children have been orphaned since 2008. Soon these children will be teenagers, lacking the education, family structure, and economic security necessary to protect them from recruitment by gangs and cartels.
Behind the well-known narrative of the fighting between cartels and the army is the real story of the drug war in Mexico: the innocent victims trapped in a cycle of violence and crime.