Living in Fear

Patrick Haertel

Another night in Hermosillo. Another night that Estelita Fernández won’t walk home alone from her friend’s house.

Instead, Estelita makes her two best guy friends walk her home.

Estelita isn’t afraid of New York muggers. She isn’t afraid of Chicago rapists. She isn’t afraid of drunk drivers or out-of-control addicts or saucy college students. And Estelita isn’t afraid of the dark.

Estelita is afraid because, for the totality of her life, she’s lived in a country racked by a war that has claimed the lives of over 40,000 people in the past five years alone.

The escalating drug war in Mexico isn’t anything new—it’s been an issue for about 70 years—but it wasn’t until the dissolution of two major Colombian drug cartels in the 90s that the druglords of Mexico became the foremost importers of illegal drugs into the United States.

Estelita’s aunt, who lives in Tampico, makes sure to be inside by dusk. She’s afraid of the violence that surrounds her—the shootings she hears almost every night. She’s afraid she might one day get caught in the crossfire.

Estelita’s cousin was kidnapped, held at gunpoint in a van, questioned and robbed. Her uncle was kidnapped for two days. A family friend was found dead on the side of the road after being burnt alive. His cousin, who was kidnapped at the same time, was found naked and brutally beaten on the side of the road two weeks before. And Estelita herself sees nondescript vans guarded by armed men in alleys on a regular basis.

But the clashing factions vying for control of Mexico’s major drug exportation channels have more on their agendas than small-scale intimidation and burglary. According to a study done by the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Intelligence Center, the “wholesale illicit drug sale earnings estimates range from $13.6 to $48.4 billion annually.”

Over the past decade, a strong movement in Mexican politics for the reclamation of the Mexican state from drug cartels has created this war. But many Mexicans are tired of the constant fear in which they live. “One of the parties in the upcoming elections wants to make a deal with the bad guys and take the country back to where it was 10 or 20 years ago,” Estelita said. “They call it pro-peace.”

But Estelita is skeptical. “They’re popular because they promise to put an end to the violence. It’s just what the party offers. I doubt it can be accomplished” she said. “And anyway, they’re talking about going back to old times… Having criminals everywhere, but not doing anything about anything. If this war is stopped, the country will just go backwards.”

“I’m afraid I’m going to say the wrong thing in front of the wrong person,” Estelita said, “but I like telling people about it. I want them to know.”

If Estelita is afraid to walk home alone, it’s justified. In Estelita’s world, strangers are not to be questioned, made fun of, or insulted. Because that one single comment could be her last.