Columban Fr. Kevin Mullins is the parish priest of Corpus Christi parish in the city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The city is one of the world’s most violent cities as a result of the Drug Wars. He recently spoke to Columban Fr. Peter Woodruff about life in Mexico.
A few weeks ago drug cartel soldiers visited a house near our parish church. The man of the house was a small time drug seller and user and reportedly he had not paid up on time. The cartel soldiers forced him and his three year old daughter to watch as they slit his wife’s throat. Then the child watched as they shot half her father’s face away and left him for dead. The little girl slept for nine hours on the legs of her dead parents and then, in the morning, went outside to let neighbors know that something was wrong.
The violence of the drug cartels in our city is endemic, but for the cartels it is a means to an end. The cartels are basically only interested in doing business. They “prefer” their business to be free of violence and so use money to encourage collaboration from politicians, police chiefs, state governors, mayors and of course the employees of the cartels.
Informed journalists and political commentators say that in most political elections the drug cartels contribute to the campaigns of certain candidates, who, if elected would be expected to collaborate in facilitating the business of the cartels. Other officials whose collaboration is necessary for business reasons are often approached directly by a cartel representative who offers them a choice: plata (money) or plomo (lead, that is, a bullet). Some who have refused the money have been executed by the end of the same day.
Government authorities at all levels, including the police and military, non-government organizations and Catholic church leaders have consistently spoken out that they do not believe that the cartel drug business can be brought under control or eliminated solely by repressive means.
Up until recently an average of 15 people were being killed each day in the Juarez area. The Sinaloa cartel defeated the Juarez cartel and in so doing gained control of access to the United States through Juarez. These days the killing is down to an average of 5 people a day, as control of the illicit drug business is exercised by the simple logic of reward (money) and punishment (execution). With the Sinaloa cartel firmly in control, business is booming.
So, one might ask these questions:
How do we go about shaping our lives in this far from perfect society? Is it enough to simply avoid becoming directly involved in drug trafficking? Can we be authentic and yet refuse to tackle head on this pernicious evil in our midst?
The recent end of the inter-cartel conflict has allowed new signs of life to emerge in the city. The construction industry is quite active. People are going out more to restaurants, night clubs, dance halls and theatres. The atmosphere of constant fear is nowhere near as heavy as it used to be.
The people of our parish, our diocese and our city look for ways of making sense of their lives despite the context of violence, greed, corruption and brutish injustice. We are sadly aware that there is so much that we cannot change, and yet we are determined to find a way to live authentically in the midst of such terrible evil.
We have a vibrant parish that I see as a beacon of hope for life. The more I see the parish community grow I sense that our liturgical cycle offers parishioners a stable framework for their lives. I don’t think we offer an escape from a pernicious social reality but rather our people are offering a viable alternative value system for living.