Guadalajara: cosmopolitan heartland or city of violence?
Guadalajara is Mexico’s Pearl of the West, known as the ‘Silicon Valley of Mexico.’ But it is also the city of grenade attacks, narco-blockades and police shootings. Melissa Kitson investigates the changing face of Mexico’s ‘City of Roses.’
Guadalajara is Mexico’s Pearl of the West but recent grenade attacks, narco-blockades and police shootings are fast becoming the norm in the city dubbed as the ‘City of Roses.’ When President Felipe Calderon began his war against the narcotraficantes (drug traffickers) in 2006, Guadalajara -Mexico’s second most populous city- remained relatively insulated from the spiraling 33,000 death toll.
The city’s wealthier inhabitants Tapatíos, continued to sip on their Starbucks’ cafe lattes, shop in high end boutique stores in Plaza Andares and spend weekends at the beach in Puerto Vallarta. Meanwhile, 50 minutes outside the city Lake Chapala remained the number one retirement destination for U.S. and Canadian veterans. In 2006, Guadalajara won the bid to host the 2011 Pan American Games, an event expected to draw teams from 42 countries including the United States and Canada. Now however a series of attacks has drawn Guadalajara into the bloody crossfire.
In this year alone there have been 11 narco-blockades. Here youths hired by drug gangs hijack buses, trucks or large vehicles and use them to block streets by setting them on fire. On February 1, in response to the arrest of two leaders form the drug cartel La Resistencia (The Resistance), fellow members wreaked havoc through the city blocking a series of important metro arteries such as the Chapala-Guadalajara highway and firing shots, molotov cocktails and grenades at vehicles on the street.
A few weeks later, six people died and another 37 were injured at an inner city bar when a gunman in a Gran Cherokee and a taxi sprayed the bar with bullets and threw a grenade.
According to Spanish-language papers, nine people have died and more than 60 injured in bars and nightspots in the Guadalajara this year. The wave of violence has instilled fear amongst many former party-goers.
Celina Padilla, a regular club-goer, said she stopped going to nightspots a couple of months ago, when the violence in Guadalajara became more dangerous.
“Many of my friends are doing the same although some say that the chances of something [bad] happening are slim,” said the 29-year-old.
“It’s better to have get-togethers in someone’s house instead of going to clubs,” said Paulo Curiel, a worker for the Tlaquepaque municipal government.
Rivalry between drug cartels La Resistencia and Jalisco Nueva Generación is being blamed for the upheaval. Narcomantas (messages) hung from bridges across the city accuse the Jalisco state government of favouring gangs and say the city “has not seen the end to the bloodshed.”
Civilian groups have been quick to respond, staging peace marches and public campaigns to raise awareness. Their aim: To save the modern, urban Guadalajara from becoming another Tamaulipas (a Mexican state that borders the south of Texas).
At one peace march, 750 people attended the majority dressed in white as a sign of peace. The city’s popular football team Chivas has also joined the cause. It released an official team photo with the message “Chivas against violence.” The Federation of University Students (FEU) previously a militant organisation has begun Estamos Armados (We are armed), an initiative that uses creatively designed posters to promote grass roots activism. The group has pasted a series of posters that feature the words intelligence, liberty, responsibility, respect, education, freedom, honesty and creativity in the shapes of various weapons.
According to FEU president of the University of Guadalajara Marco Antonio Núñez, the idea is that people should “explode” and “shoot” human values- not weapons.
“A grenade launched by a fool is not the same as a grenade launched by intelligence.”
“Intelligence can end wars and if you are tolerant you can prevent them. These values make more powerful weapons than real ones. We have to understand that we must arm ourselves with out human values,” Núñez said.
While support to protect Guadalajara continues to amass, the question remains will it stay Mexico’s cosmopolitan heartland or will it get sucked into the downward spiral of violence?