Michael Lettieri, Philip Johnson, and Cecilia Farfán-Méndez
On October 17, a confrontation between heavily armed criminals and Mexican security forces led to terror, chaos, and death in the city of Culiacán, Sinaloa. Even before the smoke had cleared, observers rushed to pronounce the significance of the events. It marked, many proclaimed, a catastrophic defeat for the government and a momentous change in the country’s security dynamics. This project began with the desire to reexamine those analyses, even as the day began to fade from memory. A year after the events, the editors hoped to reconsider their significance, not only for Sinaloa but national narratives of violence.
To do so, we invited collaborations from a range of perspectives, and deliberately chose to emphasize local voices over outside analysts. We sought to question the initial claims that the confrontation, and the government’s resulting decision to release Ovidio Guzmán, represented “precedent-setting” events. Perhaps more importantly, we also hoped to emphasize perspectives that explored how residents of Culiacán experienced and interpreted the violence.
As part of this effort, we have eschewed the usage of one popular term for October 17: the culiacanazo. After conversations with collaborators in Sinaloa it was clear the derogatory connotation of the term and the incorrect implication that these types of events can only occur in a place like Sinaloa. Furthermore, we consider the term distorts our understanding of what happened that day, and by rolling the events into a larger narrative about violence in the city, it hinders engaging in clearsighted analysis.
The essays are not intended, nor do they represent consensus by the authors on the meaning and aftermath of the events of October 17, 2019. The significance and value of this collection, therefore, comes from both the authors’ individual insights and from the complicated and sometimes conflicting picture they create when read together.
The project opens with an illustrated timeline produced by the team at Revista Espejo, marking the day’s crucial moments. A series of essays then provide analysis of those events, revealing several key conclusions. In his introduction, Philip Johnson shows the three dominant threads of early analysis all failed to further our understanding, and often proved inaccurate. Romain Le Cour argues that analysis of events in Mexico is shaped by the phenomenon of ‘narco-spectacle’. Patricia Figueroa describes how the reality of the day was transmitted and transformed through social media, in ways that created a “post-truth.”
Discussing the experience of October 17, Albaro Sandoval narrates how surviving the violence affected residents of Culiacán. Iliana Padilla demonstrates that violence in the city operates by a set of codes, and yet on two different Thursdays, the rules changed. Juan Carlos Ayala suggests that to understand the events, we must look at the culture that shaped those who fought to free Guzmán. Cecilia Farfán argues that what October 17 revealed, paradoxically, was the selectiveness with which the criminal organization uses violence. Hector Parra’s photo essay documents how on October 17, secrets that the city sought to suppress, became painfully visible.
Moving past October 17, Josué David Piña and Marcos Vizcarra describe how the trauma of the day’s violence continues to mark life in the city. Finally, Michael Lettieri’s conclusion steps back to examine the notion of precedent and memory, and why the complex meaning of violent events demands nuanced analysis.