How do we understand violence in Jalisco? How does the state’s history shape its response to current criminal groups? As part of our ongoing interview series, the Mexico Violence Resource Project spoke with Guadalajara-based journalist Darwin Franco.
Franco emphasizes that is essential to see narcotrafficking as a transnational business operation, and from that perspective Guadalajara is central to the story. The region served as a site of innovation in both the production of narcotics—from marijuana to methamphetamine—as well as money laundering techniques.
“We are the cradle of narcotrafficking’s criminal and financial structures, on foundations the Guadalajara Cartel built; this is has meant that the state has long been, and continues to be, a nexus for criminal finances and money laundering. But today, the new dynamics of the CJNG has meant that a degree of violence has also become a relevant dimension of criminal activity in the state. I think that what Jalisco has, unfortunately, provided to narcotrafficking is linked to innovation in the production of drugs: from marijuana and cocaine to methamphetamine, which constitutes the core of CJNG activities.
This history has also meant a high degree of coexistence and complicity between organized crime, business elites, and politicians, all of whom have benefitted from the relatively low profile of narcotrafficking in the state.
“Locally, narcotrafficking is something that is little discussed, because it seems that el narco is a phantasmagoric figure, such that in official communications, CJNG or El Mencho are not discussed, not even when the theme is something relevant such as the massive distribution of food due to the pandemic. I think the most notable changes have come from the articulation between both parties (government-narco), such that in the attempt to control territory (by both sides) there has been a pact that allowed—despite all the security strategies—the growth of what is now the strongest cartel in the country; that doesn’t happen without complicity.
Maintaining this low profile has also resulted, Franco observes, in the “technification” of violence, particularly in ways that reduce its visibility. This has included a shift toward clandestine graves that are on private property, and frequently covered by construction.
“I think that in Jalisco, unfortunately, we have experienced the technification of violence. We have seen everything here: burning pyres, bodies dissolved in chemicals, mass cremations, the use of explosives attached to victims, the construction of deep clandestine graves, and a significant number of bodies hidden under the construction of private properties. Now we are witnessing the brutality of dismemberment to erase the identities of victims.
The literal concealment of violence is paralleled by a rhetorical one that obscures victims, and Franco describes how the official narrative of “se mata entre ellos” (“just criminals killing each other”) has profound repercussions, leading to a bureaucratic disregard for death. When bodies are discovered, the logic of the system, he says, is not one of justice but one of administration: the victims are reduced to objects, technical problems that must be solved with the least possible effort.
Franco describes how this erasure of victims also affects society’s reaction to disappearances, commenting that solidarity with protesting family members is fleeting. He recounts how after one poorly attended demonstration, a mother asked him why no one had come, then admitted that before her son had disappeared she too had not participated in the marches. He notes that the one incident that provoked widespread outrage (the disappearance of three film students in 2018) did not produce a lasting movement, and it was the particular characteristics of the students (middle class, attending a private school) that forced a partial reconsideration of the narrative that all victims were likely criminals.
“Since 2013, when the families of the disappeared really claimed a space in public life, the topic has remained a part of popular and media conversations, but this has not always translated into widespread social support. People prefer to not get involved, to act as though nothing is happening, to move forward, to cling to a narrative of criminals and civilians, and that as long as nothing happens to me, I won’t protest. There was a change after the disappearance of the three film students from CAAV (in 2018, when there were 20 marches in less than a month), but this movement vanished when the government sold the story that the students had been dissolved in acid—something that has never been scientifically proven.
Part of the problem is also that much of the media, as in the case of the film students, has given more weight to official positions than to the voices or protests of victims, and that is an important silence that has been imposed—but it is also a silence that was broken when the families occupied the Glorieta de los Niños Héroes. That monument has since become the Glorieta of the Disappeared and is an iconic protest against state violence. There, at least, I think we have won.
When asked how journalists can respond to this broad indifference, Franco comments that it is no longer enough to simply tell the stories. While we must keep doing so, and we must keep centering victims, “it does not suffice to say there are disappearances, it is vital that we explain why there are disappearances.” And in this, journalists must confront and hold the state accountable for the bureaucratic apathy that erases victims.
Darwin Franco is a journalist in Guadalajara, Jalisco and coordinator of the ZonaDocs project.