For the past couple of years, people from all over the world have been asking me the same question: how bad are things in Monterrey, really? Obviously, they are referring to the drug-related violence and overall instability that have recently given the city unwanted international attention.
There’s a saying in Mexico: “cada quién cuenta como le fue en la feria,” which roughly translates to “how the tale is told depends on what the narrator has been through.” Therefore, my experience will not resonate equally among some others who live in Monterrey, but I do hope it will provide a relatively objective conclusion and answer to the above question.
Since the underlying interest behind the question is learning more about the situation of violence, I will not get into details about how Monterrey has a buoyant economy, entrepreneurial society, growing industrial sector, or is the birthplace of the most important higher education systems in Latin America and the home of hard-working, committed individuals. What I will focus on is how daily life has changed for middle-class citizens as a result of the violence and how societal interaction today is less regulated by a rule of law and more so by a rule of fear.
Mexico suffered the criminal attack with the highest number of civilian casualties in its near history recently as a group of 10 to 12 armed men entered the two-story Casino Royale in the city of Monterrey, doused it with a flammable liquid and threw Molotov cocktails in the first floor. The exact details are still sketchy and the real death toll might never be established (there are inconsistencies in numbers reported by authorities, witness accounts and morgue registries) but unofficially the number is above 50, most of them women. The full motive behind the attack will probably never be determined, but the local media’s investigative reports point toward non-compliance with a criminal gang that had demanded a cut of the business’ profits in exchange for “protection.”
Gruesome as the attack was, the reason for the elevated number of victims sadly has more to do with institutionalized corruption than with the criminal act itself. Survivors to this tragedy have testified that other than the main entrance to the establishment (which was blocked by the attackers), four non-labelled service doors were locked and the only supposed emergency exit to the place was fake and had a concrete wall behind it. The amount of suffering and emotions the victims must have felt when they thought they would be able to escape the fire and faced a wall in front of them, is horribly unimaginable.
Casino Royale received its license to operate as a restaurant and betting house in 2007, during the administration of Mayor Adalberto Madero, who in 2011 was officially kicked out of the PAN party for corruption charges and tainting the party’s image (he was later reinstated due to a technicality). Ironically enough, Rodrigo, José Francisco and Ramón Agustín Madero (Adalberto’s cousins) are members of the administrative board of the company that owns Casino Royale.
The matter becomes worse when we learn that during 2011 the establishment had already been subject to two other criminal attacks; the venue was not shut down permanently after the follow-up investigations even though it was not up to code. As if that wasn’t enough, videos showing Monterrey Mayor Fernando Larrazabal’s brother going into the Casino and suspiciously receiving wads of cash in cell phone boxes were leaked by the local and national media, furthering social outrage.
Today, a city and a whole country continues to mourn. Frustration is at an all-time high and is manifesting itself in different ways. On Twitter users heightened their continued demands for both Larrazabal and Governor Rodrigo Medina to resign. The local soccer teams held minutes of silence before their recent games. Masses honoring the victims have been held and peace rallies are the current talk of the town, though actual turnout has been surprisingly low.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.