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Stay or go: Dilemma for residents of crime-plagued Mexican city

By AFP - Mar 02,2024 - Last updated at Mar 02,2024


FRESNILLO, Mexico — Juan Pablo Rodriguez is scared to be out at night in Fresnillo, considered by its residents to be the most dangerous city in Mexico, but he sees little point in moving elsewhere.

“Why would I leave, if it’s the same across the country? They kill you,” the 18-year-old said.

Opposition candidate Xochitl Galvez chose the city in violence-wracked Zacatecas state to launch her presidential campaign, seeking to tap into voter concerns about insecurity.

As night fell, Rodriguez hurried to close his family’s hot dog stand in the heart of Fresnillo, the Mexican municipality with the highest perception of insecurity among residents.

Some 96 per cent of the 240,000 inhabitants of the north-central city fear being victims of crime, according to a government survey.

Not even the presence of Galvez — who held a candle-lit march and rally shortly after midnight — tempted him to stay out later than usual.

“We have to go. The streets are deserted at night,” Rodriguez said.

The powerful Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels are fighting for control of lucrative drug trafficking routes to the United States through Zacatecas.

In the past two years, thousands of people have left their homes, turning some communities into ghost towns.

A few steps from where Galvez began her campaign for the June 2 election, a taxi driver explained how to get to the city centre with a smile, but when he realised he was talking to a journalist his voice became a whisper.

He agreed to talk only on condition of anonymity, without even a cellphone near him to avoid having his picture taken or voice recorded.

Just last week two fellow taxi drivers disappeared, feared to have been kidnapped, the 52-year-old said.

“We don’t know anything about them,” he said, looking around nervously.

Last year he lost a nephew in a shooting and his cousin and other family members were kidnapped, he said, adding that they have since sought asylum in the United States.


‘Same throughout country’ 


Violence in Fresnillo flared up 15 years ago, but has worsened recently, the taxi driver said.

“The criminals do what they want,” he said, adding that he was saving up in the hope of emigrating to the United States or Canada to give his teenage daughter a better life.

This week Canada announced the immediate reimposition of visas for visiting Mexican nationals in response to a jump in asylum claims from the Latin American country.

Inocencia Hernandez, who runs a flower shop, said that Fresnillo had been the only place where she could find work since the coronavirus pandemic.

In central Mexico, where she moved from, crime is also a problem, the 30-year-old said.

“It’s the same throughout the country. It doesn’t matter what state you live in,” she added.

Nearly 450,000 people have been murdered across Mexico since 2006 when then-president Felipe Calderon launched a controversial anti-drug military campaign, according to official figures.

Despite voter concerns about insecurity, outgoing President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador remains popular with an approval rating of nearly 70 per cent.

He is required by the constitution to leave office after one term, but his party’s presidential candidate, Claudia Sheinbaum, enjoys a significant lead over Galvez in public opinion polls.

After the candle-lit march, Galvez shared the stage with a relative of one of Mexico’s more than 100,000 missing persons, holding a minute’s silence for victims of violence.

“Here in Fresnillo, as in all of Mexico, people are afraid,” Galvez said, hitting out at Lopez Obrador’s “hugs not bullets” strategy to tackle violent crime at its roots by combating poverty and inequality, rather than using military force.

“Hugs for criminals are over,” she said.


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