The Devil and Indifference: Border Youth Views of the Narco

In the northern Mexican border city of Tijuana, the imprint of the narco is everywhere. A city long dominated by the Arellano-Felix drug cartel, the influence of the illegal narcotics trade permeates business, politics and other aspects of public life. Despite the deployment of the Mexican army in Tijuana’s streets this month, the latest round of bloody killings, kidnappings and gun battles attests to the stubborn power of organized crime. Intrigued by the sociological implications of the drug business, Mexican researcher Paola Ovalle recently explored the opinions of Tijuana university students about drug traffickers and their business.

A researcher with the Autonomous University of Baja California, Ovalle administered 400 surveys to students at four universities, two private and two public. In general terms, Ovalle detected two very different schools of thought among the university students she questioned.

“One of them sees (drug trafficking) as a monster that provokes the ills which exist in Tijuana, and holds that drug traffickers deserve the death penalty, that they traffic in poison and that they are violent people,” Ovalle said in an interview with the Mexican press. “On the other side, we find another, apparently contrasting representation that falls into indifference, in which we find the majority of the students.”

According to the specialist in drug trafficking and security studies, many Tijuana youths view the drug trade as just another socially-harmful economic activity that is not really much different from polluting industries or the cigarette and alcohol businesses. Many youths advocate the legalization of certain drugs, Ovalle added.

The border researcher contended that the institutionalized presence of organized crime and constant media exposure have transformed the drug underworld into an integral part of the Tijuana’s contemporary cultural landscape. “On many occasions the symbolic content of drug trafficking is exalted,” Ovalle said.

Still, most university students do not want to become drug traffickers themselves, Ovalle said, adding that young people regard involvement in “the business” as a risky venture that leads to short life spans. Notably, the Tijuana scholar found one interesting difference in the answers of private and public university students.

“In contrast to public universities, it caught my attention that some students of private schools said they personally knew or had contact with drug traffickers or their families,” Ovalle said.

Source: El Universal, January 23, 2008. Article by Rosa Maria Mendez

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Related here at Tijuana a Secas: De la vista Gorda, Corrupción, clase media, y el Marco de derecho en Tj-SD.

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