Drug-trade violence in Mexico that has left more than 28,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands more terrorized during the past four years has made an imprint on Mexican expatriates living in the Rogue Valley.
Some shake their heads over the rampant, often indiscriminate, killings. Others see it as the price to be paid after years of the affluent looking the other way and the government failing to crack down. Yet others see Mexico at a longterm crossroads.
"In certain states, the violence is more pronounced," said Monica Perez, 38, a manager at La Placita, an eight-store mini-mall on West Main Street in Medford.
"People are scared so they want to leave the country to find another place to live more freely and not be scared to go out."
Perez has lived here for 14 years. She grew up in Zamora, Michoacán, one of the most dangerous regions in Mexico. So far, however, no one close to her family has been shot.
"When people get together, they're telling each other they are scared and hope nothing happens to their family members," Perez said through an interpreter.
From Perez's perspective, the drug cartels have gained the upper hand over various Mexican governments — either through force, coercion or bribery.
"The cartels have more power than the government," she said. "Everyone knows the drug cartels have more power, and that's why there are so many shootings. The drug cartels are more powerful because have more money than the government. With money you buy out people, and people will do anything for money. The people are so poor in Mexico they are just trying to survive. If they are offered a not-so-good job, they'll do anything to survive, so it's easy to bribe people."
She wonders whether President Felipe Calderón's government is capable of outgunning the drug lords. "If the Mexican government doesn't find help from other countries, then it will be very difficult to battle the cartels, because they do need outside help," she said. "Mexico can't handle its internal affairs, at least that's what it seems like right now."
While some people talk unhesitatingly, others are guarded, fearing possible reprisal even though they are nearly a thousand miles away from the bloodshed.
"They are our enemies, we never know if they are already here," said Jose, a local businessman who asked that his last name not be printed, "because somebody could come and hurt me."
He last traveled to Mexico in early 2009 to pick up his wife, who had traveled south for surgery. "You are nervous when you are there," Jose said. "You hear too many things that are probably true, but not everywhere. Some places are more safe than others."
He said for years Mexican authorities turned a blind eye toward the drug lords.
"People who object," Jose said, "they get killed, because there is no freedom of expression. Things are out of control. More recently, this president (Calderón) tried to stop everything, but he cannot do anything by himself. He needs help and needs the (rank and file) government to be honest."
He said the Mexican government is weak.
"The bad people control everything," Jose said. "The government knows what's happening, but don't do anything to fix it. Maybe they have to change all the government, all the way up, all the way down."
He isn't alone when it comes to fear of reprisal.
After Jackson County Sheriff's deputies shot and killed Mexican national Itali Arellana-Vargas during a pot garden raid Aug. 11 on Bureau of Land Management property off West Evans Creek Road, Jackson County District Attorney Mark Huddleston declined to name the officers. Sheriff Mike Winters said the pot garden was linked to a Mexican drug cartel and wanted to protect the officers from possible reprisal.
The violence also struck home on July 18, when Rodolfo "Juan" Flores Cruz, 56, was shot and killed while visiting his parents' home in the village of Corralejo de Hidalgo, near Pénjamo, Guanajuato. Authorities said Flores was shot four times. Six shells from a .38-caliber weapon were found scattered on the ground, according to reports.
Gregorio Rodriguez, owner of three Si Casa Flores restaurants in Medford and one near the freeway in Phoenix, has lived in the Rogue Valley for 16 years after moving to Seattle from Mexico 30 years ago.
He still visits Mexico regularly, but is careful where he goes while taking his family on vacations to Mazatlan in the state of Sinaloa on the Pacific coast.
"It's one of the key areas of the drug business," Rodriguez said. "But we're fortunate that we've never experienced any of this craziness, killings or other things going on around. Maybe because we are from Mexico, we are not afraid. There are a lot of Americans and Canadians in Mazatlan; we just play it safe. That's what you have to do."
When the topic surfaces, people offer varying views of what should be done to curb the violence.
"This is a war between the authorities and the drug people," Rodriguez said. "It seems nothing is getting solved, it's just getting worse."
Manuela Marney of the local Hispanic Chamber said there is a danger of the violence spilling across the U.S.-Mexican border.
"This is a challenge to the Mexican government and society," Marney said. "They have to win this battle against the cartels and the horrible criminality they are bringing upon Mexico. Their very democracy is at stake."
At the same time, she warned that the United States has to recognize how its insatiable appetite for illegal drugs has contributed to the situation.
"We have the demand, and they supply that demand," Marney said. "The situation is a Mexican problem which will have to be solved by the Mexicans, but we must do our part, as well.
"Mexico is one of the largest business partners of the U.S.," she said. "We have a mutual interest in resolving this problem and defeating the cartels."
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.