Happiness in a Dirty War

"We are still a people under siege."

I was eight years old when I learned what it means to be a Mexican citizen. It was June of 1971. The sun shone as if embracing all life, and blossoming trees colored an eternal spring paradise over Mexico City. To the international community, Mexico was at peace; but inside, we were in the midst of a dirty war with a president who carefully controlled our image to the outside world, silenced those who stood up against poverty, and censored journalists for revealing truths to the media.

I remember hearing my mother and her friends whispering in the living room of our middle-class apartment. They were discussing the increasing authoritarianism of our government. Earlier that day, in Northern Mexico, police had seized a student movement, and most of those students had “disappeared.” But this wasn’t an isolated incident. From 1968 until I was a teenager in 1980, more than 3,000 young men and women who challenged the legitimacy of the State’s carefully controlled rhetoric were assassinated, incarcerated, or simply went missing.

Around the same time, my family and I traveled by car through the mighty mountains of Chiapas, where indigenous girls were sold into marriage. I got a crash course in the true realities of my homeland. From the mountains of the north to the rivers in the south, millions of Mexican women had no right to own land or go to school. I learned that skin color divided my people between Indian, mestizo, and white. My country was blessed with amazing rivers, lively jungles, deserts, and beaches—a sampling of a perfect world—but the government stole land from farmers, forcing mass emigration to the United States. We had enough oil to become a rich nation, but politicians squandered the money for their own purposes.

And now, four decades later, we are still a people under siege. We are bleeding under a “war against drugs,” with more than 11,000 deaths in two and a half years. With drug prices lowering, we have more addicts than ever in our history. More than half of our 110 million people are as poor as the poor in Africa. Women in Chiapas live as do the poorest women in Pakistan. Mexico has only 34 shelters for battered women; all of them are run by nongovernmental organizations. Our right wing, war-prone president has made violence a formal tool for social control. While our government tells the world we belong in league with developed nations, we have been declared one of the world’s more dangerous countries, with femicide persisting from north to south and drug cartels controlling our government’s every action.

My early experiences have led me to commit my life to exposing these truths and fighting these injustices. Along with millions of Mexicans, everyday I explore my ability to listen, to understand, to question. But I must also exercise my ability to stay alive. I am a reporter, but also a survivor of rape, kidnapping, incarceration, and torture at the hands of the police. I travel around Mexico in an armored car due to the death threats against me—death threats enacted by Mexican officials who have sold justice to the very mobs I expose in my writing. Just this month, I received e-mails threatening me with decapitation. These are not idle threats; in the last two years, Mexico has seen almost 1,000 journalists assassinated by organized crime groups who are fearful of exposure.

Every day I am confronted with the enduring question: Should I keep going? Should I continue to practice journalism in a country controlled by 300 powerful, corrupt rich men? Is there any point to demanding justice or freedom in acountry where 9 out of every 10 crimes are never solved? Is it worth risking my life for my principles?

As long as Mexico is a corrupt, violent nation, the answer is yes.

I know the true power to building peace and equity lies in our ability to choose, every day, not to live in fear and to never give up our right to happiness. I have learned that when a policeman tortures, he does not want a confession; he is doing it to exert power. Every time I have tequila and dance with my friends, when I hug a woman who has trusted me with her story, I challenge that power. A corrupt government will try to take away our hope and our power to believe in change. For me, to write, to share, to tell the truth sets me free from the power of tyrants. ●

Comment on this Editorial


You are a powerful woman! I am moved by your life. I loved the line "Every time I have tequila and dance with my friends, when I hug a woman who has trusted me with her story, I challenge that power". Beautiful and moving. Thank you for the work that you continue to do. You are making significant progress.

best, Jody

Thank you for sharing your journey. I commend you for your work and your light. I was not aware of the corruption that spans Mexico. I have heard of what happens in Ciudad Juarez (I am sure just the tip of the iceburg)- where 400 women have "gone missing" and not ONE person has been charged with a crime.

Thank you for doing what you do, I am going to look more into issues surrounding Mexico and take the action that I am able.

Again, thank you.

Much love, peace and energy for change making-



Thank you so much for the work you do. You are providing a voice to millions of poor, oppressed people and are truely admirable.

It is courageous women like you who will eventually bring an end to this madness of violence. At some point, your sacrifices and the sacrifices of many others, will bring about the changes that will result in the perpetrators of these crimes being brought to justice.

In the meantime, keep safe. May God protect you and all of those with whom you work.

With peace and friendship, Joan Bartos Napa California, USA

Years ago while living in Bogota, Colombia I attended a conference at the American Embassy on the US State Department’s policy of Plan Colombia, and at the end of the conference I stood up and asked the ever present question of “It is all well and good to eradicate the production of drugs here in Colombia, however, as long as demand and consumption is on the rise, eradicating it here will just make it “pop-up” elsewhere.

So what is the American government doing to comprehensively reduce drug consumption in the USA?” And, the State Department civil servant responded “What do you care as long as we get rid of it here?” I bit my tongue on my retort of “Well that’s just stupid, of course I care! I am sick and tired of seeing messed-up parents bringing up messed-up kids with everyone needing their respective (legal, illegal and prescription) drugs in order to survive!!!”

While under Colombia’s President Uribe, drug production in Colombia has declined, this drug production has just moved into Venezuela with Hugo Chavez opening his back door to the industry, into Mexico and on to US borders. Pheonix, Arizona is now apparently the kidnapping “capital” of the world.

Now after my own divorce from an abusive Spaniard and a custody battle with a corrupt Spanish judicial system and the research into this entire mess, I finally have the answer to the question I posed so many years ago to this State Department civil servant. "Governments are doing nothing to reduce drug-consumption to the contrary they are encouraging it!!!!'

As Alec Baldwin said in his book A Promise to Ourselves “Family law is a racket. It is a racket within which the principal players have convinced even themselves that they are serving innocent children as well as the public. However, the only people they are truly servings are themselves… The people who are to blame are the lawyers, the therapists, the legislators, and, most insidiously of all the judges. They are the cogs in a closed system, one that they have allowed to evolve principally for their own enrichment, financial or otherwise…. How much of what we currently tolerate inside a family law courtroom is the result of institutional greed, bad legislation, corruption, and politics?” And, contrary to popular belief the same "racket" goes on in domestic violence cases, the consequence for the victims, however, go far beyond monetary concerns.

One of the main objective of my Global Expats.com project (see my profile) is to make people understand that we are all facing the same challenges within our societies (just different stages of social development) and they are all ultimately inter-related. If the peace-makers of this world do not unite against the violent psychopaths, then the human race will eventually destroy itself. I direct you to my articles on www.global-expats.com (at least until my ex-husband instructs my web-designer to cyber-stalk it again.)

Just like Lydia, my oppressor has tried everything to shut me up. He and his family have always told me "Callate Tonta," but I have always responded "Callate Tu!!! Yo no soy la tontita aqui!!"

Quenby Wilcox Founder - Global Expats quenby@global-xpats.com www.global-xpats.com

by hechicera1304 (not verified)


Thank you for the work you do because you educate us Mexicans "on the other side" of what happens over there. I have lived in New York since I was four and as a result of the violence my entire family has followed, the massacre of Tlatelolco is one I grew up hearing my entire life and the reason why my family is against returning to Mexico to study.

Regardless, I appreciate all the work you do and I wish you the best. Sigue pa'lante!

hello! i am hour to know you...indeed! you are a role model to many of us who are facing similar situation but are scare to voice out our feelings.. i appreciate your bravery and dedication to your works. with your inspiration, many young women like me are encourage to face the challenges.

thank you for sharing your experience with us. blessings and peace!

Stay Blessed


Blog: http://zofem.blogspot.com/

Facebook:Zoneziwoh Mbondgulo Wondieh

Twitter | Instagram: @ZoFem

I am very impressed with your work, effort and commitment you made to continue your work though there are many challenges in your life. You are a role model for us. Please keep writing. we are with you. with admiration

With Love and RegardsSunita Basnet


In your words i feel and see an unwavering strength. You're powerful, more powerful with a pen than the drug cartels are with guns. I admire you for your constant quest to reveal truths. Know that you are being listened to; that the world is hearing your story and those of others in Mexico.

paz y amor gabriela

Listen - can you hear the sound of my blinders cracking and breaking. I have been aware of the drug wars on a very superficial level noted primarily when a Canadian tourist is beaten or killed. On some level I knew these were more than an isolated incident but it is very uncomfortable to face the truth. Thank you for breaching my defenses

Keep Strong - I pray you will remain safe

Your words are inspiring and it is so important that they be heard. I have deep gratitude and respect for your resilience and meaningful work. I hope that this conversation can be a small but powerful reflection of your impact. Don't stop writing! You are heard!

With love and admiration,


Thank you Lydia for sharing such inspirational words. I truly admire your tenacity and resilience. In spite of the threats, incarcerations, torture, you have refused to give up and that to me is a true sign of courage. You speak for those whose voices have been silenced and who are too afraid to speak. Thank you so much for sharing.

Gracias, Lea