The Las Vegas massacre viewed through Mexican lenses

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Sunday’s massacre in Las Vegas, Nevada, drew ample attention and widespread commentary in Mexico. For years U.S. media coverage has heavily focused on violence south of the border, reinforced by regular State Department travel advisories and even warnings of places not to visit in the neighboring nation.

Yet even before Las Vegas, Mexican media were devoting more space and airtime to reporting and analyzing U.S. violence — especially the sudden, unpredictable mass shootings that have steadily grown deadlier over time, according to La Jornada’s U.S. correspondent David Brooks, who noted the escalation of victims from Columbine (13) to Orlando (49) and now Las Vegas (59).

Mexican flag

iivangm / flickr

The Mexican flag. (photo credit info)

Though murder-by-firearm is rampant in Mexico, it is arguably more predictable. Locals frequently know where heavily armed crime groups like the Zetas or Los Rojos operate and who belongs to them. De facto curfews, avoidance of certain places and people, and care in everyday dealings are some of the unwritten rules Mexicans living in violence-prone areas pursue as a survival strategy.

Frequently, coming outbreaks of violence are advertised to the public in the form of so-called narco-banners, text messages and notes left on preliminary murder victims. 

Now in the aftermath of the Oct. 1 mass slaughter at a Las Vegas country music festival by a gunman identified as Steve Paddock, Mexican government officials, political analysts, media personalities and plain old citizens are weighing in on the latest U.S. atrocity.

In a pair of tweets, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto condemned the shooting and expressed solidarity with the victims and their families. “I express our deepest condolences to the people of the United States for the terrible events that occurred this morning,” Peña Nieto wrote. The Mexican president gave assurances that his country’s Las Vegas consulate was in touch with local U.S. officials and ready to support any “Mexicans possibly impacted” by the vicious attack.

Las Vegas is home to a large Mexican immigrant population, which provided the blood, sweat and tears in the construction and leisure industries during prosperous economic times. Las Vegas ranks high among the travel destinations of middle- and upper-class Mexican tourists, while southern Nevada is of central importance to the Mexico-U.S. sharing of the Colorado River.

In a new agreement publicly unveiled last week in Santa Fe, Mexico will continue “banking” its Colorado River share in Nevada’s Lake Mead in return for a $31.5 million U.S. investment aimed at improving Mexican water infrastructure. As part of the deal, four big U.S. water users, including the Southern Nevada Water Authority, will be allowed to acquire “surplus” Mexican water that planners envision will be created from more efficient conservation measures.

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Conservationists from both sides of the border working on the restoration of the deteriorated Colorado River ecosystem hail the binational accord, dubbed Minute 323, but some Mexican farmers contend it amounts to a U.S. water grab in violation of the 1944 treaty governing the apportionment of Colorado River and Rio Grande waters between the U.S. and Mexico.

Las Vegas and Nevada, then, are on Mexico’s radar screen even under “normal” circumstances.

On Monday and Tuesday, the Las Vegas massacre was a leading story in Mexican media, with different outlets reporting on the human dramas, the identity of the alleged gunman, the claim of the Islamic State’s responsibility for the slaughter, stock price gains by U.S. arms manufacturers, the mounting toll of other U.S. mass shootings, the size of the U.S. domestic arsenal, and the political power of the NRA. 

El Diario de Juárez and Excelsior newspapers ran articles on the criminal background of Steven Paddock’s father, convicted bank robber Benjamin H. Paddock, who was on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list in 1969 after escaping from La Tuna federal prison in Anthony, Texas, the old joint on the borderline with New Mexico. 

In an editorial, left-leaning La Jornada took a jab at U.S. foreign policy, arguing that the genuine security threats to the nation come from within.

“Indeed, it might not be a coincidence that the most bellicose country in the world has citizens of this type, who decide to kill several dozen people, even without a recognizable mental disorder,” the newspaper’s editors wrote.

“Paradoxically, the stellar pretext of American war-making policy in the world is the need to eradicate threats against the (United States) population, when the most serious of these threats comes precisely from inside the United States, as shown by the unstoppable succession of atrocities such as the one perpetrated yesterday In Las Vegas,” they wrote.

Coverage of the Las Vegas massacre came on top of weeks of what could only be characterized as unprecedented disaster reporting. In Mexican media, Las Vegas fit into a news menu baking with calamitous political, social and environmental fare. Meriting extra coverage were earthquakes in Oaxaca and Mexico City, Caribbean hurricanes, a resurgence in narco-violence, and Madrid’s crackdown on the Catalonian independence movement, an issue observed with much interest in a country violently born from imperial Spain.   

Mixed into this collage of crisis and catastrophe were reports on the third anniversary of the forced disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa college students, whose fates have never been credibly clarified, and the 49th anniversary of the government massacre of students in Mexico City on the eve of the Olympic games.    

In the new style of Mexican journalism, reporter Carmen Aristegui devoted considerable time to Las Vegas on her daily live Internet news program, interspersing video footage from news networks with horrific scenes recorded by people on the ground with their cellphones. 

For analysis, Aristegui turned to Mexican historian Lorenzo Meyer and pundit Denise Dresser. The two discussed Las Vegas in the context of U.S. history, the contentious gun control debate in this country and the contemporary political landscape north of the Rio Bravo/Rio Grande.   

Cautioning that it was too early to know the real story behind the Las Vegas massacre, Meyer nonetheless posed a question he said was fundamental to understanding it: “Why are firearms so available in the United States?”

The Mexican scholar traced the U.S. relationship to guns back to colonial times when settlers employed firearms to subjugate the native peoples. Meyer predicted that President Trump would not revisit the gun control debate, but insisted that Las Vegas presented U.S. civil society with a fresh opportunity to reexamine “this tradition that comes from a time when they were dispossessing the original nations and had to be armed to be able to do it.” 

Dresser put Las Vegas into what she termed a “Trumpian crisis” encompassing everything from the NFL player protest controversy to Hurricane Maria. 

“The crisis of Puerto Rico, and the interaction with the mayor of San Juan reveals (Trump’s) worse demons — sexism, machismo and the disregard of Latinos — and his contentions that Puerto Rico is playing the part of the victim, that the residents of the island should learn to help themselves,” Dresser said.

Concurring with Meyer, Dresser asserted that Las Vegas shows the U.S. can’t or won’t resolve a “grave” problem involving the regulation of firearms, the NRA and the Second Amendment.

“But were the founding fathers of the U.S. really thinking of high caliber arms used to murder civilians when they used their arguments to incorporate the use and bearing of arms in the Constitution?” Dresser pondered. “I don’t think so. This amendment was the guarantee for the U.S. colonists to defend themselves from the British crown in the context of independence for their country.”

At the end of the day, however, the U.S. won’t confront the thorny issues surrounding Las Vegas “in spite of the dimension of the tragedy,” Dresser concluded.

Kent Paterson is an independent journalist who covers issues in the U.S./Mexico border region.

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