Human Currency in Mexico’s Drug Trade

In Mexico, there is a strange practice known as the “art of renting.” If you’re arrested for drunken driving, for example, you can pay someone to spend two nights in jail in your place. Some hospitals require that a relative be on hand for each patient, so I have seen old women hire themselves out to sit in waiting rooms pretending to be mothers and wives. It’s rumored that childless adults who want to visit the Children’s Museum here, on days when grownups must be accompanied by minors to enter, can rent a child outside the entrance.

In much the same way, you can rent people to beat up or kill your enemy or lend their names as signatories for your shady business deals. I’ve often thought of renting another person to write under my name. Then someone else would have to address the drug-related violence, like the killing of an American consulate worker and her husband this month in Ciudad Juárez. Hillary Clinton met with our president, Felipe Calderón, last week to discuss a new counternarcotics strategy. Perhaps the writer impersonating me would be able to muster some enthusiasm about the results.

All of us here are scared of the drug violence, and yet most don’t take it personally. Ordinary citizens feel that this situation barely affects them. Bad things happen to other people … over there.

It’s as if the whole country were made up of people who rent and people who are rented, as if one half of society has contracted the other to carry out the role of mutilated corpse, hit man, corrupt official or missing woman. There are no victims or criminals — just hired men.

Only by distancing ourselves is it possible to function in a country where there can be 24 men found lying on the side of a highway, each one with a bullet in his head, or where the corpses of kidnapped people can be found to have their mouths stuffed with magnificent bouquets of yellow flowers.

Amazingly, people here are not shocked by such images. They are not novel. Today’s violence is indistinguishable from all of the violence of our history. The victims of drug gangs take the place of the hundreds of women murdered in Juárez in the last decades, of massacred indigenous people and of the plague of kidnappings and torture from the southern to the northern border.

Perhaps we’ve managed to forget, as we buy and sell one another so extravagantly, that death’s deals alone are permanent.

Mario Bellatin, the author of the novel Beauty Salon. This article was translated by Kurt Hollander from the Spanish.