Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Mawkish and the Macabre: Mexico's Museum of Enervantes

It's a private museum housed in the Secretary of Defense in Mexico City.

It's a museum filled with objects and information about the drug war but collected by the military.

Its keepers say that it's a museum with a message, and an explicit training purpose for public officials about the lives, lifestyles, deaths, and activities of the drug trafficking organizations, especially so these officials can resist being corrupted.

And yet it's never been open to anybody but members of the military and public officials.

Until this past week.

On Wednesday 18 August, for the first time since its construction in 1985, the Mexican military allowed reporters to tour its Museum of Enervantes. (In English, "enervantes" roughly translates as "nerve wracking" and in Spanish sometimes refers to drugs.)

Most of the museum contains articles confiscated from drug traffickers -- gold machine guns and pistols, examples of bags of cocaine, marijuana, and heroin, a diamond-encrusted cell phone, images of dead drug chiefs -- leading one British newspaper to write that it was filled with "narcobling."

But there was more than that.

For the first time the Mexican military revealed how many of its members have died since 1976 and also since 2006. The latter year is crucial as it includes the start date of President Felipe Calderon's expanded militarized strategy against the drug trafficking organizations. Since 2006, and according to Agence France Presse 191 Mexican military have died. Of these, thirty five were officers, one a cadet, and 148 were troops. Since 1976, 694 military have died fighting drug traffickers.

The military has rarely made its losses public.

But since it granted access to the Museum of Enervantes to reporters, all had to file past an entryway which newspaper La Cronica observes included a mural to fallen military.

It's important to note that the numbers of military are included in the figure of 28,000 people killed since Calderon's drug war began in 2006. The great number of those people are nameless, and the large part of those were civilians caught up in the turf wars between the drug trafficking organizations and the military.

Of course, the drug trafficking organizations have been able to maintain their operations since 2006. And so have the military. Which means that irrespective of the romantic displays of paraphernalia in the museum, civilians have been the losers in Mexico's war on drugs.