Mexico suffered the criminal attack with the highest number of civilian casualties in its near history recently as a group of 10 to 12 armed men entered the two-story Casino Royale in the city of Monterrey, doused it with a flammable liquid and threw Molotov cocktails in the first floor. The exact details are still sketchy and the real death toll might never be established (there are inconsistencies in numbers reported by authorities, witness accounts and morgue registries) but unofficially the number is above 50, most of them women. The full motive behind the attack will probably never be determined, but the local media’s investigative reports point toward non-compliance with a criminal gang that had demanded a cut of the business’ profits in exchange for “protection.”
Gruesome as the attack was, the reason for the elevated number of victims sadly has more to do with institutionalized corruption than with the criminal act itself. Survivors to this tragedy have testified that other than the main entrance to the establishment (which was blocked by the attackers), four non-labelled service doors were locked and the only supposed emergency exit to the place was fake and had a concrete wall behind it. The amount of suffering and emotions the victims must have felt when they thought they would be able to escape the fire and faced a wall in front of them, is horribly unimaginable.
Casino Royale received its license to operate as a restaurant and betting house in 2007, during the administration of Mayor Adalberto Madero, who in 2011 was officially kicked out of the PAN party for corruption charges and tainting the party’s image (he was later reinstated due to a technicality). Ironically enough, Rodrigo, José Francisco and Ramón Agustín Madero (Adalberto’s cousins) are members of the administrative board of the company that owns Casino Royale.
The matter becomes worse when we learn that during 2011 the establishment had already been subject to two other criminal attacks; the venue was not shut down permanently after the follow-up investigations even though it was not up to code. As if that wasn’t enough, videos showing Monterrey Mayor Fernando Larrazabal’s brother going into the Casino and suspiciously receiving wads of cash in cell phone boxes were leaked by the local and national media, furthering social outrage.
Today, a city and a whole country continues to mourn. Frustration is at an all-time high and is manifesting itself in different ways. On Twitter users heightened their continued demands for both Larrazabal and Governor Rodrigo Medina to resign. The local soccer teams held minutes of silence before their recent games. Masses honoring the victims have been held and peace rallies are the current talk of the town, though actual turnout has been surprisingly low.
Well-intentioned as these efforts may be, the sad truth is that they will do little to solve the problem. And going after the criminals with guns is a must, but that is fighting the manifestations of the ailment and not the root causes. President Calderón’s war on organized crime is palliative at best. The worst criminals behind massacres like Casino Royale do not carry an AK-47. They wear suits, sit behind desks at government buildings and are a part of institutionalized corruption. And we keep them there.
While I can certainly understand the plight for Medina and Larrazabal to leave office, individuals governing are only part of a larger system-level problem and changing a system does not occur with one single action, and it does not occur overnight.
The prescription for a real cure seems like a utopian list we’ve heard over and over again: better education, more viable job opportunities, strengthened law enforcement, rule of law, actively combating impunity and corruption, etc. But if we really want to act on our current frustration, I believe there are individual actions that each of us can take to start moving in the right direction. I, for one, plan to do my part.
On January 5, I wrote “A New Year’s Resolution for Mexico” for Americas Quarterly Online. Back then I called for our new year’s resolution as Mexicans to be not exercising any form of corruption. I proposed that we no longer bribe public officials to avoid a speeding ticket. No more tax evasion, no more paying purchasing pirate products which we now know are part of organized crime’s value chain. No more negligence in our duty to monitor and demand effectiveness from our elected officials and government bureaucrats and no more questionable practices in the companies we work for.
Little by little, with each permissible act of corruption, we have collectively allowed for this tragedy to happen. My new year’s resolution is even more relevant today than it was when it was originally published and I firmly believe it is a small but decisive step toward the system change we need to instil.
My heartfelt condolences for the victims of the Casino Royale tragedy and their families.
*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.