Gringo in Guadalajara

 The Security State

Safety in Guadalajara is an illusive concept in many ways.  You feel safe, but you don't know if you actually are safe.  Many factors are difficult to determine.  For instance, the drug wars that are crippling the northern part of Mexico have not spread so much to this area of the country.  And yet it is an issue here.  Drug crimes happen and they are splashed on the front pages of the newspapers.  But they are not very evident in daily life.  It goes on, but it is largely undetected.

One often finds it difficult to judge the danger level of a neighborhood in Guadalajara.  In the U.S., you can immediately judge (at least superficially) a neighborhood based upon such visible signs as cracked sidewalks, graffiti-covered walls and the number of vacant lots.  Here in Guadalajara, such problems plague even wealthy neighborhoods.  Still, crime here tends to be more economic than violent.  Petty crimes such as stealing side-view mirrors and taking bicycles tend to be rampant.

The presence of armed guards can be an unnerving sight in Guadalajara.

The security presence here in enormous.  Many in the U.S. complain about their own increased security state, including everything from gated communities to airline regulations.  But here in Mexico, security is far more ostentatious.  Few Americans who visit Mexico will forget the first time they see a guard standing outside a bank flaunting an armed rifle.  And one often sees various types of army personnel or police with loaded rifles and shotguns standing outside government offices or important buildings.  When the cash truck pulls up to a 7-11, two guards step out with shotguns and guard the door.  It can all be a bit unnerving.

An intricate system of spiked wires guards a Guadalajara vacant lot.

But the security measures of private citizens also lead one to feel that the environment may be unsafe.  Most houses look like small fortresses, with high walls, extremely secure gates and an expensive array of electrical shock wires and spiked fencing above.  Many houses also have rather vicious-looking dogs who make a great fuss when someone walks past, while a percentage of dogs live on the roofs of houses, barking down on street passer-bys.

And yet despite all this, most of the Mexico feels just as safe as the United States.  As always, it seems security is as much about perception as it is about reality.