A lot depends on who you are and where you live. Today's WSJ has a story headlined "Mexico Under Siege" in which business leaders and city officials say that drug violence is out of control. The business community in Monterey, which until recently had been relatively safe, took out a full-page newspaper ad that begs the government to bring in more troops. From the Journal:
Later that day, the body of Edelmiro Cavazos, mayor of the Monterrey suburb of Santiago, was found beside a highway. Mr. Cavazos had been abducted Sunday night, the latest in a string of attacks against politicians in Mexico's north. His killing is another incident in a terrifying spell for Monterrey residents that began Saturday when armed gangs set up more than a dozen roadblocks on key boulevards of the city, paralyzing traffic for hours. The next day, a grenade was lobbed at the offices of an important television broadcaster. On Tuesday night, grenades were also hurled at several small businesses on the city's outskirts.
But an American expat who lives with her husband in a small village about 11 miles from the Veracruz capital of Xalapa has quite a different take. She blogs:
We have crime here: robberies, thefts, occasional murders, extortion, pick-pocketing in Xalapa. Less than many areas of the US, but nothing to sneeze at. However, it does not make the area frightening, any more than living say in suburban Boston would be frightening (and I don't mean in the rough suburbs). Mexico is a poor country, and just as in the US people comment on the spending on wars and the military and how it makes it so difficult to make repairs to infrastructure, create jobs, improve schools, people here talk about the cost of Calderón's (the President's) drug war for taking money from other needs.
They also point out that the Calderon's anti-drug militarization has increased violence in the states where the drug gangs predominate. They criticize US policy because it does not recognize that among other things, the drug business is big business in the states it flourishes in, not only because of the drug lords themselves, but because of the large numbers of ordinary people involved in growing and producing them for the US market. Growing drug crops (pretty much exclusively marijuana -- cocaine only travels through Mexico) pays a lot better than a lot of other jobs, so poor people feel that it's so much better a way to make a living than trying to make a go of farming corn which no longer makes a profit because of US corn dumping just as in the US poor kids feel they can make more money in the drug trade than at McDonald's.
I have to point out that people's lives don't seem miserable for the most part, though without a doubt more money and better work conditions would help in many ways. But people here are resourceful. This is a working class area with tight family ties and social connections. People watch over their kids (who play in the streets and up at the small park in the center of town) and make sure they go to school and do their homework. I love living here. We know some of our neighbors well. We celebrate with them, we help each other out.
I believe both accounts. Mexico is a big place and generalizations are tricky. Unfortunately, we're getting the worst-case version of events without any leavening from locations where the situation is not nearly as bad.