La Mordida

“La Mordida” is a cultural reality that has existed in Mexico since at least the revolution of 1910. Literally, it means “the bite”, but in actuality it is just a euphemism for extortion. It is a payment to get someone to look the other way.

Growing up on the border of El Paso, Texas and Cuidad Juarez, Chihuahua with a foot in each culture, I took this sort of everyday corruption with a grain of salt. It was so common that it seemed no more immoral than jaywalking. It was looked at as a sort of tax to the official who everyone knew was not making a living wage.

It was not until I grew older that I realized that it was much more than paying off a cop to make your ticket go away, it permeates every aspect of society.

Since President Calderon declared a “War on Drugs” in 2006, Mexico and especially its border regions has seen an exorbitant increase in violence. The numbers are astonishing, and the official body count is around 40,000, but I would not be surprised if the number was substantially higher.  The stakes have been raised which means looking away has become much more lucrative, and not looking away carries higher consequences.


Mexico, though still considered to be a developing country, is by all accounts wealthy so it is puzzling to me that they do not pay the people hired to look after the well-being of its citizens a living wage.

In Cuidad Juarez, which is now considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world, the impunity of the drug cartels and desperation of its people have reached levels unseen before. I have heard personal accounts of hungry police officers breaking into homes and stealing food from innocent families.

In some regions of Mexico la mordida has transformed from euphemism to reality.

Often the situation seems hopeless, but as neighbors to this troubled region we can not support the suffering of innocent men, women and children. There has to be a way to save Mexico. The drug business is too lucrative, and other jobs are scarce and poorly paid. I personally believe that some sort of agricultural reform has to be a part of the national rhetoric, and that through this people can reconnect to their roots, restore their health, and live with dignity. Obviously this is not a panacea, but it is a sprout.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. asiago says:

    Sounds barbaric the idea of raiding homes for basic living goods such as food. Yet, everyone gots to eat! Interesting how a bite to eat (una mordida) can lead you into a very large topic of discussion on Mexican politics. There is a lot of confusion for me to understand why there is a power craze in Latin America in general. Maybe with high inequality rates is a result of people wanting to feel secure. Food is a big part of that for sure.

    How is agrarian reform going to benefit the dying? Is the hope that they will get to know their roots and become farmers? Will eating good food give them health and restore their dignity?

    Great contribution to Food Studies!

  2. Thanks Asiago! You raise some really good questions and points. I feel I was a little vague when I mentioned agrarian reform as means to at least absorb some of the violence. Firstly, I would like to offer a caveat; the situation is very complicated and there is no one solution and any change will be very difficult when combined with corruption, billions (trillions?) of dollars, and violence. I am most definately a realist, but I refuse to fight corrupt practices with corruption (which is a whole other can-o-beans).

    That being said, let’s take a look at the Drug Industry. Where does it start? It starts in the dirt, most drugs must be grown. I honestly believe that when given the option workers would rather make money licitly as opposed to illicitly, but that is not an option when you can’t make a living from legal work. The cartels know this and have exploited it to their advantage. Mexico has a higher % of farmers and a much higher % of peasant farmers than the USA. In our country we have few farmers, in Mexico you have many un or under-employed farmers who have no other real skillset. They are not making a living wage mostly because they cannot compete with the subsidized supersized farms in the United States, and it is more expensive to plant food than to buy it cheaply from the US. What happens is a poor Mexican farmer will take out a loan, try to produce as much cash crop as possible, destroy the soil, and remain in debt. Farming is not lucrative unless you are in a niche/specialized market.

    The cartels pay up to ten times as much to plant drugs, and they use extreme force to “presuade” people into farming drugs. I am proposing agrarian reform as a means to lower the incentive to do this. If a farmer can make a dignified living out of producing food for its community then they will not be as tempted by the cartels. Obviously, this is difficult to accomplish for a number of reasons, on the one hand you would have to close yourself off to the USA and on the other hand you would have to remove many corrupt officials who are benefitting from the drug trade. It probably isn’t going to happen anytime soon, but a girl can dream.

    I hope I answered your questions clearly!

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