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Mexico drug war casualty: Citizenry suffers post-traumatic stress

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The family agreed to explore their experience with the Monitor if they could use pseudonyms they felt would assure their safety.

The shootout itself seems almost statistically ordinary in a nation that in 2010 saw 14 mayors assassinated, a surge in kidnappings and extortion acknowledged by the government, and cautionary beheadings become a new standard of criminal threat.

Indeed, here in Veracruz it was hardly the first time Carolina had had a brush with violence; and it wouldn't be the last. In the past 22 months, a corpse was left outside her school, family members of her kindergarten students have been kidnapped, and she had to undergo security training in how to survive in the event of a shootout at the school.

"But," she explains, "it was the first time I did not feel safe in my bed. I used to go to sleep with confidence. I have become totally convinced that there is not a single safe place in Veracruz."

It's a new prism through which an increasing number of Mexicans see their world. The fight against organized crime, begun by Mexican President Felipe Calderón when he took office in December 2006, has cost more than 40,000 lives. The government maintains that 90 percent of victims are rival traffickers.

But there is a growing sense – especially as violence spreads to new parts of the country like Veracruz – that there is another kind of victim. Most Mexicans are not direct targets – traffickers, public officials, police, journalists. They do not figure into any official violence tallies, but many feel that they are more than mere bystanders. They have been forced to change how they live: how they commute to work, how they travel, what they do in the evenings, how they dress, and how they socialize.

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