Her life, the family agrees, is the most affected, because she has the largest network of friends and works at a private school. It was there that she saw her first corpse, left on a grassy patch in front of the school's tidy facade last year. It was there that the director disclosed last spring that five parents of students had been kidnapped in the course of one month. And the school is where she sees signs of a nascent exodus: Families began uprooting to move to Cancún, the United States, and other places, just as her extended family now is planning.
Carolina even perceives the change through the play of her 4-year-old students, recalling the day one of them tugged at her shirt saying, "Ms. Gomez, Ms. Gomez, the boy with the dirty belly wins."
"What?" she asked, perplexed.
The little boy repeated himself.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"When there is a shootout, the boy must drop to the floor," the child explained.
"You used to see what happened in Afghanistan and say, 'poor Afghanis,' " says Enrique, Carolina's brother. "Now it is right here."
Veracruz is a fun-loving city, hot and humid, where musicians on the central plaza strike their wooden marimbas as giant ships at the busy port in the background offload everything from Volkswagens to beef.
Narcotraffickers also have long used the port and the highway system here that winds from the Yucatán Peninsula along the Gulf coast. Yet the dealings around the trade rarely affected the average citizen's life.
But when the Gulf Cartel and its enforcers – the Zetas – splintered in 2010, the latter took over the Veracruz turf. The Zetas, made up of former elite military members – are perceived as the most ruthless of the gangs, kidnapping migrants and extorting regular citizens.