Had an interesting conversation with someone today about the way Mexico is perceived because of the narcos; he compared it to the way hooligans ruin England's reputation.
Is every English person a hooligan? Of course not. Is violence bound to erupt at every football match? Of course not.
Is every Sinaloan a narco? Of course not. Are you likely to encounter a shootout or decapitation every time you visit Sinaloa? Of course not.
How you perceive the danger all depends on where you're coming from. I had a conversation years ago with a US journalist friend, who had just gone to an English football match for the first time. He said it was very tense. At times, scary.
I couldn't really grasp his view. I'd never experienced that sort of reaction myself.
A couple of years ago, before I first went to Culiacan, I asked a fellow journalist how their trip had gone. "It was intense. Scary," came the reply.
Shortly after, I went to see for myself. Culiacan was hot, bustling, noisy and, well, anything but intense. The army was all over the place, which kind of bothered me, but that's Mexico right now. I relied on locals to tell me their perspective – some were definitely shit scared, others just shrugged and said this was how the city always was.
The next time I went, I tried to view things the way I thought a US journalist (I was raised primarily in the UK). I was wary, watching for what might seem uncomfortable for someone born and raised in the US with only Mexico as a frame of reference for the abroad. Lo and behold, it was intense. Almost everyone seemed a bit shadier than before. The military presence was still a bit troublesome, but actually less so than before.
On another visit to the city, I tried to view things as a DEA agent might, based on conversations I had with agents. I became suspicious of people following me, i talked quietly on the phone and in person, avoided staying in one place too long, holy shit i nearly went crazy out of my mind. And I wasn't even doing any of the work they would have been doing. I very quickly went back to seeing things from my perspective.
I don't really know where I'm going with this but I thought I'd post it anyway. It always interests me to see how different people view different things.