Mexico bus travel marred by killings

I've ridden the bus all over Mexico.

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I've taken a bus down the curvy roads of Oaxaca, making me so dizzy that I could barely feel my feet beneath me after a six- hour ride.

I've ridden along the coast of Jalisco going from one beach town to another.

And I've taken the bus from Guadalajara up to the border, past Monterrey, Nuevo Laredo, and into Texas.

One time I even rode the bus from the border to Chicago. In the last 15 years I've made short and long distance trips across Mexico at least 100 times.

But a recent news story in the Los Angeles Times sent chills up my spine and filled my heart with sadness.

Over the last few weeks, authorities have found the bodies of more than 170 people in mass graves, and they believe most of them were passengers abducted from buses in the border state of Tamaulipas.  

There is evidence many of them were also tortured and some of the women raped. A few of the victims were U.S. citizens.

Nobody knows why this happened. Did they want to rob them? Did they want to recruit them? Were they looking for rivals?

Apparently, it had been happening for months. People didn't show up at their destinations. Relatives didn't know what happened. They just vanished.

It's shocking it could go on so many months without any news. But the Mexican media is facing autocensura, or self-censorship. If you dig too deep, you could get killed. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 30 Mexican journalists have been killed in recent years.

Mexican authorities have arrested and blamed members of the Zetas drug cartel. There also are reports that some police officers gave protection to cartel hitmen. That may explain why some police didn't investigate when people went missing.

This news has shocked a country where violence has become all too commonplace.

It also points to the fact that many more innocent civilians are becoming victims in this terrible drug war.

What is the solution?

If we could stop drug use in the United States, that would virtually end the drug war in Mexico.

But that's like saying we can eliminate terrorism. That's not a realistic goal. How do you root out something so deep?

Some people say we should legalize drugs. That isn't so easy either. Just because prostitution is legal in Las Vegas or Amsterdam doesn't mean that women aren't abused or exploited.

Legalizing the drug trade wouldn't mean that people still wouldn't be killed or hurt.

I just know that I will never board a bus in Mexico again with that same sense of security.

I think about all the nice people I have met riding the buses in Mexico -  a grandfather going to visit a shrine, Mexican-American school children heading south to spend the summer with relatives, young backpackers looking for a good surf.

The interstate bus system in Mexico is known as well run and far more comfortable than a Greyhound. They have bathrooms and show movies. The seats recline and they make stops where people get on and sell tacos and tamales.

I have always felt safe on buses in Mexico. I won't stop riding the bus in central Mexico, as I have recently. But I might not travel by bus to the border again.

When I do get on a bus, I will think about those who boarded hoping to see a friend or relative at the end of their journey.

I will think about how they never made it home.

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  • It's never easy to say goodbye to someone at the bus stop.

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