Wednesday, December 19, 2012

In the hard, cold land of the Sierra Tarahumara, narco traffickers wage open war against the poorest of the poor

"We can only commend ourselves to God, and ask that He protect us all"

Guadalupe y Calvo, Chihuahua -
President Enrique Peña Nieto and the new PRI administration which took office on Dec. 1 say they'll focus mainly on crime prevention. Someone should explain the plan to narcotics traffickers, who continue operating as virtually autonomous armies in the countryside.

Two days ago Peña Nieto announced what he promised would be a significant strategy shift away from the drug war policies of former president Felipe Calderón (EPN presents long awaited security plan: Mexico will "move from punishing crime to preventing it"). He campaigned heavily on the issue last spring, and he may well have won on it. Whether it really is a new policy, and more, whether it will have the slightest impact on the 72 month old conflict, remain to be seen. There are plenty of reasons to doubt so.

Late Friday evening, Dec. 7, a heavily armed commando force some 50 strong entered this hamlet of 6,000 people in Chihuahua state. The surrounding region is home to the Tarahumara, an indigenous people who remain outside the mainstream of Mexican life and who stick to traditions and a lifestyle generations old. Among the Tarahumara are some of the country's poorest citizens, many of whom suffer dire pobreza alimentaria - chronic hunger which borders on starvation. Last spring president (then candidate) Peña Nieto said improving their lot would be one of his primary goals. But first he'll have to stop them from dying.

The heavily armed gunmen entered Guadalupe y Calvo for reasons which are not clear. What is clear is what they did once they got there.

Dressed in military uniforms and carrying soldiers' combat gear, driving big pick-ups and Suburbans, the commandos set fire to homes, riddled vehicles with automatic weapons fire and generally sowed terror among locals. The Milenio news service reported the events yesterday and posted the video clip below, calling the brazen, multi-hour attack the first direct affront to the new PRI administration. The government has promised to reduce violence within 100 days of taking office, especially in remote region were local law enforcement is weak or nonexistent. Now the narcos have replied: "bring it on."

The gunmen literally took over the town and its city hall for hours. They walked in and out of homes and businesses at will, seizing whomever they wanted, executing 11 people in the process. The town is hundreds of miles from the state capital, but a military detachment is headquartered only six miles away in a village called El Zorrillo. It did not intervene, perhaps because it was not summoned. No one seems to know just why.

Chihuahua's state prosecutor said that eight campesinos ("country people") were killed, together with a teacher, a student and an employee of Mexico's federal election commission (IFE). There may be neither rhyme nor reason to explain what could have been random killings. But there are theories.

One is that the eight local victims were on the wrong side of the drug industry. Fields of poppy and marijuana abound in the area - indeed, that is the primary economy. Someone has to harvest the crop, and those willing to do so earn 150-200 pesos ($12-$15 dollars) a day. In a town where 89% of the population lives in poverty, and 47% endure the most extreme version, there are plenty of takers. Narcotics traffickers understand this and profit from the community's generational desperation.

In this case the farm workers may have been harvesting for competing traffickers, prompting a reprisal attack on the citizens of Guadalupe y Calvo. Or it could have been a preemptive strike by one drug cartel against another, for what's called "control of the plaza" - vertical and horizontal domination of the market in a particular geographical region. The latter is common in Mexico's drug war, although it's more typically encountered in urban, not rural, areas.

Prosecutors think that the murder of the other three could have been a case of mistaken identification by the marauding gunmen.

In the video clip Milenio interviewed the mother of the school teacher, a 20 year old man, about what happened the night of Dec. 7-8.

"Some men arrived, a lot of them, dressed like troops. They forced their way in and said they were soldiers. They grabbed my son. He was in bed, so he had no clothes on. He told them that he was a teacher, that he hadn't done anything. The men told him that they were looking for other persons, and again my son told them that he hadn't done anything. There were about 25-30 of them, wearing hoods and masks, with rifles."

The victim's mother continued:

"The carried him away. Not 20 minutes passed until I heard the shots. They had already finished him off, just 150 meters from the house. The gunshots were very, very loud. There were so many of them. I don't know how many, but the bullets destroyed him. It was horrible what they did to him."

The Milenio reporter asked the woman if she was afraid:

"I'm not afraid of them returning. No, I'm not going to run. Neither my son nor the rest of us owed or owe anything to anybody. This was a horrible injustice that was done to us. Look at my house here, at my things; we're humble people. These people made a huge mistake; they changed my life forever. I only have half of my life now. They wiped out all the dreams of my son, who wanted to be someone. The government, or whoever comes here to help us, they have to protect young people who want to make something of themselves. This is so unjust. All of the dreams and hopes of our young people are being wiped out."

But some are afraid. Many family members of the other victims have already fled the town. One told the network, "the army and the state police have come for the past eight days, but now they're gone. Who will protect us? What we want is someone who will stand up and fight these people."

The mayor of Guadalupe y Calvo told Milenio that townspeople were very frightened by the escalating violence throughout the region. "We've been dealing with this for a very long time, and disgracefully, it still hasn't come to an end."

He acknowledged that many locals are involved in the harvesting of poppy and marijuana. "Yes, it's true, in remote communities like this one, there are just no jobs, people have no other way to make a living, they do what they have to do, and at times, well, this is the end result."

"I think that in cases like this there's nothing to do but commend ourselves to God. And ask that He protect us all."

Dec. 23 - Battles between government troops and powerful narco militias have raged the past week in several towns in Sierra Tarahumara, press sources report.

July 24, 2013 - More narco butchery in impoverished Guadalupe y Calvo
Dec. 25 - Death toll in Jalisco-Michoacán violence rises to 28, including 13 police officers
Dec. 24 - Christmas Eve narco violence wracks Jalisco and Michoacán, leaving 7 police officers dead
Dec. 23 - Mexico's new PRI government seeks huge increase in domestic security budget
Dec. 19 - Enrique's challenging homework
Dec. 8 - Extreme narco violence marks Enrique Peña Nieto's first week
Dec. 2 - Narcos send Enrique Peña Nieto a message: nothing has changed
Nov. 21 - Mexican survey gives poor marks to Calderón, reveals little confidence in Peña Nieto
Nov. 16 - Gross economic disparity still a hard fact of Mexican life
Nov. 11 - Seven of 10 Mexican households report food shortages
Oct. 17 - Ending poverty key focus of incoming PRI government
July 23 - Enrique Peña Nieto's biggest challenges will be economy and environment, not drug cartels
Apr. 23 - Economic inequality the primary cause of Mexico's insecurity, says Manuel López Obrador
Feb. 10 - Increasing poverty and rising state debt result in poor economic report for Mexico

© MGRR 2013. All rights reserved. This article may be cited or briefly quoted with proper attribution or a hyperlink, but not reproduced without permission.

No comments:

Post a Comment