Friday, December 3

Shots in the stadium | Opinion

The Corona Stadium in Torreón, this week during a match between Santos and Guadalajara.
The Corona Stadium in Torreón, this week during a match between Santos and Guadalajara.Andrés Herrera / EFE

Shortly before 8:00 pm on Saturday, August 20, 2011, my wife and I settled into the seats of the Alberto Alvarado de Gómez Palacio theater for a Tania Libertad concert. The previous weekends had been very intense in the coverage of organized crime violence that was hitting La Laguna at the time and left little respite in my work as editorial director of The Century of Torreón. I was expecting at least a quiet Saturday.

Minutes before the concert began, my BlackBerry began to vibrate with messages from the newsroom. There are bullets in the Santos Laguna game, which was playing that day against Morelia in a new stadium, inaugurated less than two years earlier in the city of Torreón.

The information was very brief, it had been sent by an editor who had seen on television how the players ran off the field, without knowing yet if the shots were inside or outside the stadium. For the location, the shooting was shocking, but the event itself was not extraordinary. In recent years, the Laguneros lived daily shootings and homicides as a result of a criminal war between the Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel that were fighting for control of La Laguna, a region shared by Coahuila and Durango that is a key point in the trafficking of drugs to the United States.

Until then, the shootings occurred only in the eyes of those unlucky enough to be in the place, not in the eyes of thousands of people who saw this shooting live on the national network. Another message described the scenes that had been televised throughout the country and that I would later see on repeat: players running into the tunnel and fans falling chest to the ground in the stands. A piece of information from Guillermo Vacio, the reporter who was covering the police note at that time, indicated that the shooting had been outside.

At that point we posted the first alert on Twitter while we were trying to get more information. Shortly after, we learned that about 500 meters from the stadium, a Zetas convoy ran into municipal police, whom they attacked. The bullets reached the stadium, penetrating the north facade, where the steel plates made the bullets rumble louder. Some bullets went to embed themselves in box walls.

The confrontation with the police gave me the first clue that this shooting had been totally predictable, even that the warnings had been ignored. So far in 2011, Los Zetas hitmen had attacked municipal police officers on at least 20 occasions, killing several of them. In the previous four weeks alone, there had been three armed attacks against agents or facilities of the municipal police, including one against its director.

The coverage that we gave in El Siglo de Torreón to these events provoked a threat against reporters from various La Laguna media by those who at that time headed the Zetas cell in La Laguna: stop covering those events or face the consequences.

The way in which criminals had unleashed their violence for years with total impunity had led them to carry out increasingly blatant attacks, and to threaten the press more frequently. In a conversation with a senior federal government official in those days, I shared with him my concern about the way criminals had become empowered, and how I felt imminent that they were going to deliver a spectacular coup. The same night of the shooting outside the stadium, this official called me. “What’s happening in Torreón?” He asked me. “What we talked about the other day,” I replied. It seemed that something was going to happen and it happened.

What if they speak to us?

After receiving the first messages about the shooting, others from family and friends began to arrive asking what was happening, while around me the other theater goers began to see their phones and murmur among themselves.

We have to go, I told my wife, also worried because her brother was in the stadium. He left the room thinking how to deploy a dozen reporters, photographers and editors to cover the shocking news, while the mayor of Gómez Palacio, Rocío Rebollo, came on stage to warn, a broken voice, that the concert would continue because the violence was not going to prevail.

On the way to writing, the information was still brief and only came from outside the stadium because inside communication with Humberto Vázquez, the Sports reporter who covered the game, was impossible: cell phone lines were saturated. Upon reaching the newspaper, the information began to be clarified. Even if TV Azteca he cut off the transmission of the game just a few seconds after the shooting started, we had managed to communicate with Humberto thanks to the Internet connection in the press room. Around there he told us the chaos of the stands and that after ruling out the shooting inside the stadium, the exit had been closed until the environment was safe.

The reporters of the police section obtained the data on the circumstances and the place of the shooting. It was half a kilometer north of the stadium and the convoy of hitmen had left the municipality of San Pedro, about 50 kilometers northeast of Torreón, where they had one of their hideouts, and they made the entire journey without any group of soldiers or federal police officers. or state detained them, until they ran into the municipal police.

During the previous year, the municipal police had undergone a process of purification, after having suffered a penetration of Los Zetas, to the extent that agents of this corporation did dirty jobs such as homicides or kidnappings. In 2010, a new municipal administration fired almost a thousand agents and put in a military command. The task of rebuilding the police had to start from scratch, and by 2011, it only had 100 elements for a city of 600,000, but they were better-trained officers. The attacks that the Zetas unleashed against them were due to an attempt to re-penetrate the corporation.

The attack on August 20 was one more on a network that had been going on all year, but the hit men did not notice that later on there was a soccer game televised on the national network.

When an event of such magnitude occurs, all the attention and energy is put on organizing the coverage and gathering the information, with no space to think about anything else. This case was different because there was a question that assailed us when I was with several editors putting together the cover of the next day with the headline “Panic in the stadium”. What if they speak to us? What do we do if one of the Zetas leaders threatens us not to publish, knowing that their informative logic was to silence all the violence they unleashed? They never spoke and due to the magnitude of the story we would have ignored them, but we did not know at what cost.

The beginning of the end

In hindsight, the shooting outside the stadium that August 20 was the beginning of the end for the Zetas in La Laguna. It was not immediately appreciated, because just two weeks later, in that same place (although with the stadium empty) they again attacked municipal police, killing three of them.

But in the following months, the Army recognized that the Zetas had become the most dangerous criminal group for Lagune society and focused its batteries more against them. This left the Sinaloa Cartel in a better position to fight the rival cartel on their side. In the following months, several Zetas leaders were killed, but not all by soldiers. Within two years, by the summer of 2013, the Los Zetas cell that had arrived in 2006 to take over the Lagunera region was missing.

There began the pacification of La Laguna, a story that has been set as an example for other parts of the country and that recently was the object of an academic study. But La Laguna was pacified because the rivalry between criminal groups ended, not because the criminals ended. It remains to be seen whether the resilience of La Laguna can withstand another onslaught from a group that wants to control the region.

The experience of the shooting outside the stadium remains a reminder of the fragile security, which allowed us to recover many activities, nightlife, shows, sporting events.

It was a wish expressed by the president of Santos, Alejandro Irarragorri, that August 20, 2011 when after the shooting he went down to the field together with the captain of the team Osvaldo Sánchez, to speak to the fans still in shock: “That the heart of this Region is above all those who try to overshadow it ”. Tania Libertad returned to La Laguna in 2018, but there were other reasons why I couldn’t go to that concert. I still owe it to myself.

Javier Garza Ramos He is a journalist in Torreón, Coahuila.

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