Saturday, November 27

Stories that kill and keep Zacatecas alive

Four women have come together this afternoon in Jalpa to tell what kills them and keeps them alive. Women who knew each other, but who had never shared their stories in front of others because of a mixture of shame, guilt and fear. “We already have panic, what does it matter a little more”, says Marta Silva, one of them, host of the others. In this town in the south of Zacatecas, sharing a pizza and various penalties is an act of resistance.

Members of the state police next to the coffin of one of the three elements killed by organized crime in Zacatecas, on August 26, 2021.

Photogallery: The images of the ignored violence of Zacatecas

Silva, 52, has been searching for her husband for 11 years, a local police commander, who disappeared during the penultimate wave of violence that the State experienced, a little more than a decade ago, still during the government of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) . Another of the women, Maria Elena Muñoz, also 52, lost her daughter in February 2013. Armed men took her from the center of Jalpa in broad daylight. The other two narrate recent losses, two sons disappeared last year, in the middle of a criminal rearrangement in the region.

They are dramas that span a long decade of violence and impunity, beginning with the war between Los Zetas and the Gulf cartel in the Calderón years, linking up with the recent struggle between the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel, CJNG, and the Sinaloa Cartel. They are the names, the acronyms, the arguments that the authorities have given these years: groups linked to drug trafficking that battle for the territory, the routes and the local markets. Hence, they say, the violence.

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As of mid-August, Zacatecas counted more than 1,000 murders, according to state attorney data. In all of last year there were just over 1,200, according to the account of the National Institute of Statistics. The homicide rate per 100,000 residents is one of the highest in the entire country. Other high-impact crimes such as kidnapping or extortion also have high records. In the last two and a half years, the number of missing persons has skyrocketed, with more than 800 cases reported, almost half of the historical accumulated.

The violence has also left a trail of horrendous situations, massacres of dozens of people, bodies treated as messages, sacrificed to an endless war. On August 12, the bodies of six people were found hanging from a bridge in the capital, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Last Tuesday, criminals ambushed a police patrol near the Serrano municipality of Valparaíso. Three were shot dead and two narrowly spared.

As in Michoacán, Guanajuato or Jalisco, the growing violence and fury of criminal groups challenge the security strategy of the federal government, led by Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The presence of the National Guard and the Army seems alien to the work of the criminals, who have turned parts of the State into real hell, in the case of the mountainous region of Valparaíso and Jerez, or the most populated city, Fresnillo, where 95% of residents think the city is unsafe, the highest percentage in the entire country.

Marta Silva shows a photograph of her husband, who disappeared in Jalpa, Zacatecas.
Marta Silva shows a photograph of her husband, who disappeared in Jalpa, Zacatecas.Teresa of Miguel

In Marta Silva’s house, violence is a continuous lash, a daily trickle. Every morning that her husband is still missing is violence, every week that the investigation shows no progress, too. The same for her involuntary travel companions. Nurse Rosana Esqueda, 43, says that her son disappeared in April 2020. “He was addicted to drugs,” she explains, overcoming any notion of guilt or shame. “It’s that here,” he adds, referring to Jalpa, a municipality of 23,000 inhabitants, “drugs are handled a lot.”

Esqueda explains that her son was a victim of the arrival of the CJNG to the south of Zacatecas and the subsequent rearrangement. An expert in local crime, the woman narrates that the emergence of the Jalisco cartel forced the town’s thugs to put themselves at her service. The first thing they did was find local addicts and small independent vendors to get information from to satisfy the newcomers. Esqueda’s son met both conditions.

Rosana Esqueda shows the photograph of her son, who disappeared in Jalpa.
Rosana Esqueda shows the photograph of her son, who disappeared in Jalpa.Teresa of Miguel

Luz Elena De la Cruz, 49, tells a similar story. Drug addict son close to small drug dealers, perfect target for newcomers, hungry for information and blood trophies. “The day he disappeared he went with a friend of his to Calvillo, in Aguascalientes. Everyone knew that this friend was going to buy glass to sell it here, ”he says, referring to methamphetamine. De la Cruz explains that the two boys traveled one day in February 2020. But on the way they were intercepted and he has no longer seen his son, who would now be 24 years old.

His case and that of Esqueda outline part of the criminal equation in the region. And they confirm an undeniable reality, a continuity between governments and strategies that is directly linked to the case of their other two companions. Be it 2010 or 2020, crime continues to disappear people. Now or 10 years ago, the capacity of prosecutors to resolve this type of situation is, according to their experience, the same: none.

A message, a tantrum

At 2,440 meters high, August nights are cold in the city of Zacatecas. In a pick up From the municipal police, two officers from the reaction group await radio announcements. The driver, a 25-year-old officer with three experience in the unit, drives with the confidence — and recklessness — of a racing driver. “Normally we walk through the center and we move to the edges of the municipality or the red dots,” he explains.

There are hardly any announcements tonight and the driver speaks fluently. Not yet a day and a half ago the criminal attack against the state police has the state corporations in dismay. It’s not that crime doesn’t attack the uniformed, it does. This same year, criminals assassinated the deputy director of the municipal police in the capital. Now every time something like this happens, the bones seem to weigh more. “Fear?”, The driver asks rhetorically, “there is fear. Precisely one of the policemen who killed the other day went with me to school, ”he says.

On Tuesday, a pick up how this one ended up in shreds in the mountains. It was near a community called Boquilla del Refugio, next to Valparaíso, in the southwest of the State. Five state police officers left Jerez after hearing several reports about an alleged shootout in the hills. The agents took the highway that connects Jerez with Valparaíso, a hot spot in the region, when they found another truck with armed men. The shooting started shortly after.

One of the policemen who survived the attack in Valparaíso cries over the coffin of one of his companions.
One of the policemen who survived the attack in Valparaíso cries over the coffin of one of his companions.Teresa of Miguel

The driver and copilot were killed by bullets. Of the three in the pan, one was shot in the leg and bled to death. The other two miraculously saved their lives. One suffered severe blows to his legs and another a wound to his left arm. “It’s that from June to now, all this has gotten worse,” says the municipal police driver, before recounting his own experience in shootings against criminals these years.

June was not just any month. Millions of Mexicans elected their municipal and state representatives for the next triennium. Zacatecas renewed governor and elected mayors for its 58 towns. As in the rest of the territory, the campaign was engulfed in violence. A candidate for mayor of Fresnillo was assaulted by armed men. The candidate for governor of the Going for Mexico coalition asked the government for protection.

Zacatecan Miguel Moctezuma, a public security policy consultant, explains that “elections are windows of opportunity to place interests. From the perspective of the cartels, there is access to public resources, control of zones, legal and illegal businesses, information and protection of the forces of order ”. Moctezuma, who closely follows the evolution of the criminal struggle in the mountains, points out that “there are also incentives from the opposite side, the political class. In the end, the elections are a catalyst, especially knowing that many of the crimes in Mexico go unpunished ”.

The literal nature of criminal violence — the bodies in the gutters, the holes left by missing persons — often obscures the motives for organized crime. Once the paradigm that places drug trafficking at the center of the criminal industry has been overcome, elections, as a source of distribution of public funds, are also imposed as a cause. And also, therefore, the transition periods between old and new administrations.

Municipal police officers and the National Guard patrol the streets of the city of Zacatecas, on August 25.
Municipal police officers and the National Guard patrol the streets of the city of Zacatecas, on August 25.Teresa of Miguel

In the pick up of the municipal police of Zacatecas, the driver comments on an event a few days ago, the practically simultaneous and savage attack against two motels in the capital, one on the outskirts and the other near the center. Two people died and one was injured. Authorities collected thousands of shells from both locations.

Hours earlier, in the afternoon, the person in charge of one of the hotels explained that a group of 10 men had occupied a room on Sunday, around 5:00 p.m. Three hours later, the men fired upon the compound, finally burning several rooms before leaving. Asked about it, the person in charge said that he did not know why it had been, that they had never been asked for a “flat”, that is, money in exchange for existing. “I think it was to send a message to someone … It happens a lot in government changes,” he argued, “when the elect enters, things calm down.”

Late at night, the police driver listens and nods. Although he points to an additional reason: “I think it was their tantrum, because a few days ago they arrested a leader of the Northeast Cartel here,” he explains, referring to one of the groups that emerged from the Los Zetas fracture. That said, a radio notice comes in of a fight in a store. The driver is silent and lines up the peripheral at full speed.

A municipal police vehicle patrols the streets of Zacatecas.
A municipal police vehicle patrols the streets of Zacatecas.Teresa of Miguel

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