The Health Sector: César Duarte’s Goldmine, By Patricia Mayorga (PROCESO)

News magazine Proceso first published this article on January 2, 2015. This article is about former Governor César Duarte of Chihuahua. Duarte is one of eight former governors in Mexico who are wanted for corruption, among other charges. Unlike the other seven governors, Duarte is still on the run and has not been arrested.

Good investigative journalism about corruption in Mexico exists but is sometimes hard to come by. The simplicity with which Mayorga tells a complex story — one that weaves together confidential and anonymous sources along with freedom of information requests and corresponding contracts and other documents —  about corruption in Mexico is one of the reasons this article deserves translation. The fact that Duarte has so far escaped justice demonstrates Mayorga’s article is still timely, still relevant. The power of Mayorga’s investigative journalism reminds us why she is one of Mexico’s threatened journalists. 

Mayorga’s article has been translated in anticipation of her receiving the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Press Freedom Award this November. The Mexican Journalism Translation Project will translate more work by Patricia Mayorga into English in the coming weeks and months so that readers who do not readily speak Spanish can familiarize themselves with the work of this brave Mexican journalist. At least 11 journalists have been murdered in Mexico in 2017. – PT

César Duarte, Former Governor of Chihuahua

The Health Sector: César Duarte’s Goldmine
By Patricia Mayorga (PROCESO)

Complaints and accusations are piling up against the governor of Chihuahua, César Duarte Jáquez. Charges have been filed against Duarte at the federal Attorney General’s office for embezzlement, corruption, overstepping his powers as governor, and misappropriating funds: he transferred state resources to a bank where he holds shares. Duarte now faces  conflict of interest charges for giving state business to certain companies that supply Chihuahua’s health sector and to which he has ties.

CHIHUAHUA, Chih. (Proceso). – In 2011 — and two months after being sworn in as governor — César Horacio Duarte Jáquez of Chihuahua entered into an arrangement with Ymmarsa Pharmaceutica, S.A. de C.V. and Servicios y Atenciones Médicas K. Thanks to him these companies became the state health sector’s top suppliers. Duarte showered them directly with million-peso contracts – in spite of complaints against them for selling overpriced drugs. Duarte’s registered tax address for his not-for-profit and his business is also the same address used by these medical supply companies.

Duarte shares the tax address at 8725 Periferico de la Juventud in the Lomas Universidad neighborhood in Chihuahua with Servicios y Atenciones Médicas K (Farmacias Economik). Duarte’s business, Union Ganadera División del Norte and his not-for-profit Que el Cielo Bendiga a Chihuahua are also domiciled at this address. The not-for-profit was only just registered with Mexico’s Institute for Industrial Property.

Ymmarsa Pharmaceutica’s directors work out of the governor’s business office, even though the company’s address is 11368 Rudyard Kipling Street in the Chihuahua Industrial Complex (“Complejo Industrial Chihuahua”). The directors put the governor’s business office address on their business cards.

A scandal already surrounds Duarte for transferring state resources to the Progreso de Chihuahua Bank, where he is also a shareholder. Attorney Jaime García Chávez and the PAN-ista legislator Rocio Reza Gallegos have filed complaints against Duarte for embezzlement, corruption, misappropriating funds and overstepping his powers. Forty senators and thousands of citizens who have established an anti-Duarte movement back García Chávez and Reza Gallegos. They filed their complaints at the federal Attorney General’s Office.

The pharmaceutical companies present a different sort of case, this time about conflict of interest and favoritism to businesses. Between 2011 and 2013 the health sector spent almost 3 billion pesos (about USD$161million) purchasing drugs, according to the Transparency and Access to Information Law (“Ley de Transparencia y Acceso a la Información”).

Eduardo Almeida Navarro owns both Ymmarsa Farmacias Economik and Administración y Comercialización de Franquicias Internacional, S de RL de CV. Almeida Navarro belongs to the PRI, Duarte’s party, and he backed Duarte’s election campaign. In 2011, 2012, and 2013 more than half of the state budget for purchasing medicines and medical supplies went to Almeida Navarro’s pharmacies. The 2014 expenditures are not yet public.

Since Duarte became governor the state’s expenditure on pharmaceuticals has increased by 32 percent or 301.9million pesos, about US$16 million. Yet state health centers noticeably lack stocks of drugs and medical supplies. The state auditor (“Auditor Superior del Estado,” acronym in Spanish: ASE) has reported that warehouses lack appropriate stock controls.

Audits indicate that businesses linked to Duarte fail to fulfill requirements, or other suppliers file complaints against them showing that their medicines are priced significantly higher than their competitors. And yet still their bids win government tenders.

One group of citizens – supported by doctors who suspected conflict of interest and misappropriation of funds – requested an investigation by the federal Ministry for Public Performance (“Secretaría de la Función Pública”). The Ministry turned down their request, arguing that the correct agency is the state comptroller. But former PRI legislator Liz Aguilera García runs the state comptroller’s office. Aguilera García is close to Duarte and may run as a candidate for Mexico’s federal Congress.

On November 28, 2014, these citizens – and with Proceso already aware of their complaint – filed another before federal auditors. Its received a status of “study and analyze.” In this document citizen petitioners accuse the government of colluding with officials from the health sector and violating the Law of Acquisitions, Leases, Service Contracts and Public Works and the Law of Responsibility for Chihuahua’s State Public Servants.

More Money, Less Stock
The alliance between these pharmacy companies meant that the Chihuahua’s Ministry of Health increased its medicine budget. From 2011 to 2013 the budget surged by about 190 million pesos (around USD$10million).

A summary of the budget document obtained under the Transparency Law makes it apparent that State Health Services spent about 3 billion pesos just on buying drugs and medical supplies. Chihuahua’s Institute of Health (acronym in Spanish, ICHISAL) also manages the federal health program Seguro Popular and it spent around 600 million pesos on similar items for the state pension system, around 1.5million pesos (US$80,000).

However, in one of the most used hospitals for people with Seguro Popular, there have been significant shortages in drugs and medical supplies since 2013. The last available report states that between 2013 and July 2014 no month went by when stock exceeded 90 percent. Instead, for those nineteen months average stock rates were around 58 percent. In previous administration, even with a smaller budget, public officials say the average stocking level hovered around 80 percent.

Some experts cannot believe the increased spending on medicine. “This situation needs to be compared against population increase (…). The previous administration barely covered eight percent of the state’s population. But the current administration covers 45 percent of Chihuahua’s population. The point is that they haven’t taken into account that half of the people in Chihuahua have access to federal health insurance through IMSS [meaning they don’t need duplicated coverage from Seguro Popular],” says an official speaking on condition of anonymity because he is close to Chihuahua’s health minister Pedro Hernández Florez.

There’s a difference of opinion over what is going on: “Maybe they are buying at too great a cost, making poor purchasing choices, or overcompensating after they look at the lack of supply in the hospitals, perhaps both of these things are happening. Buying poorly comes from defective analysis of statistical reports about illnesses. Or, that the reports have not been given appropriate consideration. The favored supplier is given priority and they sell through an intermediary seeking maximum profit, expending minimum effort. The drug might be about to exceed its expiration date or maybe it is not used that frequently.

So, he says, auditors find it difficult to uncover poor practices because they are not doctors trained in administration. He says that when Hernández Flores took up the position the situation worsened.

Another high-level collaborator from the Ministry of Health said on condition of anonymity that the state health sector had taken on these supplies though intermediaries instead of contracting out supply separately and directly with their makers, something that would result in big savings. “Basing drug supply on intermediaries goes against cost saving and opens the door to corruption,” he told Proceso.

Shady Businesses
Ymmarsa and Servicios y Atenciones Médicas K are apparently one and the same. Their partners are the same, they work out of the same offices and they buy medicine and medical supplies from different laboratories at low cast and in bulk. But when these businesses began to supply the state in 2011 they were not prepared to sell to its public health sector, nor that of other states where they have contracts.

Two brothers, Juan Hiram and Jorge Márquez Rodríguez opened Economik Pharmacies as a family business in Durango in 2004. In 2011 they created Ymmarsa Pharmaceutica so they could supply the public sector. Juan Hiram took the business on and invited Jesús Miguel Robles Villareal to be his partner.

“They had drugs stored on the floor or exposed to the light, even though they are meant to be in a controlled environment. They operated like that for a year until the State Commission for the Prevention of Risks to Health (acronym in Spanish: COESPRIS) put a stop to it,” asserts one of the company’s administrative employees speaking under condition of anonymity. State auditors confirmed this situation in their 2012 audit.

One administrative employee interviewed in the offices located at Periférico de la Juventud says it is the location where they deal with the contracts as they see fit: “A week before announcement of a request for proposals they prepared everything they would need to compete. That’s what they stuck to because they were the ones who set the contracts’ terms. The government sent them contracts and they dealt with them however they wanted.”

Ymmarsa took control over the pharmacy franchises belonging to Economik in 2011. These had sprung up as a family business in Durango. They opened 7 stores there. They started out in Chihuahua in 2011. Today there are nine branches in Chihuahua City, Parral, Ciudad Juárez and Cuauhtémoc.

When somebody asks for Servicios y Atenciones Médicas K at 8725 Periférico de la Juventud the inquiry first goes to Jesús Miguel Robles Villareal, one of the Ymmarsa partners. This person—who handed over a business card for Médicas K at the same address as the governor’s business, even though the company is registered at 11368 Rudyark Kipling Street—said an agreement existed over the registered tax address.

When asked for an interview with one of the people in charge of Médicas K Robles Villareal suggested contacting its legal representative. The lawyer failed to respond to the request. People consulted by Proceso and familiar with the company confirm that it’s the same but is using a different name (Ymmarsa and Médicas K).

Robles Villareal denies any relationship with Unión Ganadera División del Norte, established by Duarte in 2005. “We even had problems with them over parking, but we don’t have anything to do with them,” he asserts then adding, “they pay the rent.”

Ymmarsa – which supplies both the pension systems for the state of Chihuahua and the city of Chihuahua – stands accused of inflating prices by 300 percent and still winning contracts. There are complaints from Chihuahua, Tabasco and Durango; Nuevo León rescinded a contract on June 27, 2014.

The state auditor found that for fiscal years 2012 and 2013 the state Ministry of Health poorly distributed drugs, and did not have control over warehouses or when supplies expired, something that implicated Médicas K . Even so the State Congress unanimously approved the Médicas K account.

The state’s health services directly have handed over at least 500 million pesos (about US$26 million) to Médicas K since 2012. This year alone it received 321.1million pesos (about US$17 million) for drugs and medical supplies for Seguro Popular. That’s what contract D250517 indicates under direct tender 282/2012.

In 2013 while Médicas K received 183.5 million pesos (US$9.8 million) because it supplies the Ministry of Health, other suppliers received only between 106,000 (US$5,600) and 600,000 pesos (US$32,000) and only one other supplier received as much as 68 million pesos (US$3.6 million), according to freedom of information request 087242014.

In 2012 the state auditor commented to Chihuahua’s Health Services for awarding this company contracts D20517 and D20518 worth 417.5 million pesos (US$23 million) without putting them first out to tender. The state’s Health Services awarded the contracts even though the company, Médicas K, did not have the required health license.

Ymmarsa also has its own history. In 2012, Marketing Medicinal and others suppliers complained publicly that the state pension scheme awarded this Durango-based company a contract for 345 million pesos (US$18 million), even though they inflated their prices. Of the 881 drugs and medical supplies the pension agencies needed, Marketing Medicinal provided 738 of them, meaning that it controlled more than 80 percent of the drugs and other items supplied under contract LP002012.

The complaints from other suppliers offer more examples. Ymmarsa bid 1,503 pesos for each of the 700 boxes of Bicalutamida (to treat prostate cancer) even though distributor México Hospitalaria bid 500 pesos for the same drug. For Fenitoína (an anti-epileptic) Ymmarsa bid 394 pesos per box even though Laboratorio Pisa bid 14 pesos. Ymmarsa won the bid for Prozac, an anti-depressant, at 398 pesos per box when the year before it cost 7.50 pesos.

The other suppliers complain that fraud costs the state at least 100 million pesos (US$5.4 million). These companies allege that Ymmarsa was not even asked for a letter to show that it does not have a history of failing to fulfill contracts, as contract requirements state. But Ymmarsa cannot show this type of letter because the company was created in 2011 and it has never supplied public health agencies.

For Chihuahua City’s municipal pension scheme 67% of the drugs are overpriced.

In 2012, Marcelo González Tachiquín, current education minister and who served as director of the pension system, confirmed that he had fired the person in charge of purchasing, Edgar Hermes Sandoval Tarín. However, Sandolva Tarín did not leave the agency until August 2014.

And Prosalud, Too
The third favored provider is Administración y Comercialización de Franquicias Internacional—known as Prosalud. It belongs to Grupo ALSA. Eduardo Almeida Navarro owns the holding company. He donated to Duarte’s gubernatorial campaign. The businessman owns a Cessna 402 plane with license number N3403. In June 2014 he was nominated as the PRI’s president in the city.

Grupo ALSA is made up of seven firms. Three supply the state government and Chihuahua’s city government: Construcciones Corporativas Inmobiliarias, SA de CV, Comercializadora Corporativa Internacional, SA de CV, and Administración y Comercialización de Franquicias Internacional, S de RL de CV.

These companies are in charge of installing public lighting, renovating buildings, selling machinery, constructing and remodeling schools, and selling pharmaceuticals.

Prosalud provides drugs and medical supplies to Chihuahua’s government. In 2012 the State of Chihuahua paid it 180 million pesos (US$9.6 million). The company’s website indicates that its holding company was created in 2003 and in 2011 it reactivated itself to open the pharmacy Prosalud. It supplies at least nine pharmacies, along with public health providers in Chihuahua: IMSS, ICHISAL, and, of course, the pension agencies.

Investigative reporter Patricia Mayorga is a prize-winning Mexican journalist from Chihuahua. She works with Proceso, Mexico’s premier investigative news magazine. After the murder of her friend and colleague Miroslava Breach in March 2017 in Ciudad Chihuahua, she went into exile and is currently in hiding. The Committee to Protect Journalists will honor her with its Press Freedom Award this November.

Translator Patrick Timmons is human rights investigator and lawyer, and a journalist. His articles have appeared in the Texas Observer, CounterPunch, NACLA, Foreign Policy in Focus, and Horizontal.mx. In September he provided freelance coverage of the Mexico City earthquake for ITN’s News at Ten, ITV London’s Good Morning Britain, and The Daily Telegraph. Timmons collaborates with the Freedom of Expression Project at the Transborder Institute at the University of San Diego. He is participating in #agendadeperiodistas, a new group formed by journalists to protect journalists. He lives in Mexico City.

 

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The Tarahumara Mountains: Migrant Death Camps (PATRICIA MAYORGA)

Proceso published this report on 14 December 2015. It has been translated in anticipation of Patricia Mayorga receiving the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Press Freedom Award this November. The Mexican Journalism Translation Project will translate more work by Patricia Mayorga into English in the coming weeks and months so that English readers can familiarize themselves with the work of this brave Mexican journalist. At least 8 journalists have been murdered in Mexico in 2017. – Patrick Timmons 

The Tarahumara Mountains: Migrant Death Camps
Patricia Mayorga (PROCESO)

migrantes-tarahumara-1024x683

Migrants at the Julio Ornelas Station (Photo: Proceso)

They make them eat rotten meat. They beat them until they lose consciousness. They watch over them so they won’t escape. They stop them from washing. They do not earn a cent. These are the forced labor campus in the Tarahumara Mountains. It’s a place where drug traffickers dump migrants and exploit them after they have stolen their freedom.

Proceso managed to interview three of the survivors of these camps: Adrián, Mauricio and Aurelio. Their stories reveal a perfectly placed hell on earth, organized and sustained by the authorities.

“Welcome to hell!”

“Welcome to hell! In a moment we are going to introduce you to the devil!” they tell the migrants who get out at the Julio Ornelas train station. While they “invite” them to “work” they beat them.

Julio Ornelas is located in Guazapares, adjacent to Urique. These two municipalities border the state of Sinaloa, near the Golden Triangle where the states of Chihuaha, Sinaloa, and Durango come together.

That’s where Adrián was recruited. He’s restless but happy and comes from Baja California. He is 22 years old and talks about what he has already lived through. “When I was deported from the U.S., the authorities told us we were going to be taken to Ciudad Acuña in Coahuila. They told us it was a new system of migratory control so that we don’t try to cross the U.S. border again: leaving us far from where we are from so that we have to battle to go back.”

They arrived at the migrant refuge in two buses full of deportees. Adrián joined five other people who had been deported and he separated himself from them along the way. He only received a quarter of what the bus trip cost because in that month, September, Coahuila had gone through a natural disaster and the state had to direct funds to the people who had been affected.

They managed to get to Torreón in vehicles. Then they walked to Durango. Later they were put on a truck bound for Chihuahua.

“On September 15th we slept by the train tracks in Chihuahua. The other two guys began to smoke marijuana. The train left early in the morning. I parted ways with them and joined up with another. There were many people by the train tracks but only three of us got on the train. One was about 30 years old and came from Chihuahua. The other was from Hermosillo.”

They fell asleep and hours later they woke up to an AK-47 in their faces. “They poked us in the ribs with another gun. It was like five in the morning. They got us up by saying terrible things: “Move it you sons of bitches.”

Three men had stopped the train. Previously they had placed colored flags to tell the engineer to stop.

“They were youngsters just like us. One was the leader’s son … they forced other people out of different boxcars. We didn’t know what they were going to do. We were seven. One old man refused to go. I thought they were soldiers but they didn’t search us. They forced me out with a bayonet and gave me a kick.”

They walked for a day and a half towards the camp. They walked through a town called Tojabó. That’s where they think the food came from for the band of criminals.

They were forced from the train. Then they were told that they were going to make a “stop” for “a marijuana break.” They would pay them 200 pesos a day. They never received the money. “They told us that when we arrived they were going to butcher a cow. They did that. But the carcass was rotten and filled with worms. There was no way to negotiate with them. Iron or lead, that’s what they told us.”

On the way to the camp they saw many ranches and camps. They saw women who were walking and who were all bloody. “It was their time of the month. We did not speak to them. We almost did not see them. They did not let anybody wash or change their clothes. Sometimes we could bathe if we passed through an arroyo but no more than that.”

“Now I’m going to introduce you to the ‘devil,’ said the son of the thug in charge. They had arrived.

He received them dressed in military fatigues and he warned them: “Whoever escapes will not find freedom. We control these hills. This is not the only camp.”

Adrián was not accustomed to fieldwork. He had to learn. But he suffered physical abuse because he would not give in like the others. “One time they almost broke my arm.”

For almost three months Adrián prepared the fields where they planted poppies and marijuana. They even grew tobacco.

“They fed us bean soup. They spooned us animal feed. Sometimes it was animal feed gruel, or milk whey, or a broth of bones. The thugs ate well. They stole livestock, mostly cows for their meals. We only smelled them grilling meat.”

After six weeks soldiers arrived in a helicopter. “We already had a plot of marijuana drying. I ran away. I did not know if they had landed or if they had arrived and established a cordon. I ran all afternoon. That was my first escape attempt. The next day I awoke after taking shelter under a boulder. I knew that I had no other option but to go back.”

“I went back frightened. I knew they were going to hit me for leaving. I saw that the soldiers had cut down several trees so the helicopter could land.” Only two of the six who had arrived with Adrián made it back. They were from Sinaloa, Honduras, Aguascalientes, Torreón and Ciudad Cuauhtemoc, a town in Chihuahua.

The soldiers did not burn all of the drugs. They left half intact. The forced labor continued.

The three interviewees say that the leader comes from Los Mochis, Sinaloa, employed by the cartel carrying that state’s name.

Mauricio arrived after the next trip to press-gang more migrants. He is 27 years old and comes from the state of Chihuahua. They also forced him to get out at the Julio Ornelas station. He was trying to get back home. He had left from the Sufragio station in Los Mochis in Sinaloa.

Target Practice

At the camp there is a cabin for the overseers. But the workers sleep under a tree with the chickens. They give some of them a blanket but others have to wrap themselves up in jackets or just the clothes they have. They take their worn out shoes or sneakers away from them during the night so they won’t escape.

At the first crow of the cock, around five in the morning, they have to be ready, with their blankets folded. When the cock crows again they can eat a spoonful of soup. With the third cockcrow, that’s when work begins.

Adrián has brushed up against death. He survived target practice. When one of the bosses became angry because somebody tried to escape he took three or four of them and put a bottle filled with water on their heads. It was target practice. He shot at them one by one. If he hit the bottle they were all saved and they deserved to live. If not, they killed them.

Sick of the insults and the beatings, Adrián tried to flee but the dogs stopped him. The punishment: target practice. When it was his turn the bullet missed. But he was saved.

Mauricio heard that one of the men who arrived with another group was killed. “They showed me where they burned him. There were some bones. They told me that the bosses threw a man off the cliff that made cheese for them. He had stolen a cheese. One of the guys told me that we were surviving thanks to the three or four tortillas they gave us each day.”

“They treated us rudely. They always hit us on the back with a club. One boss almost broke my right arm. It was swollen. I could not carry firewood or bales of marijuana,” says Mauricio.

Adrián finishes what the other was saying. “Mauricio was working in the field and it was easier for him. But all of it was humiliating. What they wanted to do was kill your self-esteem.”

Mauricio continues, “We only talked about what we were going to do when we got out of there. We all said that the person who made it out had to say where we were, to do something for the rest of us.”

The three told Proceso about their experiences in Ciudad Chihuahua. That’s where they received support from the civil society organization Uno de Siete Migrantes (One of Seven Migrants).

The Tarahumara Mountains turned into a hidden training camp for killers, a center of forced labor to plant marijuana, a hell for migrants deported from the United States and who had to ride the rails in cargo trains.

Although they seem invisible to people in the state capital, hundreds of Mexican and Central American migrants arrive in Ciudad Chihuahua to ride the cargo train that runs through the mountains towards the state of Sinaloa.

On December 4th, Chihuahua’s Attorney General received a complaint for people trafficking from Mauricio. He decided to file a complaint because that’s what he promised his still enslaved friends.

On different dates, three of the migrants mentioned climbed into boxcars at the Sufragio station in El Fuerte Municipio. They were trying to make it to Sinaloa. They were forced from the train in Julio Ornelas station in Guazapares township before they made it to Sinaloa.

Like them, dozens of migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras had been held by force. Several managed to flee but fear paralyzed them and stopped them from filing a complaint.

The Escape

Near the camp were two hills that served as reference points. One was Tojabó mountain and the other El Manzano, where there is an airstrip.

Adrián and Mauricio agreed to flee when they sent them to milk the cows, an activity that took around an hour. They walked away from the Tojabó village and its five or six houses.

They walked for more than a day. They arrived at La Guáchara ranch. They asked a family for help. They gave them food and offered them work for three days in marijuana fields but with better treatment. They managed to get a ride to Cerocahui in Urique municipality.

The mining town of Cerocahui is guarded by lookouts from the Sinaloa cartel but with bosses different from those of Guazapares. “When we got out from the truck, they found us and questioned us. We told them the truth because we already knew that they came from a different group. It was like a survival instinct. They offered us work. They told us it was voluntary and that we could be there for two weeks to decide if we wanted to stay there or not. They were armed but not with long guns,” Mauricio remembers.

They took us to another hill where there were indigenous adolescents from about 14 to 17 years old. They were from the region. They just had to move the irrigation from one marijuana field to another. They gave them food and allowed them to prepare what they want. It was like a dream. They treated them well.

They soon figured out that the armed men went into the hills to recruit youngsters for their training camps. “They give them weapons and they go to attack another territory and make them shoot. The ones that can’t shoot well they leave until they learn.”

On November 20th, when there were festivals in Cerocahui and Bahuichivo (both places have cartel bosses), one indigenous person from the region said they wouldn’t let them go and it was still forced labor. He showed them how they could escape.

They left Cerocahui for Bahuichivo by walking. They hitched a ride to San Rafael and from there they got to Ciudad Chihuahua. They went to the train tracks where they found food and were interviewed by members of the organization, Mas de Siete Migrantes (More than Seven Migrants), who offered them legal, psychological and economic aid while they stayed in the city to file their complaint with the Attorney General.

On December 4th, Adrián filed his complaint and returned to where he comes from. Mauricio also went back to where is from. Aurelio has left for the United States with the intention of rejoining his family.

Investigative reporter Patricia Mayorga is a prize-winning Mexican journalist from Chihuahua. She works with Proceso, Mexico’s premier investigative news magazine. After the murder of her friend and colleague Miroslava Breach in March 2017 in Ciudad Chihuahua, she went into exile and is currently in hiding. The Committee to Protect Journalists will honor her with its Press Freedom Award this November.

Translator Patrick Timmons is human rights investigator and lawyer, and a journalist. His articles have appeared in the Texas Observer, CounterPunch and NACLA. He collaborates with the Freedom of Expression Project at the Transborder Institute at the University of San Diego. He is participating in #agendadeperiodistas, a new group formed by journalists to protect journalists. He lives in Mexico City.

Madera, Chihuahua: A Land Living through War (Marco Antonio López – La Silla Rota)

Madera, Chihuahua: A Land Living through War
Marco Antonio López (La Silla Rota)

Las Varas 1

Las Varas, Chihuahua has a population of 1,417. It is the site of brutal confrontations between two warring drug cartels.

Las Varas, Chihuahua is a town where nobody knows who is in control nor what rules apply. To survive people know what it takes to stay safe after six in the evening. Survival is what they think about when they use the highways crossing Chihuahua’s western mountain range.

Las Varas, with its population of 1,417 people, is where two drug cartels fight over territory, according to the explanation from the Office of the State Attorney General in the Western District. La Línea of Ciudad Juárez and the Sinaloa Cartel have let loose war in Chihuahua’s mountains, submerging the western part of the state in a violent dynamic, severely impacting the region’s tiny population. Death, shootouts, kidnappings and disappearances have become routine, daily events.

Those in control for now are the state, federal and military security forces. They arrived this Wednesday after a confrontation between both criminal groups leaving fifteen dead and wounding five people. But the second in command of the Chihuahua State Police, Alberto Chávez also says that once they leave the area will be unprotected, at the drug traffickers’ mercy.

So the police do not have permanent control. Nor do La Línea or the Sinaloa Cartel. The mountains are the land everybody wants and nobody has. The paradox is that the people who have least control are the ones who live there.

Las Varas 2

At the town’s entrance there is a sign that says, “Las Varas.” The rectangular metal bearing these letters has holes in it from at least a dozen heavy caliber bullets. Next to the sign there is a cemetery, and in it lie the dead with their rights to a name, remembrance, and Christian burial. The entrance to the cemetery is littered with spent shell casings, its gate shot up more than a hundred times. A bullet-ridden cross serves as a warning against poking around.

Las Varas 3

Two improvised bunkers sit right there by the main entrance. The hideouts are littered with cartridge boxes, two mattresses, food, cans, and bottles of beer. The police here said that they belonged to La Línea.

Behind the cemetery is a place set aside for those dead who, somebody decided, don’t deserve a cross with their name. Without a marked grave family do not know where to stop by with flowers from time to time. Five graves were found right there: a total of seven bodies in a state of decomposition. A mess of bones. All of the dead bodies were mutilated and two were decapitated. Untended graves. Nobody is looking any deeper into things. Although the second in command says that there are permanent traces of what happened, there are no investigators because they are all occupied elsewhere, collecting cadavers or identifying unnamed bodies.

Further into town there is a warehouse, the scene of a brutal massacre. Outside, shot up doors and walls. Inside there are bloody pools and blood spatters, macabre decorations left by merciless killers. Right here the lifeless bodies of those fifteen men and the five left alive but wounded were gathered up and taken to Chihuahua. The prosecutor says that the confrontation between the two criminal groups began around six o’clock on Wednesday morning, lasting about an hour, with security forces arriving afterwards. However, an official said that where you see a blood stain on the wall, that’s where an injured man was resting when somebody else found him and shot him in the head. His brains were spattered across the wall. The official version is dubious if not kind of tactless. “That’s where that pig was,” he says under his breath.

There are stretches of blood on the warehouse floor. They are black, that color blood makes when it dries. They are run through with the marks of truck tires trying to getaway. Nine vehicles – one of them armored – were seized there, along with long arms and fragmentation grenades. By midday Thursday what remained were bags of corn, potatoes, tomatoes and other food along with cushions, casings, bullets, bags, clothes, and marijuana. Everything behind a metal door bearing a stenciled sign: “Failing to make time for God means living is a waste of time.” It too is shot up.

Las Varas 4

The cemetery and the graves are by the town’s eastern exit, the one that leaves for the state capital. The warehouse with its massacre and its remains are to the south, towards Madera. The municipal building is in the town center. It is closed. Nobody came to work. There is a little building, barely the size of a room right beside the municipal building, its front wall riddled with holes left by large caliber bullets. The windows are all shattered. A burnt out truck sits right by the door. The room was a command post. Last week an armed group ambushed two state police officers, murdered without anybody able to stop the brutal attack.

In less than a month, eight bodies turned up, two police officers were murdered and fifteen suspected drug traffickers were killed. All of it happened in Las Varas. One person, who would only speak on the condition of anonymity, said the graveyard was shot up because it was the site of another battle leaving as many or more dead from the warehouse fight. But no police turned up and each group carried off their own dead. These facts, however, do shock: at least twenty-four people were killed in the last month. Most of those buried bodies are just bones in several graves. The town has fewer than 1,500 residents.

The person who told the story about the graveyard said armed men who are not police have placed roadblocks on the highways. These men ask about where you are going and your purpose. They decide if you can continue on or not. They can take whatever they want from you, including your car. “That’s why I have this cellphone,” the man says, before proceeding to say how they took his other one on the highway from Madera to Las Varas.

The countryside is impressive and overbearing. Las Varas is one of 42 communal land holdings (ejidos) in the municipality of Madera. It’s the town that provides access to deep into the mountain range. It has a waterfall, a scenic overlook, rivers, swim parks, archaeological zones. All this beauty makes Las Varas magical. On sight paradise springs to mind. But these are abstract notions and the facts overwhelm instead. Violence has made this place into something quite different: a town with and without law in the service of drug cartels.

Las Varas 5

The natural beauty that makes Madera attractive is also its principal problem. Situated on the highway that wends into the mountain range, it has become a strategic point for drug trafficking. That’s why factions within the two cartels fight over this place, says Félix González spokesperson for the Western District of the Chihuahua Attorney General’s office.

The problem became so big that the municipal police, with its 100 officers and less than forty patrol cars became overwhelmed. State authorities entered into an agreement with the town, assuming control over security since 18 February. But violence is still on the rise. “Unfortunately, these things that cannot be avoided. It is a war between them. It’s like a family feud,” observes second in command Alberto Chávez Mendoza.

Las Varas 6

Of the fifteen killed in the shootout, five have been identified. They came from towns in Chihuahua. The youngest of them, Luis Leonel C., was 18 years old. Rafael C. was 25. Hugo Antonio G. was 33, Álvaro T., 35, and Astolfo C., 47. They spent their last day alive surrounded by the terror guns cause when aimed to kill.

The five wounded men were arrested. Only one of the wounded comes from Chihuahua, Leonardo G., who is 18 years old. Carlos H., 24, was born in Hidalgo. Efraīn G., 25, is from Michoacán. Marco Anotnio M., 27, comes from Tabasco. And Luis G., 36 years old, was born in Minatitlán.

A week ago, Chihuahua’s governor, Javier Corral announced a salary increase for state police officers, grants for their children and an increase in their life insurance policies. He committed himself to reducing violence in the state and of bringing calm to Chihuahua’s residents. The state attorney general, César Augusto Peniche, said the homicide rate was deceptive and that really security had improved.

Las Varas 7

The prosecutor’s office in the Western District impounded the shot-up trucks from the confrontation. One even has a bloody handprint on the bodywork.

A woman came out of the coroner’s office in tears. She had to identify a dead family member so that he could a have a name and a grave with a cross on it to visit from time to time.

A convoy of about thirty squad cars with more than sixty state police and prosecutor’s officers patrol the highway that winds into the Chihuahuan mountains. Soldiers on the lookout for criminals. Two helicopters soar above the immense pines. A commander says that they are about to leave and that the cartels will continue their fight over the region. In this battle the one with more kills wins.

Journalist Marco Antonio López Romero writes for La Silla Rota. He is based in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and freelance journalist based in Mexico City. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project.

 

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Lives in Danger in Veracruz: Mexican Journalist Gil Cruz and His Family (Ignacio Carvajal)

This article was first published on 26 July 2017 by Blog.Expediente.Mx. It has been translated into English with the consent of its author.

 Lives in Danger in Veracruz: Mexican Journalist Gil Cruz and His Family
By Ignacio Carvajal (Blog.Expediente.Mx)

– Reporter Gil Cruz of Álamo, Veracruz raised the alarm and demanded authorities protect him and his family from a possibly fatal attack

– Armed men broke into his parents house on Tuesday night, demanding 100,000 pesos (USD$5,800) in exchange for not killing him or his siblings.

– “They said that if my parents don’t give them the money by the weekend, they will hurt the children and they mentioned me,” said Cruz, a journalist.

– Cruz lives under precautionary measures from the Federal Protective Mechanism for Journalists and Human Rights Defenders but neither it nor the Veracruz State Commission for the Protection of Journalists wants to provide security to his family.

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Veracruz Journalist, Gil Cruz of El PeriodicoMx (courtesy of FB page).

Veracruz journalist Gil Cruz has filed a complaint about armed men breaking into his parents’ home to demand 100,000 pesos (USD$5,800). The men demanded the money in exchange for not killing him or one of his siblings. He sought help immediately from the state Commission to Protect Journalists (CEAPP) and the federal protective mechanism. But he says they have let him down because they are unable to protect the people closest to him.

Cruz reports for the online newspaper, PeriodicoMX. The attack, he said, began at 8.30pm in Citlaltepec in Álamo Temapache, about six hours from the Port of Veracruz. Four armed men burst into the house where “my parents were in the middle of something, and they started being aggressive, demanding 100,000 pesos in exchange for not harming their children.”

His parents told them they did not have that kind of money, forcing the men to leave, but not before they threatened to come back at the weekend for the money. Without the money “they would hurt our children.” They took off in the family car. Hours later it was found abandoned near the federal highway.

Gil Cruz said that he fears for his life. But he fears even more for his parents and his siblings. He is calling on the authorities to give him protection.

Gil Cruz said he been living with precautionary measures from the federal protective mechanism. He was granted federal protection because of threats he has received for publishing news about politics in the Álamo region.

He added that just this week staff from the federal protective mechanism came to his home to supervise the precautionary measures and to update their agreement to provide him protection.

“I can stand a threat against me. I’m kind of used to it. But threaten my family, they don’t know about these sorts of things,” he said in a phone call to Blog.Expediente.

He does not know where this new attack comes from. “I hate to think it is because of my work, but I don’t think I can put aside that explanation.”

It is not the first time he has been threatened for his work in this particularly unsafe region. “I have filed complaints, but they haven’ t worked. They haven’t helped at all. Yet even so my parents are committed to filing a new complaint.

“This morning I spoke with staff from the state and federal protective mechanisms. Each of them said the same thing. They can’t do much because it wasn’t a direct aggression against me but against my family members.”

The reporter, who sometimes works for newspaper Notiver said it was a shame “that I need to be shot in the foot or the stomach so that these protective mechanisms and the authorities can say that the threat was against me.”

He said that with this type of response, the perpetrators of violence against journalists find it very easy to “mess with family members since they aren’t subject to government protection, even though the threat comes from our work.”

Ana Laura Pérez is president of the Veracruz state Commission to Protect Journalists (CEAPP). She acknowledged being aware of Gil Cruz’s case and that “we are coordinating with state security services,” but, “really there is little we can do.”

“It is not because we don’t want to help, it’s that we cannot help: he is the journalist,” she said, when asked about extending the special security measures to Cruz’s family members.

She said that the state mechanism and every other institution face restrictions when “the family does not want to file a complaint. Neither can staff in the attorney general’s office act,” even though she said that they are doing everything they can to help him.

Gil Cruz works as a reporter in one of Veracruz silent zones, in the Huasteca, where the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas are ever present.

For about ten years, this region has been fought over because it is a strategic smuggling corridor to the U.S. border.

It has also been the site of vicious disputes between killers of both groups fighting for control over federal highway 180 running between Matamoros and Puerto Juárez.

Journalist Ignacio Carvajal works in Verazcruz. He reports for Agence France Presse, Blog.Expediente.Mx and other outlets.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a freelance human rights investigator based in Mexico City. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project, a pro-bono translation service that showcases quality journalism from accomplished reporters.

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Protesting against impunity in the murder of Chihuahuan Journalist Miroslava Breach

This article first appeared in newspaper La Jornada on Monday 24 July 2017. It has been translated without permission.

Protesting against impunity in the murder of Journalist Miroslava Breach
By Rubén Villalpando (La Jornada)

Miroslava 4 Months

Chihuahua Journalists Recall 22 Murdered Colleagues, photo courtesy of Julio Rivera, published in La Jornada.

Chihuahua, Mexico.— The murder of journalist Miroslava Breach occurred four months ago yesterday. She was La Jornada’s correspondent based in Chihuahua, the state’s capital city, and she also wrote for El Norte of Ciudad Juárez. Activists, family members, and journalists gathered again to demand justice four months after the crime. Until now the perpetrator and mastermind behind the crime have not been detained. Impunity marks the case, the protester said.

The protest occurred in front of the statehouse. It’s also the location of the Cross of Nails, each one representing the violent death of a woman. They demanded that the state government, headed by Javier Corral, a member of the Partido de Acción Nacional, work to solve the murder and stop announcing advances in the murder when in reality none exist.

At the event, convened by journalists in the state capital, they recalled the names of the 22 journalists murdered in the state, along with those cases authorities have failed to solve since 2010, just as in the murder of Miroslava Breach.

At the protest they shouted for an end to violence, placed banners and posters with words calling for justice, emphasized that reporting is a high-risk activities for journalists, and demanded authorities guarantee freedom of expression and punishment for those responsible for murders.

They acknowledged that four months have passed since Miroslava Breach’s murder outside her home in the Loma Vallarta neighborhood of Chihuahua city. They demanded the investigation continue; above all else because Governor Javier Corral has said that the perpetrator and mastermind have been identified, along with their accomplices. Yet nobody has been arrested and charged.

Just Like Every Month

Every month journalists and activists gather in Chihuahua city to remember Miroslava Breach and call for justice. In the fourth month since her murder they remembered that in June the Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Edison Lanza, called on the state to comply with its obligation to investigate and solve the crime committed against the journalist last March 23.

Governor Javier Corral said three months ago in Ciudad Juárez that the perpetrator and mastermind only needed to be arrested. The failure to do so is why journalists, activists, citizens and the family of Miroslava Breach have on many occasions protested in the center of the city to demand application of the rule of law.

Journalist Rubén Villalpando is a Ciudad Juárez based correspondent for national newspaper La Jornada.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist based in Mexico City. Like the MxJTP on FaceBook.

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Real Stories of Mexico’s Missing — Searching for His Sister: Carlitos Looks Among Human Remains in Mexico, by Javier Valdez Cárdenas

Real Stories of Mexico’s Disappeared: Carlitos and the Search Among Human Remains for His Missing Sister

By Javier Valdez Cárdenas, Correspondent (La Jornada)

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Around 60 search party members from 11 states in Mexico look for missing or disappeared people in the towns of El Quelite in Mazatlán and Sataya in Navolato. Photograph by Javier Valdez. Published in La Jornada.

Culiacán, February 8, 2017—Carlitos says that he loves his sister and that he is not going to leave her unprotected. At his tender age he already feels guilty for something he did not do, for having failed to take care of and protect Zoé Zuleika. She has been missing for a year.

Carlitos – that’s what we’ll call him – is barely eight years old and he searches for missing people: a searcher of human remains who carries a small staff and pickaxe. His grey and black striped sweater keeps him from the morning chill. He is Mexico’s youngest searcher of the disappeared.

When you ask him what he is going to say to his sister when he sees her again, the boy answers: That I love her; that I am going to protect her. Around the Navolato community of San Pedro, in the deciduous forest, the little one looks among whoever’s human remains, but really he’s searching for his sister.

With blows from his staff and still more from his pickaxe he looks for Zoe like someone who knows he will find her. His lively, black eyes light up like fireflies and he smiles when he thinks about her.

The last time he saw her, he remembers, was a year ago in his father’s truck, in Soledad, a town in San Luis Potosí.

He says that when he finds her he is going to protect her, including from his father whom he suspects took her. Carolina Gómez Rocha, 40, is mother to both children. She comes from San Luis Potosí, and she searches for missing people, even though she realizes it is unlikely she will find Zoé in the state of Sinaloa.

I do these searches to strengthen the families who are here searching, not to find my daughter. I know that she is alive. I am her mother and my heart tells me so. I am here to support the cause. It has been an immense experience, and yes it does help me, it strengthens me, she says. She’s a few yards from the Culiacán River, between the sand sifters and the cornfields.

She has four children: 8, 18, 20, and Zoé, 6. The youngest worry her and give her hope. The day Zoé disappeared Carolina’s family had gone to a party. They went at the insistence of her father in law.

The girl, who was already tired, fell asleep in her father’s truck. A few minutes after midnight they decided to leave but the young girl was not there anymore.

Safety Belt

Carolina and even Carlitos suspect his father. He does not ask about the girl. He has not joined in the searches or gone to the authorities even after they filed the criminal complaint. Her husband’s family acts just the same: indifferent. That’s why they don’t dismiss the idea that they have Zoé or know where she is.

Less than a kilometer from where the search party is looking, the prosecutor set up a roadblock. Two women police officers approach, ask questions in a friendly way, and allow or deny entry. Few get close. Further on, where they are conducting the search, there are four federal police patrol cars. They have dogs with them, dogs trained to search for human remains, and experts with their kit.

About thirty members of the Third National Search Party have come together to excavate and ask questions. This search will last two weeks. A Catholic priest is participating, as are many young women and several members of the Marabunta organization. Most of them wear white shirts with black text: Where are they?

According to statistics from the state prosecutor, around 2,200 people disappeared in Sinaloa during the last six years, the period when Mario López Valdez was governor. His term ended last December.

Some searchers look near the heavy machinery. Others go to another site in the truck belonging to the prosecutor’s forensic team. Still others seek shade under the poplars.

They laugh. They poke risqué fun at the young priest, circling in on each other. Even during the search there is time for fun yet memories still weigh heavy.

They are more than 60 searchers from 11 states. Right now they are looking for human remains in two graves: in El Quelite in Mazatlán, and in Sataya, Navolato. They have managed to unearth one body. It still has not been identified.

Some yards away, in an overgrown corner, Lucas, the police dog, digs again and again. So much so that it looks like he’s playing. The agents say he lifts his ears and his tail goes straight and he goes stiff when he finds human remains. He doesn’t do any of that today.

There’s Carlitos. With his staff and his pickaxe. Sometimes he wants to leave and attaches himself to his mother’s skirt. The two bob through the mess of dry branches, big leaves and uneven earth. It looks like they are crossing a swamp but they emerge clean.

After his sister disappeared, the boy went through a bad time at school. He enjoys math: but his grades went from 9s and 10s to 6s and 7s.

He carries himself aggressively. He locks himself in his room. He throws himself on his bed and cries, all the while clutching a photo of Zoé. He speaks to her. He cries over her. That’s why he goes to therapy. He falls down and het gets up. Here he raises his staff and plunges it into the ground.

– When you speak with your sister, what will you tell her?

– I will tell her I love her and I miss her and that I will protect her. That I can take care of her. That I won’t let my father leave her in his truck.

Award winning Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas was murdered on May 15, 2017 just after leaving Ríodocea newspaper he helped establish in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He was 50 years old. He published this story in La Jornada on February 8, 2017. His most recent book (previously published in Spanish as Levantones), appears in English translation and with an introduction to Sinaloa by Everard Meade as The Taken: True Stories of the Sinaloa Drug War,  published earlier this year by University of Oklahoma Press.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator in the Americas, an investigative journalist, and historian. NACLA, the CPJ BlogThe Texas Observer, and CounterPunch have published his writing.

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Evil Commander, Javier Valdez Cárdenas

[From RíoDoce, published on October 12, 2014.]

mexican-police-force-on-truck

From a distance he saw the commander abusing some farmers so he shouted at him. As he approached the officer he continued having a go at him. What are they doing to you? Don’t mistreat ordinary people! Just because you’re in a squad car and you’re armed and wearing that uniform. If you want to accuse them of something well detain them and take them to the prosecutor. But don’t go around insulting them and messing with them.

The commander looked at him, face furrowed. The deep lines appeared on his face at the moment when he reacted to the man who was stopping him from taking his anger out on the farmers. Putting heat on them wasn’t even worth the few notes in their pockets.

He saw the truck the unknown shouter got into. He felt offended, brought low. With his power interrupted in front of other police officers, in front of those lowlifes he always saw as enemies, the point men for the other narcos, the criminals with power, angry and cornered for all the security operations underway.

He took a note of the license plate and asked an officer to investigate. I want to know who that bastard is. It wasn’t a huge deal: just an honest man who delivered building materials, who sometimes had money and at other times couldn’t even afford to eat or to pay for his children’s school. A businessman and a bricklayer, a driver, freighter, seller and distributor, with two employees in his pay. He was also a brave citizen, upright and dignified.

One afternoon the man’s loader broke down. He went to a nearby city with one of his workers to replace the broken piece. In the repair shop they told him it cost five thousand pesos. Big money. He went to look for a used one and he found it for fewer than two thousand. Some guys he knew invited him for a beer: no thanks man, I don’t drink when I am working. The engine’s still running.

He moved off in the truck. He came across a roadblock. What are they going to stop me for? They’ll run their eyes over the truck, ask me for identification, papers. That’s what he thought. He said it’ll be two minutes and we’ll be off. A witness said that they made him get out. They opened the truck’s seats with knives, stripped the dashboard and beat it all up. They were looking for drugs, weapons. They did not find anything, but they took the men off. Handcuffed, hunched over, made small. That’s how they put them in the patrol car.

Two days later they found them. They were in the same truck, in an irrigation ditch. Handcuffed. Their feet tied together. There clothes were ripped. Bruises on their heads and bodies.

The witness said the man at the front of the roadblock was the same commander the man confronted for abusing the farmers. It was the same uniform, the same squad car. They called him Evil Commander.

Award winning Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas was murdered on 15 May 2017 just after leaving Ríodocea newspaper he helped establish in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He was 50 years old. He published this Malayerba column on October 12, 2014. His most recent book (previously published in Spanish as Levantones), appears in English translation and with an introduction to Sinaloa by Everard Meade as The Taken: True Stories of the Sinaloa Drug War,  published earlier this year by University of Oklahoma Press.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator in the Americas, an investigative journalist, and historian. NACLA, the CPJ Blog, The Texas Observer, and CounterPunch have published his writing.

 

 

 

 

Lament for my friend, Javier Valdez, by Froylán Enciso

C_9cVJaUIAAlSZa[This remembrance of the murdered journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas first appeared in Horizontal.]

The death of Javier Valdez has brought Mexican journalism to a breaking point. If they can kill the best known, the winner of the most prizes, and the most protected in the profession, what about the rest of us? There’s a bull’s eye on Mexico’s press.

And if now you are going to ask me what’s to be done, the answer is I don’t know. Today, 15 May, they murdered my friend, Javier Valdez. My first hypothesis, of course, is that they killed him because of his journalism.

When Chapo Guzmán’s kids went around gossiping on Ciro Gómez Leyva’s program that Dámaso López Núñez – El Chapo’s former business partner – had ambushed them and tried to kill them, Javier interviewed one of Dámaso’s messengers for Ríodoce. He knew that the article didn’t please Chapo’s kids and their people, and he knew that they would try to silence him so that national media would believe that Dámaso was the government’s new criminal enemy. And not just silence him. They would try to silence everybody at Ríodoce. But now Dámaso is in prison, so why kill Javier? I can’t figure it out.

When I heard the news about Javier I pulled away from the table where I was eating lunch with my colleagues to celebrate Teachers’ Day in Mexico. My mother called me from Sinaloa. She said that that they are killing people like flies. She fears for my siblings. Yesterday they went to a party. My sister left early but a few minutes after that they “took” one of the friends who accompanied her. Yesterday they murdered some kids in the Colonia Alameda for no good reason and because they could, just for going out with a group of friends. The thing is that you don’t know who’s who or what’s going on. Some people aren’t caught up in anything untoward but they get killed anyway and in unfathomably cruel ways.

“Your sister was just a minute away from danger. She’s safe but just one minute more…”

We are all worried for each other.

“Around here you can’t even stop to look around,” my mother told me.

And that’s when the heavens poured from my eyes. The house collapsed around me. There’s no safe place to go back to. Maybe tomorrow things will be better. In time things improve but right now that safe place does not exist. They have snatched it from me, from us, bit by bit. Today there’s no home. Tomorrow I will return to see if there is justice, to see if trust exists between people. Today there isn’t. Death knows no bounds today. If they can kill Javier Valdez, our beloved Javier, the most well known, the winner of the most prizes, the most protected in the profession, then what about the rest of us? It’s like all of us are wearing a bull’s eye.

I met Javier Valdez in 2003 when I pitched stories to him for Ríodoce, while I was a researcher for the Los Angeles Times. Ismael Bojórquez and Alejandro Sicairos welcomed me with open arms, but the first time I met them in Culiacán, Javier sweetened the welcome with an invitation to drink beer in the Guayabo, his regular watering hole. Everybody made me feel welcome and supported but Javier called me Ríodoce’s correspondent in the country’s capital. Javier’s words made me feel proud. Ríodoce was not well known at that time. It had not won any prizes. Nobody knew if the publication would last. They were just beginning and this gave me hope that in Sinaloa things might be different. And then I began to find Javier everywhere I looked for him: in meetings of the Foundation for New Iberoamerican Journalism (FNPI), in the International Book Festival (FIL), and on his many visits to Mexico City.

I remember, Javier, when you gave me a bound copy of your Malayerba, because you wanted help spreading the manuscript around interested publishing houses. I confess that I handed almost all of them out to editors, my dear friend. But I kept one of them for myself. Forgive me. It’s just that you were quicker than I was in finding an editor and you began to publish books as if they were enchiladas. And after I’d done the rounds of publishers, they called me out for not insisting they publish you. Always some publisher would approach me to confess that they should have grabbed your first book. Isn’t that funny, my friend? And isn’t it great that one of your books just appeared in English. Now your books are going to sell. I’m reminded how you said goodbye to me in that email when I told you about one of those editors who was remorseful about not publishing you when he had the chance.

“Don’t go just anywhere to lose your virginity or leave it lying about. Big hug,” you told me.

I laughed to myself and I played along. You were frightfully naughty and you had a commanding way with words and you fell in love with your own games more than once. You could never get enough and you sometimes had the bruised heart of a big child, even though you always said Sinaloans copulated with death.

And I just want to remember that the heavens are falling from my eyes. And I want to say that whoever did this has to be shitting themselves. Soon we must stop crying. They are going to have to kill all of us, too, because the place where we want to live in peace has no master.

Author Froylán Enciso is a historian from Sinaloa who specializes in the political economy of drugs and politics in Mexico. He holds a PhD in History from the State University of New York, Stony Brook. He is a Senior Analyst for Mexico in the International Crisis Group and a professor in the Programa de Políticas de Drogas at the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) in Mexico. Follow him on Twitter: @elfroyenciso.

 

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator, journalist, and lecturer in History at El Paso Community College.

They are going to kill you, by Javier Valdez Cárdenas

Friends, family, and colleagues warned him: Take care, man. Those guys have no limits. They are bastards. But in his column in one of the local papers he kept criticizing and complaining, using his keyboard, his words, to pelt corrupt politicians for conspiring with criminals, police at the mafia’s command.

He’d been a reporter for some time, experienced in investigative work. There was never a shortage of subjects to cover, but those paths, hidden by thorny plants, led to gunpowder or a waiting trigger, to the bosses’ glassy stares, to escape routes without exits, to streets that only led to hot smoke, wisps dancing in the wind after the gun shots.

But he wore a bulletproof vest across his chest. To him the moon looked like a lantern that could even light up the day. Pen and notebook were his escape, therapy, crucifixion, and exorcism. He wrote and wrote onto a blank page and spat it out onto the screen with his fingers, from his mouth, splattering everything. He bawled into his columns with anger and pain and sadness and wrath and consternation and fury, talking about the shit-covered governor, the mayor flush with funds, the smiling lawmaker who looked like a cash register receiving and receiving wads of cash and pinging when taking in another million.

The business dealings of the powerful were his subject. How they took advantage of everything and fucked over the common people. Destitution, like garbage, grew and spilled over sidewalks and street corners. Brothels overflowed. Hospitals never lacked sick people but neither were there beds nor doctors. That’s right, the prisons overflowed and an empire of smoke covered everything. Black clouds covered the starry skies, filling the heads of the region’s residents, making them sick yet not indignant. But he wasn’t going to give in. No way, he repeated to himself. He started to write.

A report put a lawmaker at the center of a hurricane. He joined those criticizing the lawmaker’s might and his ties to those at the top of political, economic and criminal power. Few were the legislators’ detractors and almost nobody wrote about it, but he would not shut up. On FaceBook he posted ferocious, brave words. They told him: Hey man, tone it down. Those bastards are out to get you. They will kill you. He shrugged it off with a harrumph. They won’t do anything to me. They can go fuck themselves.

Three hours after that post on social media they caught up with him and shot him point blank so as not to miss.

Award winning Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas was murdered on 15 May 2017 just after leaving Ríodoce, a newspaper he helped establish in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He was 50 years old. He published this Malayerba column on 27 March 2017. His most recent book (previously published in Spanish as Levantones), appears in English translation and with an introduction by Everard Meade as The Taken: True Stories of the Sinaloa Drug War,  published earlier this year by University of Oklahoma Press.

Why They Kill You In Veracruz (IGNACIO CARVAJAL, Journalist, Veracruz, Mexico)

Why they Kill you in Veracruz

By Ignacio Carvajal (Journalist based in Veracruz, First Published 13 August 2015)

The issue in Veracruz is not whether they kill journalists, lawyers, politicians, teachers, students…
There’s just one issue: they kill you.
You can be murdered in Veracruz for two reasons: insecurity and impunity.
That’s why they kill a child in the north and bury her like an animal.
That’s why there have been more than 65 murders of women in 2015.
That’s why they kill journalists and former journalists.
That’s why they threaten human rights defenders.
That’s why they plunder the rivers for whatever they want.
That’s why there are kidnappings, even though punishment has increased and there are special anti-kidnapping units.
That’s why mayors can send hit men out to kill, then turn and run from law enforcement.
That’s why there are so many dead, floating in the Río Blanco.
That’s why there’s a solemn silence surrounding the violence in Veracruz and Boca del Río.
That’s why the University of Veracruz students are brutally beaten to an inch of their lives.
That’s why there are so many desperate mothers searching for the missing.
That’s why there are graves, the ones that have been found and the ones that haven’t been found.
For all these reasons, and more besides, that’s why Veracruz is drenched in tears and blood.

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