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