Category Archives: Mexico

The Abducted Journalist and the Mayor of Medellín, Veracruz By Ignacio Carvajal (SinEmbargo)

This article was first published on 9 January 2015. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project.

The Abducted Journalist and the Mayor of Medellín, Veracruz
By Ignacio Carvajal (SinEmbargo)

(The first journalist abducted this year Moisés Sánchez of Veracruz, Mexico, was taken by armed men from his home in Medellín de Bravo on 2 January 2015. He has not yet been found. The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a press release summarizing the facts of Sánchez’s disappearance, demanding his return and the prosecution of his abductors. Veracruz is one of the most dangerous places in the Americas to practice journalism: CPJ reports that since 2011 three journalists have disappeared and the organization has documented the murders of nine other journalists.

Prior to Moisés Sanchez’s disappearance the mayor of Medellín had threatened the journalist. Days after Sánchez’s disappearance, the Associated Press reported that the entire municipal police force of Medellín de Bravo had been brought in for questioning by the Veracruz State Prosecutor with three of those officers detained.

Journalist Ignacio Carvajal reports from Veracruz on the story of the friendship and the fight between the journalist and the mayor of Medellín. – PT)

As a candidate he kissed children. He said hello to farmers and housewives. He walked the muddy streets of Medellín’s villages. He wore out his shoes and got thorns in his clothes in the rural areas. He promised that if he won he would jail his predecessors: Rubén Darío Lagunes and his putative political offspring Marcos Isleño Andrade, both of the Party of the Institutional Revolution (PRI). And he promised one more thing. Omar Cruz Reyes offered all the directorships and executive appointments to those born in the township: “Medellín for people from Medellín,” he used to say. But he did not fulfill that promise. Most of his cabinet was filled with people who lived in the Port of Veracruz and its bordering neighbor Boca del Río.

Omar Cruz is not a dyed-in-the wool PAN-ista. He became a candidate for the PAN thanks to efforts by his sister-in-law Hilda Nava Seseña and her uncle and aunt, Salustia Nava Seseña and Maurilio Fernández Ovando. The aunt is former president of the DIF [Mexico’s Children and Families Department] and the uncle is the former PANista Mayor of Medellín. Hilda was Maurilio Fernández’s personal assistant when he served as mayor.

At the same time, Omar Cruz Reyes created an organization bearing his initials (Organizando Contigo el Rumbo – literally translated as Organizing the Future With You) to work with the residents of the new subdivisions, like Arboleda San Ramón Puente Moreno and Casa Blanca. Both places bring together thousands of voters, mostly from Veracruz and Boca del Río).

Before the 2010 local elections, and to keep himself on the lips of voters, Cruz began a media campaign demonstrating against mayors Marco Isleño Andrade (2010 – 2013) and Rubén Darío Lagunes (2007 – 2010); primary school students made fun of Lagunes at school events because he dallied when he gave speeches.

There were at least three protests where Omar Cruz attacked Marcos Isleño Andrade for absent public works, missing support and neglect by the municipality. Invariably the journalist Moisés Sánchez attended these protests. He saw Omar Cruz – when he entered politics he was just 27 – as without bad political habits, without “a tail to be tugged”, well spoken, educated, from the working middle class and a rousing speaker against Marcos Isleño and in favor of citizens. The men clicked. And Moisés Sánchez began following him through the streets and writing stories about his promises and his projects. At last a young person from El Tejar – Medellín’s most important area – was willing to fight back against the corrupt politicians.

In the spirit of “Medellín for people from Medellín,” Omar Cruz offered Moisés Sánchez the position of press officer if he made it into the mayor’s office. That’s what Sanchez’s colleagues said; it was his big dream back in those days: to be his town’s press officer at city hall.

CRUZ TURNED HIS BACK ON THE PAN

He had just won office as mayor when Omar Cruz turned his back on the PAN and his campaign promises, remembers a city employee who preferred to remain anonymous. Photo: Special

He had just won office as mayor when Omar Cruz turned his back on the PAN and his campaign promises, remembers a city employee who preferred to remain anonymous. Photo: Special

He’d barely won but he started reneging on his promises. He gave the post promised to the journalist to a person from the port of Veracruz. The salaries weren’t what he had promised. Neither were the responsibilities, nor the secretaries and support staff. The important posts stayed in the hands of citizens from the conurbation of Veracruz-Boca del Río and did not go to the professional activists in Medellín’s Partido de Acción Nacional (National Action Party, or, PAN). This young businessman’s promises were soon spent and many sunk. “Many people support him but it’s out of necessity, because their salaries aren’t enough,” said one city employee who commented on condition of anonymity.

On the campaign trail Omar Cruz was a different person from the one he became when mayor elect. He stood on the same platform as Julen Rementería and Oscar Lara, respectively the former mayor of Veracruz and a former PAN-ista legislator. This couple are credited with bringing Omar Cruz over to Governor Javier Duarte, to the PRI and to “red PANism” – the term, panismo rojo is a colloquial expression for a bloc of PAN-istas who fight the government of Veracruz with one hand but with the other support every move by Javier Duarte as governor. (Translator’s note: the PAN’s color is blue.)

The gap between Omar and the PAN-istas in Veracruz’s state capital, Xalapa, and with the Yunes [a political family in Veracruz with links to both the PAN and the PRI] soon widened. On one day he was seen close to Raúl Zarrabal, PRI legislator for Boca del Río on Wednesday when visiting his constituents, the next day he was with the PRI-ista side of the Yunes and the following day he was with a representative of the government of Veracruz.

Omar Cruz’s ties to Governor Duarte grew stronger because of the issues surrounding the Metropolitan Water and Sanitation System (SAS), a para-municipal organization that regulates and administers sanitation and water supply in the Veracruz-Boca del Río-Medellín conurbation. Its management of millions of pesos of resources has always been opaque.

In the middle of 2014, the mayor of Boca del Río, Miguel Ángel Yunes Márquez threatened breaking away from the SAS so that his city could administer its own municipal infrastructure. Independently of this threat, Yunes Márquez had provided evidence of the overwhelming corruption in the SAS since Yolanda Carlín’s time as its director. There were dozens of Carlín-friendly journalists on her payroll, leaders of PRI neighborhoods, among others. But the real debacle began when José Ruiz Carmona arrived on the scene. Carmona was a PRI-ista who had held many public posts and had concluded an undergraduate degree in record time. Governor Javier Duarte modified the law so that Ruiz Carmona could manage the SAS.

Ruiz Carmona ended his time at the top of the organization with blackouts for failure to pay bills, protests over uniforms for workers and complaints made to its union by pilots, lovers, wives and family members belonging to both the PRI and the PAN, all of whom were on the payroll or well-connected. Javier Duarte ignored the financial shambles left by Ruiz Carmona and brought him into his cabinet, naming him undersecretary for Human Development in the Ministry of Social Development (SEDESOL).

In this context and so as to establish order in the SAS, Yunez Márquez was waiting for support from Omar Cruz against the only PRI-ista on the organization’s board, Ramón Poo, the mayor of the Port of Veracruz. Instead, he deserted Yunes Márquez to support the SAS plan to create another organization, passing over Ruiz Carmona and other former directors.

Omar Cruz attended every event in the Port of Veracruz and Boca del Río at which Duarte appeared, looking for a moment, even if just a hello, with the governor.

Around Medellín, Omar Cruz assumed a friendship with Javier Duarte. “We understand society’s problems because we are both young,” he was heard to say. Now the governor won’t even answer his phone calls.

Back in 1812, in this municipality, army officer and ex-President Nicolás Bravo spared the lives of 300 Spanish combatants who had fallen prisoner in the Wars for Independence. That’s why Medellín is called Medellín de Bravo. It doesn’t look like Omar Cruz is going to have luck similar to that of the Spanish.

In Veracruz the worst state to practice journalism in the Americas, a place toxic for reporters, Moisés Sanchez’s abduction is the first time a high profile culprit has been accused of a crime against freedom of expression. The PRI-ista state government of Veracruz sees an opportunity to strike a blow against the PAN in the conurbation of Veracruz-Boca del Río-Medellín as it prepares for the 2015 federal elections.

Today, up to press deadline, not one PAN-ista heavyweight has spoken out in support of Omar Cruz. Not at the state level and there’s not a peep from Julen Rementería or Oscar Lara. Medellín’s PAN-istas have withdrawn into themselves, mute, watching everything and letting the guillotine fall into the hands of the prosecutor, Luis Ángel Bravo, who is aiming for Omar Cruz’s neck.

THE ABARCA OF MEDELLÍN’S MANGO ORCHARDS

Since the disappearance of Moisés Sáncez, people in Veracruz have compared Mayor Omar Cruz and his wife, Maricela Nava to the Mayor of Iguala, Guerrero and his wife. Photo: Twitter @HaytodeMedellin

Since the disappearance of Moisés Sáncez, people in Veracruz have compared Mayor Omar Cruz and his wife, Maricela Nava to the Mayor of Iguala, Guerrero and his wife. Photo: Twitter @HaytodeMedellin

Since the disappearance of Moisés Sáncez, people in Veracruz have compared Mayor Omar Cruz and his wife, Maricela Nava to the Mayor of Iguala, Guerrero and his wife. Photo: Twitter @HaytodeMedellin

Another person passed over by Omar Cruz says, “The best jobs and salaries went to his friends. He sidelined the current PAN-istas and he gave them lesser jobs with low salaries. That was the constant complaint. In my case I left because of the pay. He promised me 12,000 pesos a month as a director (US$820) but I got half that. When I complained about the shortfall to Omar Cruz he wouldn’t talk to me. He sent me to his wife, Maricela Nava Seseña, the DIF president.”

Since what happened to Moisés Sánchez, both Maricela Nava and Omar Cruz have been compared to the Abarca, the mayor and his wife from the state of Guerrero [alleged to have masterminded the disappearances of the 43 student teachers of Ayotzinapa]. In this Veracruz municipality of major mango cultivation, Cruz and Nava ruled during the day and night, and people from the state have labeled them “the Abarca of the Mango Orchards.”

Inside the municipal building, in fact, they say that Omar Cruz does not decide anything without first going through Maricela Nava and her sister, Hilda Nava Seseña. Omar Cruz made his sister in law the municipal secretary.

The three live under the same roof in the Residencial Marino in Boca del Río where the cheapest houses sell for 1.5 million pesos (US$100,000) — and that’s the price of some of the more austere properties. The upscale residential neighborhood is five minutes from Plaza El Dorado, currently one of Veracruz’s most exclusive malls, frequented by those Veracruz magnates who arrive in their yachts – it has a marina – to buy cinema tickets for a matinée or to lunch in one of its restaurants.

The neighborhood is lined with beautiful trees. It is connected to the highway with panoramic views of the beaches in Vacas-Boca del Río. There are mansions, large salons for special events, estates with country houses and staff on hand for a relaxing weekend, all lining the backwater of the River Jamapa.

Omar, Maricela and Hilda ride around in this year’s trucks. The three use bodyguards and together they attend sessions with spiritualists.

“In the first few days after taking office, several spiritualist consultants – witches – arrived to cleanse the place,” the source says.

They focused their efforts on expelling the bad vibes from the mayor’s office, occupied for six years by PRI-istas. They placed quartz, burned incense, copal and every sort of mélange making it smell like a market.

Once the bad spirits had left, the mayor ordered a giant portrait hanged: underneath the image in large letters appears the name, “Javier Duarte de Ochoa, constitutional governor of Veracruz.”

In that office, on another wall, another black and white image bearing large letters: OMAR CRUZ, PRESIDENTE MUNICIPAL.

And decorating the surrounds in his office are numerous photos of Cruz along with his wife and sister in law.

In the mayor’s office, they say, Maricela Nava Seseña – known as the Queen of Medellín – became accustomed to issuing instructions and telling off campaign workers.

“Why are you asking for so much money from my husband? Are you really so great or are you his lover?” That’s what the first lady of Medellín said to staffers who complained about the low level of their salaries to Omar Cruz.

When dealing with labor issues, the mayor did not personally deal with them. He hung up the phone, referring them to his wife or his sister-in-law.

That’s what the former DIF director, Paula Aguilar Tlaseca experienced. She was one of the first to jump ship because of the poor treatment, low salary and little professional recognition from the Abarca of Medellín de Bravo.

When dealing with complaints in citizen-related issues, the protests did not mean much to them. “Protest all you like. I am the mayor,” Cruz replied when his staff advised him that social problems such as the new annual charge for public cleaning were turning into flash points of unrest.

Omar Cruz offered Moisés Sánchez the position of press officer if he won election as mayor. However, a little after the election the conflicts between began until, according to one witness, the mayor threatened the journalist. Photo: Special.

Omar Cruz offered Moisés Sánchez the position of press officer if he won election as mayor. However, a little after the election the conflicts between the men began until, according to one witness, the mayor threatened the journalist. Photo: Special.

In Moisés’ last protest outside the Medellín municipal building in the middle of last December he complained about this new municipal tax and the increase in common crime. It was a bitter encounter with Omar Cruz. A strange thing, too, since the mayor never confronted his critics.

“Why are you protecting criminals?” Moisés dared to ask Omar. It has been forty-eight hours since the owner of a convenience store had been murdered, his truck taken.

“I am not protecting them. I am fighting them. I asked for help from the Mando Único [the unified state command of public safety agencies] and the Marines,” Omar Cruz replied. But Moisés was not satisfied and continued in a loud voice with his criticism until one of Cruz’s staff, Juanita León slapped Moisés Sanchez several times on the cheeks.

Omar Cruz did not do anything else. But he left without offering Moisés an apology and failing to scold his employee who had hit him. Instead, a friend of Moisés told his family that the mayor threatened the journalist…

“Take care. Omar says that he wants to frighten you.”

Ignacio Carvajal is a prize-winning journalist working in Veracruz. Follow him @nachopallaypaca on Twitter. In Latin America Carvajal is recognized as a skilled practitioner of the crónica, a form of reporting news by telling a story. Check out hisRanch of Horror” in translation for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project. This article was first published under the title, “Aliado de Duarte, cliente de “brujos”, el Alcalde del PAN puso la mira en periodista,” available at: http://www.sinembargo.mx/09-01-2015/1212468.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons. The MxJTP has a Facebook page: like it, here.

 

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The Doorman who Died on Duty (Samuel Adam, Reforma, RevistaR)

This article was published on 2 November in RevistaR, Reforma newspaper’s Sunday supplement. The article has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project.

The Doorman who Died on Duty (Photo: Grupo Reforma)

The Doorman who Died on Duty (Photo: Grupo Reforma)

The Doorman who Died on Duty
By Samuel Adam (Reforma, RevistaR)

Mexico City (2 November 2014).- “Don’t mess with me. I’ve been to prison. I’m not afraid of going back.”

The threats from the car keepers [franeleros] on the street had become more and more frequent. Antonio was the doorman for a building in Chihuahua Street in the Colonia Roma. He had questioned them on the more than one occasion when he saw cars parked in the entrance to his building’s garage.

They ignored his requests. On the contrary, they insulted him. They destroyed what he put out to stop them from parking there. They stared him down.

A few months ago the neighbors noticed that he doubled back in the street so as to not bump into the group of thirty-to-forty year old men who “took care” of the cars. The conflict, however, had been going on for almost a year.

On the morning of Monday 13 October, when he left his home headed for work, the threats achieved their objective. The blows they gave him before a police cruiser or ambulance could come to his aid left him in a coma. A week later they ended his life.

With the failure of legislation to regulate car keepers and valet parking, and even with parking meters, the streets and avenues of the Roma-Condesa corridor have been taken over by groups who control the flow of clients to the more than 500 businesses in the area. They are groups who have been called, “the lords of the street” and today, among their number, Mexico City’s prosecutor is looking for Antonio’s murderers.

* * *

For thirteen years Toño was the filter between the outside world and the intimacy of the building’s residents. They only knew his first name.

First, he was employed as a worker for the building’s renovation. When the Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture in the Roma from the end of the Porfiriato [ca. 1910] did not stand up to the passage of time, Antonio contributed to its resurrection from its very foundations.

He built trust when he welcomed the new building’s first occupants. He took care of the building until it was totally occupied. He was a trusted worker until the time of his death.

At the beginning, his task was to open and close the door; from time to time he would help the upstairs neighbor with her groceries; he swept and mopped the stairs, the corridors; he cleaned the railings.

“At four thirty in the morning you would already hear the sound of him sweeping. He liked to work early,” commented a neighbor whom he got along with for more than ten years.

Later, trust in the doorman grew, as did his responsibilities: charging for water, light, gas; buying paint for the walls, looking to buy new pipes for the boiler, changing the broken window glass… even taking care of children while a parent ran chores or went to work.

“Up until the end, he had my key,” said a young man who lives on the top floor. “He was a person whom my wife and I trusted with the kids.”

Instead of an apartment number, his door buzzer still has a word: “doorman.”

His wife also earned the trust of the building’s residents. Every Tuesday and Thursday or Friday when she worked she would clean the apartments of some residents, whether they were in or out, to help Antonio with their family expenses.

They came from Zihuateutla, in the Sierra Norte de Puebla. Antonio and his wife were part of the 244,033 Totonaco residents in the country, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI). Like many of the country’s indigenous people, they had to come to Mexico City in search of work.

For the last fourteen years, they lived two blocks from Antonio’s work, in a small apartment in a building where his wife also worked as a concierge for 1,000 pesos per month (US$77).

Toño also had to paint the rooms in each of the unoccupied apartments. He changed the light bulbs, fixed imperfections and took out the trash every morning before he ventured into the streets where, two hours before, bars were open and people made merry.

He drank coffee in the morning before going to take care of his building. At midday, he would return home for breakfast and then return to work. At lunchtime he would go home to be with his wife and at night he ate dinner at home. He returned to the building again to work a little bit more. Close to midnight he returned home to his wife and their two daughters to sleep.

In total, he went to and from these buildings four times a day.

Two years ago his routine changed: he stopped leaving home after dinner to care for a boy whom he and his wife decided to adopt.

A year and a half ago, one of his neighbors advised Antonio to obtain a basic Internet package so his daughters could use it for their education. He did not know anything about technology. In the shop they tricked Toño into buying a computer with Windows 95. He had to replace it so that his family could go online.

A little bit after, Antonio trusted a man who offered to enroll him in a housing program. After taking 16,000 pesos (US$1,230) for the new home, the man vanished.

Antonio characteristic shyness and naïveté also formed part of his wife’s personality. It pained him to speak to officials when he needed things for his family. Outside the circle of his best friend and the residents in the building where he worked, he was alone. Yet he wanted to remain in the city where his daughters were growing up.

After her husband’s murder, the owner of the building she lives in said she could stay and that she would increase her salary to 3,000 pesos (US$230) per month in exchange for also doing Toño’s work.

* * *

With the explosive growth of the Roma-Condesa corridor, the area’s floating population increased exponentially, and with it the valet parking services and car attendants keeping watch over diners’ cars.

Given the disorder of the area’s car park contracts and the car keepers’ wholesale street takeover, the Borough of Cuauhtémoc’s manager, Alejandro Fernández, introduced the parking meter project. It was rejected by a large number of the area’s residents.

Several protests forced a public consultation in which five of the area’s nine districts rejected parking meters. The Roma Norte III district – where Antonio worked and lived – was one of those areas that rejected the meters.

The rejection caused a “cockroach” effect: many car keepers abandoned the four areas where parking meters were installed and took over the areas without meters using boulders, buckets and trash cans. They also began to monopolize the time and take control of spaces in the area where there were parking meters.

Eva Morales and Mario Rodríguez, members of the Roma Norte III Citizens’ Committee have received complaints from residents who have been intimidated by the car keepers. There are those who say that they have had a pistol flashed at them when they don’t pay the high parking costs. The neighbors had wanted to confront them but they dare not since they know where they live.

“They have messed with my building four times in two years. They knew I used to go out one particular day a week for four hours, and on that day they came in. With the other residents, they enter when they go out to eat. They see you. They know who you are, the apartment you are living in, how many live there and the relationships you have,” comments Eva.

The area’s residents accuse police of ignoring drivers or valet attendants who park in the entrances to buildings, calling off the tow trucks when they come to impound a vehicle, of forewarning the car keepers when a police operation is about to begin and of not turning up when the keepers fight between each other.

The group of car keepers who control Chihuahua Street, between Córdova and Jalapa, started to confront Antonio when he asked them not to leave cars in the entryway.

Each car keeper charges between 40 and 60 pesos per vehicle (US$3 to US$5).

At night, the four or five car keepers that control the area drink alcohol with the other groups “taking care” of other streets in the Roma neighborhood.

They used to sleep in three vehicles stationed in the street, according to the neighbors: a brown Ford Explorer truck with San Luis Potosí license plate of UZH-5767, a red Phantom with a plate of 840-XHX and another vehicle, JFA-9609 from Jalisco. All of these vehicles have since been taken away.

* * *

At the beginning of this year, because of the car keepers who insisted on parking cars on the curb, the doorman built some cement planters to block them. In one of them he planted a chayote plant. One day Toño awoke to find it destroyed, just as it was about to bear fruit. It was clearly a message.

On one occasion, Antonio left a paint can outside the building. Minutes later the can had been taken to reserve a parking spot.

Toño asked the car keeper to return the paint can to its place and he was threatened. He told him about his time in prison. He told him he wasn’t alone and that it wouldn’t do to mess with him.

The full group – four or five car keepers – began to harass him, insulting him when he crossed the street. They confronted him and challenged him to a fight. He avoided that. He preferred to go the long way around on the streets, so as to not see them.

He did not file a complaint with any of the authorities or tell people in the building where he worked. Only his wife and his best friend, who had known him since his arrival in the Roma, were aware of the situation.

On Monday 13 October at 4:30 in the morning, Toño left the building where he lived with his family to go to work. A group of men pushed him back inside and began to beat him with a metal rod and a triangular piece of steel.

In the assault, they broke his arm, shattered almost all his teeth, broke his nose and poked the metal rod into his right eye going through his skull.

The extensive description provided by the medical examiner in investigation FCH/CUH-7/T1/03459/14-10R3 noted: “laceration to right eye… wound runs from the temple along the skull and measures 28 centimeters.” That wound resulted in his death a week later on the night of Tuesday 21 October.

“When his wife heard the cries for help, she came down from the building and found Antonio lying on the ground, alone. She spoke to a neighbor and said, “they wounded Antonio.” Minutes later the police arrived. The attackers had already fled.

“It was ‘El Flaco,’ (the Skinny One),” Antonio managed to say to a police officer before falling unconscious and being taken to the Red Cross in Polanco.

A patrol car arriving at the crime scene saw three people fleeing, each one in a different direction. It followed the one who escaped on Álvaro Obregón Avenue but did not catch him.

The police did not collect evidence from the patio where Antonio had been beaten. They did not return for the scrap metal used to beat him until Sunday 19 October. By then, the rain had already washed away the injured man’s blood.

Toño’s wife could not file a complaint at the borough offices because of the serious state in which she had found him.

* * *

The building’s residents pressured the authorities for justice. They threatened blocking Álvaro Obregón Avenue in protest at Antonio’s beating.

On Friday 17 October, Mexico City’s prosecutors stopped El Flaco near the crime scene. When the police identified him as responsible, he blamed Antonio for trying to give him a ride in a car while he was drunk.

However, Antonio did not know how to drive and he never drank.

El Flaco gave a false first name to the authorities and when at last they found out his real name, it offered up his extensive criminal record.

The same day of his arrest, an operation began in the Roma-Condesa corridor where they arrested 35 car keepers. They had to use a traveling Civic Judge since the sector does not have its own Civic Judge.

On Wednesday 22 October, after Antonio died in the Polanco Red Cross, the investigation turned into a murder case, and the residents’ anger increased.

A week later, in a meeting held at the Universidad de Londres in the Roma neighborhood, the neighbors complained to borough officials that those who had been arrested returned a few days later to take control the streets. In the meeting they also commented on those car keepers who control collections in the parking metered areas.

Antonio’s wife had not had a run in with El Flaco, her husband’s alleged murderer. People keep on seeing two of the car keepers who harassed her husband in the street he once avoided. Now she avoids that street, too.

Antonio Ignacio Sánchez was buried on Thursday 23 October in Zihuateutla, his hometown. Hours later, his wife had to travel 200 kilometers to return to the borough so she could give her statement about what had happened.

The neighbors from the building where Toño started as a laborer lent money for the return of his body and its burial. They found a lawyer for his wife who would take charge of the case.

Officials have promised to enroll her in social programs in various institutions. Until now, nothing conclusive has been arranged.

In the building on Chihuahua Street they are looking for a man who can open and close the door, somebody with Antonio’s warmth, somebody who will bid them “good day.”

Journalist Samuel Adam reports for Grupo Reforma. Follow him on Twitter @AdamSamuel01. “El conserje murió cumpliendo su deber,” available at: http://www.reforma.com/aplicacioneslibre/articulo/default.aspx?id=382034&md5=f7d53550ce94df63e31682201bf38097&ta=0dfdbac11765226904c16cb9ad1b2efe#ixzz3I9wwtVNr.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons. The MxJTP has a Facebook page: like it, here.

 

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SILENCING DISSENT IN MEXICO: Atilano Román Slain, Leader of the Picachos Community (Miriam Ramírez, Riodoce)

Recently Murdered Octavio Atilo Román, Picachos Reservoir community leader.

Recently Murdered Octavio Atilo Román, Picachos Reservoir community leader.

This article was first published on 11 October 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Translator’s Note: Atilo Román led the communities displaced by the construction of the Picachos reservoir in Sinaloa. He was imprisoned on trumped up charges by State Police in 2012 and 2013 when the Picachos communities were in ongoing protest against the government of Mario López Valdez of the PRI concerning the development, construction, and effects of the Picachos reservoir in Sinaloa. This summer he opened and promoted the new 750-person Picachos ecotourism community to a security-conscious clientele of Mexican and U.S. fishermen, stressing that the Picachos region was unscathed by violence between organized crime and government forces. Recently Atilo Román had returned to protesting corruption in the state government’s fisheries agency because it had failed to issue commercial fishing licenses to Picachos community members.

Newspaper El Sol de Mazatlán –- which has yet to report Atilo Román’s death in its radio station — is one of 70 newspapers in Mexico owned by Organización Editorial Mexicana. PT

SILENCING DISSENT IN MEXICO: Atilano Román Slain, Leader of the Picachos Community
By Miriam Ramírez (RIODOCE.COM)

A shot to the face from two armed men killed Atilano Román, leader of the Picachos community. The men burst into the station belonging to newspaper El Sol de Maztlán.

The attack took place at 10:40 in the morning just as he was being interviewed in a studio in the station. The two men came in carrying handguns; one of them shot Atilo Román point blank.

Seriously wounded, Atilo Román was taken to a hospital in Rafael Buelna Avenue where he died.

Local investigative agents of the Attorney General’s Office are currently in the southern region. They are investigating and questioning witnesses to the murder including reception area workers who allowed the alleged attackers to enter.

Recently the members of the Picachos Reservoir community, led by Atilo Román, had returned to demonstrations because of delays in licensing commercial fishing in the reservoir. CONAPESCA failed to deliver these licenses.

Atilano Román had complained about the interests of CONAPESCA officials for granting licenses to people outside the Picachos community.

In February 2013 the community’s leader and several of its members were arrested and arbitrarily imprisoned by officers of the State Prosecutor’s Police. They had announced they would enter the Carnival procession to stage a parody of Governor Mario López Valdez. They accused the governor — who belongs to the PRI, Mexico’s ruling party — of not fulfilling promises towards those communities displaced by the reservoir.

After those arrests the Human Rights Commission of the state of Sinaloa warned that the State Attorney General had abused the community members’ rights by detaining them without legitimate reasons and only to stop their demonstration during the Carnival.

But this wasn’t even the first time they had been arrested. In May 2012, the leader of thirty community members –- men, women, elderly people –- were detained by officers from the State Prosecutor’s Police as they walked down the Culiacán to Mazatlán highway in protest against the Governor of Sinaloa, López Valdez.

The community members have been fighting for more than five years, ever since construction began on the Picachos Reservoir. It displaced six towns in the Mazatlán and Concordia mountains.

The communities’ members have staged countless demonstrations. They have been imprisoned for demanding the state government provide compensation and fulfilling its promises.

 

Journalist Miriam Ramírez reports for Riodoce in Culiacán, Sinaloa. This article first appeared under the title, “Asesinan a Atilo Román, Líder de los Picachos,” available at: http://riodoce.mx/gob-politica/asesinan-a-atilano-roman-lider-de-los-picachos.

 

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons. The MxJTP has a Facebook page: like it, here.

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Municipality Sends Official to Cuba, Does not Know Why (Juan de Dios Olivas by EL DIARIO DE JUÁREZ)

This article was published on 19 September 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project.

From Mayor of Juárez, Enrique Serrano Escobar´s Website.

From Mayor of Juárez, Enrique Serrano Escobar´s Website.

Municipality Sends Official to Cuba, Does not Know Why
By Juan de Dios Olivas (EL DIARIO DE JUÁREZ)

The legal director of the Ecology Department, Laura Yanely Rodríguez Mireles, has been absent this week from her duties in the Municipality for a trip to Cuba for a lawyers’ congress. Her immediate supervisor, Alejandro Gloria González, and the city’s mayor, Enrique Serrano Escobar, justified her absence by saying that she was representing local government. But they could not describe the type of representation or explain its purpose.

The official, who has already had several trips within the country or abroad this year, posted on social media networks that she would attend the Lawyering Congress (Congreso de Abogacía) from 16 to 18 September. This timing means that she used the national holiday but also workdays to absent herself.

“It’s an event that has to do with her official duties, but I don’t remember the name of the event,” said Mayor Serrano Escobar yesterday.

He indicated that the official was only going to represent the Municipality, and she did not have an official task to execute.

“She’s going in representation but I don’t remember what the event is called. I saw it once but right now I don’t remember,” he said.

When questioned about Rodríguez Mireles’s work absences the Mayor said that it was necessary to speak with her immediate supervisor, the director of the Ecology Department, Gloria González.

“You would need to speak with her boss because I don’t take care of the attendance record for all the employees. We are a workforce of 7,400,” the mayor emphasized.

In a separate interview with her immediate supervisor, Alejandro Gloria Gonzaléz said that he did not send her to Cuba and he said that he did not know why she went.

He emphasized that she was sent by the municipality’s administration.

“She’s going on the Municipality’s business, not directly that of the Department. In representation – that’s what it said on the form,” he said.

Gloria González confirmed that this year Yanely Rodríguez only had one authorized absence from her duties.

“This one and no more. I don’t have an official report for the others,” he noted.

However, the official has posted on social media about four trips this year related to her profession as a lawyer. One of these was to Puerto Vallarta from 23 to 26 July, during the workweek. Before that there were other similar trips to Monterrey and Aguascalientes.

El Diario tried to locate the official by cellphone but she could not be contacted.

Before coming to work in municipal administration Rodríguez Mireles was President of the Bar and Lawyers’ College and also a candidate for District 7 representative. She ran as a candidate of Mexico’s green party, Partido Verde Ecologista de México.

The Ecology Department is an agency where a month ago the Municipal Oversight Board (Sindicatura Municipal) reported at least a dozen unjustified absences based on a random, routine list sent to different organizations within the municipal government.

Journalist Juan de Dios Olivas reports for El Diario de Juárez. Follow him on Twitter: @JDOlivas. This article first appeared on 19 September 2014 under the title, “Manda Municipio a funcionaria a Cuba pero no saben a qué,” available at: http://diario.mx/Local/2014-09-19_c5f7688e/manda-municipio-a-funcionaria-a-cuba-pero-no-saben-a-que.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons. The MxJTP has a Facebook page: like it, here.

 

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Four Murders in Five Hours: A Midweek Evening in Ciudad Juárez in September 2014 (Staff, EL DIARIO DE JUÁREZ)

These news briefs were published in the Diario de Juárez on 10 September 2014 (see below for links). They have been compiled and translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project.

Four Murders in Five Hours: A Midweek Evening in Ciudad Juárez in September 2014
By Staff (EL DIARIO DE JUÁREZ)

Translator’s Note: There have been at least 312 murders in Juárez this year as of this writing. PT

First Murder: Man Murdered Outside a Hardware Store in El Sauzal
Reported by Staff at 19:12
No photo

A man was shot to death yesterday afternoon outside a hardware store in El Sauzal. Police at the scene put on an operation searching for those responsible. They have not managed to arrest anybody.

The first reports indicate that a woman accompanied the victim. She was unhurt in the attack.

The approximately 30-year old man had at least three gunshot wounds.

The man was left in the street to the side of two parked vehicles; one a grey Eclipse where it is assumed a negotiation took place.

Witnesses suggested that the man and the woman were outside the hardware store when an individual went towards them. He shot the man three or four times point blank. He escaped running.

Agents from the prosecutor’s office and forensic investigators cordoned off the area on Ignacio Zaragoza Street between Puertos de Palos and Fernando Montes de Oca.

Officers also arrived who had gathered information about the partial identification of the person responsible, thereby initiating an operation to capture him.

Second Murder: Bus Driver Murdered
Reported by Staff at 19:14

Bus Driver Murdered (EL DIARIO)

Bus Driver Murdered (EL DIARIO)

A bus driver on Route 3B was shot to death this afternoon in the Estrella del Poniente bus terminal.

So far in 2014 five bus drivers have been murdered.

This latest crime took place in the bus station in Isla Salomón Street, next to La Presa dyke and a thermoelectric power station belonging to the Federal Electricity Commission (Comisión Federal de Electricidad CFE).

Red Cross paramedics attended to the victim inside bus 670 but he was already dead.

Early reports indicate that the murderers apparently escaped in a green colored truck found abandoned a few blocks down the road.

Agents from the prosecutor’s office and forensic investigator cordoned off the crime scene. Municipal police officers conducted and operation in the area in search of those responsible.

Third Murder: Vendor at Hamburger Stand Murdered in the Azteca
Reported by Staff at 20:40

Vendor at Hamburger Stand Shot to Death (EL DIARIO)

Vendor at Hamburger Stand Shot to Death (EL DIARIO)

A trader was shot to death tonight at a hamburger stand located at the intersection of Aztecas Avenue with Tzetzales in the Colonia Azteca. An intensive police operation is underway.

This is the city’s third murder in the last four hours.

First reports indicate that the victim, Jesús Gabriel Flores Ontiveros, 27, was shot at least twice.

The report compiled at the crime scene shows that a man appeared at the hamburger stand acting like a customer. Soon after he shot Flores twice and gave flight.

City police arrived at the scene and mounted an operation in the neighborhood and adjacent areas in search of the person responsible.

Meanwhile, agents from the Prosecutor’s office cordoned off the crime scene while forensic investigators took care of the body and evidence collection.

This Wednesday afternoon a man was murdered outside a hardware store in El Sauzal. Later in the afternoon a bus driver was killed.

Fourth Murder, Fifth Hour: State Police Officer Murdered
Reported By Salvador Castro at 22:11

Murder of Deputy Commander in Chihuahua State Police (EL DIARIO)

Murder of Deputy Commander in Chihuahua State Police (EL DIARIO)

Last night in Hermanos Escobar Avenue an intense mobilization of police forces from across the city took place. There were reports of a person shot to death. According to the first reports he was a deputy commander in the State Police Force.

The report shows that the events took place in a taco stand outside a bar in the area. The victim was identified at the scene as Mario Alberto Sepúlveda García.

First reports indicate that the police officer was at the Tacotorro taco stand when armed men shot him to death.

The city police cordoned off the scene with the help of officers from the prosecutor’s office. From the outset they did not guard the secrecy of the victim’s identity.

This new case brings the total to four homicides in the city in the last five hours.

These news briefs were reported in Spanish by Reporting Staff at the newspaper El Diario de Juárez, in Chihuahua, Mexico. El Diario is a daily newspaper known for hard-hitting coverage, and its journalists are always at risk. The newspaper has a policy of not attaching a reporter’s byline to a story when organized crime might be involved. These articles appeared under various titles and are available as follows:

First Murder: http://diario.mx/Local/2014-09-10_b8776a8a/asesinan-a-hombre-afuera-de-ferreteria-en-el-sauzal/

Second Murder: http://diario.mx/Local/2014-09-10_27572c33/asesinan-a-chofer-de-transporte-publico/

Third Murder: http://diario.mx/Local/2014-09-10_f8760906/matan-a-vendedor-de-hamburguesas-en-la-azteca/

Fourth Murder: http://diario.mx/Local/2014-09-10_e2263d8b/asesinan-a-presunto-elemento-de-la-policia-estatal-unica/

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons. The MxJTP has a Facebook page: like it, here.

 

Mexican Fishermen Remove 54 Tons of Dead Fish from Lagoon (Verónica Calderón, EL PAÍS)

This article was published on 1 September 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Mexican Fishermen Remove 54 Tons of Dead Fish from Lagoon
By Verónica Calderón (EL PAÍS)

– Authorities have not given clear reasons for the ecological emergency in the Cajititlán Lagoon, located in western Mexico

Fishermen collect dead fish in Cajititlán, Mexico. (Héctor Guerrero, AFP)

Fishermen collect dead fish in Cajititlán, Mexico. (Héctor Guerrero, AFP)

The fishermen of the small community encircling Cajititlán Lagoon in Tlajomulco Township (within Guadalajara´s metropolitan area, in western Mexico) rely on it for their livelihood. Last week they found it covered with a silver carpeting of dead fish. Just this Sunday it spewed out 33.7 tons, say the townspeople. Since the emergency began that makes 54 tons. The town’s authorities agree humans caused it. The State of Jalisco’s Ministry of the Environment (SEMADET) issued an alert about the poor state of water treatment by nearby businesses. The thorough cleanup can hardly cope. And the popochas – the twenty-centimeter freshwater fish don’t stop floating to the surface. Dead.

The contradictions started on day one. Town officials said that they had picked up 4.5 tons of popochas from Tuesday to Thursday, but the president of the fishermen’s cooperative in the town, Octavio Cortés, said to the EFE news service that on Tuesday alone they had removed eleven tons.

Residents of towns close to the lagoon accuse three treatment plants of dumping organic waste and another fifteen factories on the banks of the lagoon as guilty for what’s happened to the river. The lagoon is forty-one kilometers from Guadalajra, one of the country’s major urban centers.

This is the fourth time this year that there has been a mass of dead fish on the banks of the lagoon

 

The minister for the environment in the state of Jalisco (SEMADET), Magdalena Ruiz Mejía says that it’s a “serious event.” Tlajomulco Township has said from the outset that the deaths resulted from a drop in oxygen because of a change in the temperature of the water. But the minister confirmed that the “poor management” of water treatment is the probable cause of pollution suffered by the lagoon.

As if that weren’t enough already, there’s one more ingredient. The labyrinth of Mexican bureaucracy has worsened the performance before, during, and after the emergency. The mayor of Tlajomulco comes from the Citizens’ Movement (Movimiento Ciudadano, MC), a rarity in Mexican politics, a party that has emerged as stronger than any of Mexico’s main parties: the ruling party of the PRI, the conservative PAN and the leftwing PRD. The lagoon belongs to this township. The MC president Hugo Luna had announced last 12 August an “institutional separation” from Jalisco’s governor, Aristóteles Sandoval of the PRI.

The day the MC leader announced the split with the state Government, Tlajomulco’s mayor, Ismael del Toro confirmed that one of the pieces of “evidence” that Aristóteles Sandoval’s administration was trying to damage MC governments was the way Cajititlán had been abandoned. He emphasized that state authorities have systematically broken work agreements between the two governments to clean the lagoon despite warnings from SEMADET.

Journalist Verónica Calderón reports from Mexico for El País. Follow Calderón on Twitter @veronicacalderon. This story first appeared with the title, “Unos pescadores mexicanos recogen 54 toneladas de peces muertos en una laguna,” available at: http://sociedad.elpais.com/sociedad/2014/09/01/actualidad/1409601239_538919.html.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons. The MxJTP has a Facebook page: like it, here.

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The Photojournalist who Disappeared: Manuel Gabriel Fonseca Hernández, ´Cuco´(Galia García Palafox, NUESTRA APARENTE RENDICIÓN)

This article appeared originally in the book, Tú y yo coincídimos en la noche terrible, a collection of essays about murdered or disappeared Mexican journalists, by Lolita Bosch and Alejandro Vélez Salas, published by Nuestra Aparente Rendición in 2012. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

The Photojournalist who Disappeared: Manuel Gabriel Fonseca Hernández, ‘Cuco’
By Galia García Palafox (Nuestra Aparente Rendición)

Missing Since September 2011: Mexican Photojournalist Manuel Gabriel Fonseca

Missing Since September 2011: Mexican Photojournalist Manuel Gabriel Fonseca

Cuco is the story about a boy who wanted to be a journalist.

He hadn’t finished secondary school but Manuel Gabriel needed to work to take money home. He got a job cleaning the house of Araceli Shimabuko, a journalist in his town.

Araceli stopped him from cleaning and set him to hand out the magazine she edited, Paisajes. He took a taxi every day from his neighborhood to the center of town. While she reported he distributed the magazine to government offices. It was the closest he had been to these two worlds: inside and behind the scenes at the town hall, a view from afar of its mayor, some press conference or other when he went with Araceli. Her secretary, that’s what some officials and journalists called him.

After work they ate something or met with other reporters. Manuel Gabriel was fascinated. He became friends with journalists in Acayucan, a town of 83,000 residents in the south of the state of Veracruz. He didn’t skip the opportunity of going with somebody covering an accident, a fire or a fight. Manuel Gabriel knew immediately what the news world wanted, especially when it came to the police blotter.

He started helping journalist friends collect information, making visits to the public prosecutor, taking photos. One day he came home with a newspaper in his hands. His parents and his brother, Ricardo, could hardly believe it: at home Manuel Gabriel was known as José and in the news world somebody nicknamed him ‘Cuco,’ and he had published a story. He was a sixteen-year old reporter.

From that moment on his parents asked him to take care with what he published. He mustn’t get himself in trouble.

Somehow he got hold of an old, roll camera. He took photos and he took the roll to be developed. From a cybercafé he sent photos and news to magazines where he had begun to work.

One day he went to El Diario of Acayucan. He asked to speak with its owner. He didn’t want to talk with anybody else. Marcos Fonrouge, chief editor, dealt with him. He had heard talk about him. He had read him. Cuco wanted work and there was a position open for a reporter covering the crime beat. The job was his.

Fights between drunkards, men who beat people, car crashes. Cuco covered those stories. “They all made him proud,” Fonrouge says. Night and day he looked for an exclusive. He took it for granted he would get it. “Hey, I have the exclusive,” that’s what he said to reporter colleagues when he met them. He spent nights in police stations or in the public prosecutor’s office to get the scoop. He got home early in the morning.

Don Juan, his father, remembers that some days he only used to come home to change clothes after a visit to the morgue, to get rid of the smell of a body. Other times they didn’t used to see him at home until dawn. “He used to get home when we were all asleep, at one a.m., two in the morning. He used to bring us memelas [akin to a tostada (hard tortilla) with savory toppings] and empanadas and he got us all up to eat,” says Ricardo, his little brother. “He used to tell us that he had seen dead people or accidents.” He used to tell, he tells. He used to arrive, he arrives. He was, he is. Everybody who talks about Cuco changes verb tenses. Not Cuco used to be, no: Cuco is.

Cuco liked the dead. On one occasion his boss sent him to cover a social meeting of lawyers. Cuco returned with photos so bad that Fonrouge knew that it was his way of telling him that he did not want to be sent to cover events that weren’t part of the crime beat.

After a spell at El Diario of Acayucan, Cuco went to El Mañanero, a new daily with five reporters and a circulation of three thousand issues. He graduated from film to a digital camera. He used to show it off to people who wanted to see. And he showed it off to those who did not want to see it, too.

Saturday 17 September 2011 was his day off. In the morning he played cards with his brother. Five peso hands. He didn’t have any luck at the cards. He lost.

Ricardo went to play football. Cuco went to El Mañanero’s offices to collect his pay. He spoke with his boss for a few minutes. He told him he was going to eat some tamales nearby. Cuco was always ready to party.

That night he didn’t return home to sleep. His father went to look for him. He did not find him. In the newspaper they were waiting for his Sunday stories. They never arrived. His phone went straight to voicemail.

On Monday his father went to ask at the newspaper. The journalists had begun to mobilize. A group went to look for him in a neighboring town where a party was rumored to have taken place. There was no sign of Cuco. Another group met in an ice cream parlor to decide what to do. One of them called a deputy prosecutor and they filed a complaint. They started to investigate: did anybody see him in the park with a friend on Saturday night? Another said that he had been at the morgue. Did a witness see him get into a car with a sandwich seller? It wasn’t a sandwich seller but the hotdog seller. Rumors and rumors. Criminal investigations. More rumors. Nothing convincing.

El Mañanero has a policy of not publishing news about criminal groups who might endanger its workers. Cuco had not published anything compromising. Maybe he saw something he shouldn’t have seen. Maybe they weren’t going for him. Maybe he opened his mouth too much. Maybe he fell in with bad company. More rumors.

 

Journalist Galia García Palafox is editor in chief at Milenio Digital. She has reported for news outlets in the United States and Mexico and graduated with a Master’s from the Columbia School of Journalism. This article was first published under the title, “Manuel Gabriel Fonseca Hernández, ‘Cuco’,” and is available at: http://nuestraaparenterendicion.com/tuyyocoincidimosenlanocheterrible/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=84:manuel-gabriel-fonseca-hernandez#.VANQzWSwLBw.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons. The MxJTP has a Facebook page: like it, here.

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Nameless (Javier Valdez Cárdenas, RIODOCE)

This Malayerba column was published on 24 August 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

#RememberingJim: This translation is dedicated to the memory of freelance reporter and photojournalist James Foley who, among other talents, graduated from Marquette University in History in 1996. PT

Nameless
By Javier Valdez Cárdenas (RIO DOCE)

Raúl felt like his eyes were filling with shattered glass. The tears didn’t beg permission. They began to fall. They ran down his skin. One of his children had been kidnapped. The police said it was an abduction. But he knew instantly that they were going to call to ask for ransom.

His cell phone rang. It rang to the tune of El palo verde. Its macabre sound during this tragedy made him feel ashamed. His sixteen-year old son. The middle child. He saw his wife bowled over, brought low, sat in an armchair with the pain of rushing salty tears drying her out. Fuck me, he muttered.

He hit the green button on the Motorola and let out an imperceptible tremulous hello. Look you son of a bitch we have your kid. He pointed the phone at the boy so that he could let out the terrified cry of dad. He asked for money in exchange for letting him go and he explained where and how to drop it off. When we know you delivered it we will let him go. I’ll fuck my mother if we don’t. He cried again. He begged him not to hurt his boy.

He got the money together and he delivered it. He didn’t tell the police because he was afraid. They are one and the same his wife told him. It’s not worth telling them. He waited and waited and waited. He hadn’t had news of his son for two days. On the third day they found his dumped body. Covered in bruises and holes. Colorless. Wasted. Eyes half shut.

They buried him as if the youth were still alive. The father spoke about him. He asked for remembrances. He demanded they get up. His mother was spent. She collapsed. And his other children absented themselves from the middle of a tearful deluge of blind bitterness. But life doesn’t stop and bad news never travels alone: a few months later they kidnapped his other son. The oldest.

This time he filed a complaint. The police followed his instructions. They focused their operation on his house. They monitored his phones. The police assigned a special investigative unit and installed paraphernalia for their masked men: automatic rifles, gloved hands, bulletproof vests. We are going to give it to them, sir, said the commander. He did not trust in any of it but he had to keep a handle on things. He couldn’t let this happen to his other son.

Again they rang his cellphone. El palo verde rang several times so that they could alert the agents monitoring the phone. The killer asked him for money. He promised to let the boy go when he had the money. The cops asked him to string the call out but the kidnapper didn’t give him a chance. He did everything he asked. The boy still hadn’t turned up.

More wailing. More cracks in the skin. More shards of glass in the eyes. Gloom. Yet more gloom. He shouted: pricks and assholes! A neighbor said that when a parent dies the child becomes an orphan. When a spouse dies, widowed. But when one’s child dies? That doesn’t have a name.

Journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas is the founding editor of RíoDoce, an online news outlet based in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He is the author of various books, including Con la Granada en la Boca (Aguilar, 2014). This column was first published under the title, “Sin nombre,” and is available at: http://riodoce.mx/noticias/columnas/malayerba/sin-nombre.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons. The MxJTP has a Facebook page: like it, here.

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Good Folk (Javier Valdez Cárdenas, RíoDoce)

This Malayerba column was published in RíoDoce on 13 July 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Good Folk
By Javier Valdez Cárdenas (RíoDoce)

They were a close-knit gang of four. They had grown up on the same block and frequented the same spots in the barrio: the basketball court, the street corners, the grocery stores, their neighbors’ patios and the schools on the outskirts. They began to fight about girls, but not seriously – they never came to blows. They traded insults — didn’t speak for two weeks — but then they made up, and carried on just like before.

They’d hardly finished high school. The four companions agreed that they weren’t good at studying. But in the city, work and good pay were hard to find. The drug dealers started sniffing them out: looking at them from afar. They didn’t like them. They didn’t want to get close to them. But that was before tortillas and chicken were in short supply at home.

Freaking misery sucks, dude. Screwed up and bogus. Everything’s whack, said the other. Whattup, are we in or not? They knew that being a scoundrel wasn’t right: several crosses on the sidewalks for guys killed in gunfire, sliced up with an Uzi, bleeding out in less than a breath. It sucks, yeah, but hunger’s worse. My mom didn’t have enough for eggs yesterday, y’know.

They looked for the hit men’s boss. He’d seen them grow up on the block so he didn’t need assurance: he took them on and he put them on the payroll. First as scouts, on the look out. In a few he weeks he told them: go get this guy. He gave them each a piece and he told them where to take him. A few days later they prowled around torturing and killing. They chucked the bloodied clothing and started buying Pavi and Hollister. Their sneakers weren’t patched any more, didn’t have holes, and they bought tortillas with cheese and chicken, meat to grill, and shrimp for aguachile.

They killed four, seven, ten. Always together, always on the basketball courts, always with the boys in the barrio. That’s how they did it: taking care, informing about strange movements, picking off the bastards, putting them down and out, quickly – unless they were asked to torture them for information or out of revenge for a betrayal, a robbery or a debt. In a few months, they got tired and frightened. That’s enough. Better that we stop here because otherwise they will come for us. That’s how they did it.

They began to paint houses. They took jobs helping contractors on good-sized jobs or as market fetchers. Together, always together. One night they went for beer. They saw some of the gang pulling on an old man to beat him up. One of them wanted to help the old timer but they shouted at him to screw himself. Put two bullets in his belly. The other three phoned the barrio’s hit men and since they knew them, they could identify them. The assailants turned up dead.

The one with bullets in his belly got better. When he saw the other three he decided to return to the site of the slaughter: that’s screwed up, said the one who’d recovered, now I can’t be good folk.

Journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas is the founding editor of RíoDoce, an online news outlet based in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He is the author of various books, including Con la Granada en la Boca (Aguilar, 2014). This column was first published under the title, “Gente de Bien,” and is available at: http://riodoce.mx/noticias/columnas/malayerba/gente-de-bien.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

 

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The Ranch of Horror (Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.Expediente.Mx)

This crónica was first published on Blog.Expediente.Mx on 19 June 2014 and has been translated without permission by the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

The Keys of the Murdered and the Missing of El Diamante, Tres Valles, Veracruz. (Photo Credit: Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.expediente.mx)

The Keys of the Murdered and the Missing of El Diamante, Tres Valles, Veracruz. (Photo Credit: Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.expediente.mx)

The Ranch of Horror
By Ignacio Carvajal (Blog.Expediente.Mx)

Tres Valles, Veracruz.- “Can you take us to the graves at El Diamante, please?” somebody asks an official from Tres Valles township. Until that question, the bureaucrat had been welcoming, good-humored even; but on hearing where they wanted to go, his face reddened. He looked around from place to place. His chin trembled. He did go there, but reluctantly and at the first opportunity he fled – full throttle, ignoring speed bumps, puddles, and potholes.

The entrance to El Diamante is the opening to Eden. At the end of the meadow on this ranch, once the property of the late Fernando Cano Cano, first mayor of Tres Valles, trees are laden with fruit, a fish farm to one side. Pastures spring up at the corners to the property. A river runs through it.

It’s a golden dream for any farmer. But for the thirty-one people who were murdered and buried here, it’s where they went from paradise to hell.

After three months, last Monday night Navy personnel finally acknowledged it as a burial site. Nobody could have imagined that, under leafy trees on one side of a ravine hid horror: death, suffering, and shame half-covered by soil.

A smell hovers over the site. Green flies swarm around rotting flesh, crawling with maggots. There are thirteen holes. From each one they have exhumed two or three people. The investigators left a short time ago. They worked with nothing. Help came from soldiers stationed in Xalapa and Veracruz.

One person who was there, and whose identity is being protected, says that the investigating agents couldn’t cope. After hours of digging and removing rotten flesh, exhaustion overwhelmed them.  Officers from the Veracruz Investigations Division (AVI) had to lend a hand, putting their firearms to one side to pull on rope to extract the dead. “The exhumed bodies were tied up. It was complicated because they didn’t have hands or feet. Sometimes we had to help.”

“We tired from pulling up so many bodies. There was this moment when we had to shovel and blood and rotting stuff came out,” the official said.

 

OFFERINGS TO THE SKINNY WOMAN

Dirty dishes. Leftover food. Smelly mats. Damp towels. Pirated CDs. Dirty clothes scattered all over. Medicine. A shrine to the Santa Muerte. Black candles. The Seven Powers of Santería.  A toilet overflowing with crap.

It’s the inside of the house located on the rise of the El Diamante ranch. In this place, about two kilometers from the police station and town hall of Tres Valles, twenty-four men and seven women were murdered. How was it possible to massacre so many people so near to the police station?

Until a few days ago the inhabitants were a group of hitmen. They got into the ranch through a breach that runs from the city, along railway tracks, through groves of trees and a red clay trail.

Inside the building, what causes most fear is the image of the Santa Muerte.  It’s clearly a copy of Michelangelo’s Pietà, with Christ lying at the feet of the skinny woman.

The thirty-centimeter image is mounted on a box with a twenty-liter capacity. Around it are more than a dozen candles of the Seven Powers of Santería: Obatalá, Elegguá, Oggún, Orunlá, Yemayá, and Ochún.

More candles are placed inside the dwelling. They could be more than forty, or thirty-one. Perhaps the same number of victims buried in the clandestine cemetery.

Still inside, one finds chile, tomatoes, a frying pan filled with potatoes and sausage and on a chair, a saucepan filled with potatoes. They were about to eat. At present, the scant unofficial information provided by military sources doesn’t mention detainees, pointing to a timely escape.

The mats – from the National System for Overall Family Development (DIF) – stand out, strewn all over. It’s a mess left behind by officials who didn’t pay attention to a single detail: dozens of keys left behind beside the well – keys to houses, cars, drawers, and boxes. Keys that once belonged to the people dragged here and murdered.

 

POSSESSED

El Diamante is a watchtower: from its rise there’s a view of Tres Valles, and on the other side a meadow sown with fine, nourishing pasture. A sonorous ravine nearby snakes below the ranch, shaded by fruit trees.

Police reports call it an “abandoned ranch.” But its infrastructure looks in good shape.

In the town they confirm that it belonged to the late Fernando Cano Cano, a member of the Party of Institutional Revolution (PRI) and the first mayor of Tres Valles. Nobody can say how a group of murderers and death fanatics took over the ranch.

The difference between the last tenants and the owners is clear: they were very religious. In a corner, there’s a chapel to the Virgin of Juquila.

The Chapel to the Virgin of Juquila at El Diamante (Photo Credit: Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.expediente.mx)

The Chapel to the Virgin of Juquila at El Diamante (Photo Credit: Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.expediente.mx)

Inside the three-by-three chapel, with an altar in the middle, and cubbyholes in its walls, are mats, used condoms, excrement. There are signs of frantic sex, wild nights, alcohol, torture, and decapitation.

The thugs used this place for everything but praying to Christ’s mother. Her images are no longer in the cubbyholes: they have been destroyed.

In the chapel, they didn’t leave flowers or candles to the Virgin. But they left bottles of whisky and a bag of bread rolls to Death. An offering.

 

HOPE LIVES ON

The smell of death rattles the nerves of all of Cosamaloapan and its neighboring villages. “I had to wash my clothes again because I’d hung them out to dry the day the bodies arrived. But the smell penetrated everything and it stinks,” relates one of the people who lives by the morgue here in Cosamaloapan.

The smell lingers in the air and pervades all of Cosamaloapan, penetrates the poorest neighborhoods, the low-income areas where there are the most cases of missing people.

“We came here from Xalapa [the state capital, 300 kilometers away], because we knew there were a bunch of dead people here and in our neighborhood four boys are missing. A truck blocked their path and took them,” says a woman, who along with the others, seems not to be made sick by the smell or the heat.

They are wives, mothers, aunts, grandparents or partners of disappeared people. For them, Cosamaloapan and the neighboring towns amount to a badly healed wound bursting with pus. They are desperate.

“Sometimes I just want to find her and be done with it. Tell me if she’s dead or whatever,” says one woman, whose daughter, Wendy Cruz, has been missing since May.

Her granddaughter, Wendy’s daughter, holds a photo of her mother: dressed in a red blouse and tight white pants. Just beside the Papaloapan River. The last time they saw her she was going to Alvarado to eat with a friend.

Wendy Cruz. Last Seen went she went to Alvarado for a meal with a friend. (Photo Credit: Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.expediente.mx)

Wendy Cruz. Last Seen when she went to Alvarado for a meal with a friend. (Photo Credit: Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.expediente.mx)

Another family of women and children seeks shade under a fig tree. The oldest carries a photo of her sixteen-year old grandson who went to a party in Tuxtepec two weeks ago and never returned.

“They treated us very badly inside. We aren’t from here. We came from Oaxaca. Inside the morgue they told us we should deal with things in Oaxaca. They say there aren’t any bodies here. That they took them all to Xalapa,” says one of the women.

At some moment in the afternoon they could not wait any longer. They were huddled around the entryway where at least two stood waiting. They approached the slabs. They raised the sheet from one corpse and confirmed that it wasn’t their relative. They entered with fortitude. They left alone.

 

JOINED TOGETHER IN PAIN

On the Cosamaloapan-Acayucan highway, two hundred kilometers from the graves, a man enjoys some pineapple juice, happily looking at the cargo on his truck: twenty coffins.

The man has been informed about the region’s toughest news. “Clandestine Graves at El Diamante in Tres Valles.” Rather than being afraid, the funeral director in Cuenca del Papaloapan seems energized. He begins making calls to all his contacts, mostly those at the morgue, whom he rewards if they pass on the news to him first. He knows that the cargo he’s bringing from the Federal District won’t be of any use if he doesn’t hurry up and do the paperwork at Cosamaloapan’s deputy prosecutor’s office. “I don’t think they are going to be enough. We are going to have to ask for more,” said the driver.

Journalist Ignacio Carvajal reports from Veracruz. Follow him @nachopallaypaca on Twitter. This article was first published under the title, “El rancho del horror,” at blog.expediente.mx available at: http://blog.expediente.mx/nota.php?nId=6974#.U7NQUI1dVjY.

 

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons. The MxJTP has a FaceBook page: like it, here.

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