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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)

JVC_Missing

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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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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Urban Muralists Treat City as Canvas (Javier Valdez Cárdenas, RíoDoce)

This article was first published in RíoDoce on 22 June 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Urban Muralists Treat City as Canvas
By Javier Valdez Cárdenas (RíoDoce)

Yeye

Yeye, Murdered First Aid Worker

The walls speak. They shout.

The strokes, the colors, the silhouettes on the outsides of the old houses, low joists, on the fences of abandoned properties: they catch eyes, trap stares, and when the observer stops a moment, stays in front of the graffiti, the stencil, the aerosol, the acrylic, there are reflections and conversations, dreams and feelings.

Fingerprints of the new and old asphalt artists touch Andrade or Obregón avenues, the walls of the new promenade, historic downtown’s old buildings, the city’s police boxes, and Buelna or Rosales streets. They mark space, express their own resistance or that of those they represent, criticize, protest, and leave their mark.

Doctor Feis is one of these rebels. He seems to antagonize the untouched walls and the plain whites of some façades. On one wall he painted the face of Genoveva Rogers, nicknamed Yeye, the paramedic killed by gunshots when armed men ran after a man – he fled into the Red Cross – and a bullet killed the young woman.

Her face was painted on the wall of an abandoned police box, rescued by youth movement Recuperarte in the 10 de Mayo neighborhood. They are spray can murals and Doctor Feis has exhibited his work in states like Oaxaca, Baja California, Mexico City, Puebla, Querétaro, and Baja California Sur.

“To paint walls was mere fancy, custom. But then it became a hobby, and now it’s become a way for me to express myself,” says the 26-year old youth, originally from the capital city of Culiacán, a graduate of the Autonomous University of Sinaloa’s art school.

On Andrade Avenue, between Ángel Flores and Rosales Streets, on the so-called Paseo del Ángel he painted the face of Sandra Luz Hernández, the activist shot to death in May while looking for her son Edgar Guadalupe, missing since February 2012.

In Yeye’s case, he did it out of friendship. He knew her family. It was a way to keep her memory alive and celebrate the arc of her life. But Sandra Luz’s murder pained him: the impunity, the violence that has smothered and stuck to Sinaloa’s society, where silence, surrender, and indifference rule in the empire of bad things, where people order killings and put their fingers on the trigger, ready to shoot.

Doctor Feis explains that he first painted commonplaces, but now he wants to express social concerns, nourishing collective memory: the deaths of three musician friends in Lomas del Bulevar, the disappearance and murder of one more friend in La Primavera – these are facts that mark his outlines, the colors, the blood, and the anger – of his street murals.

“There, on the walls, it’s transcendent. It stays. In newspapers, it’s a momentary thing. Like what happened to Genoveva, then with Sandra Luz. Things happen and everybody forgets. You can play protest songs in the Cathedral every day, but the song sticks with you after it is played. The mural remains. That’s why I put one on the Paseo del Ángel, a place of entertainment, so that it disrupts things, generates something,” he says.

Sandra Luz

Sandra Luz, murdered activist

Wrong Steps

Early in the morning, while the city sleeps and the patrol cars howl and luxury trucks whine, the wall warriors take to the shadows to write the city’s history – its disasters and dreams – on a canvas of brick, limestone, and cement. The Watchavato, maybe the most famous artist of Culiacán’s tarmac, paints with a stencil technique, signing like a dog pissing on posts and corners.

One of those giant dollars was placed on Obregón and Madero a few weeks ago: “Infinite thanks” read the sign, and in its center, an effigy of Jesús Malverde. A few days later, in a spunky show of censorship, city police destroyed the paper sculpture. Now you can just see its disfigured remains.

There, on walls shrouded in darkness, brushes shout, spray cans swear, ink cries, dripping down walls that are overcome by time, limestone and dust. Hooded they come brandishing their hardware, then the officers in their patrol cars, some more than others up early, drunk, drifters. Nothing’s going on, we are working, they respond and don’t want to be provoked or challenged. Occasionally they work in groups, bring cameras and lights to see or to improve the looks of the blows and paint strokes. Like cats in heat, some work alone: caterwauling over the fence, a wall, a cement canvas, making the city shout what its citizens have shut up about and what the government covers up.

Shouts. A cement canvas so the city can shout what the government covers up.

Shouts. A cement canvas so the city can shout what the government covers up.

To Resist
He calls himself Diske One. That’s his name. From Culiacán, 24 years old, time spent living with the mountain folk of Sinaloa and Durango. Down and out, nothing more, among the Huicholes and Tepehuanes, Mayos and Yoremes, documenting them, learning from them, understanding them, embracing that life, why they do things, their long-term marginalization.

One of his works, maybe his most imposing and unsettling, is on Rafael Buelna Street in front of the Sinaloan Art Museum (Masin): it’s of a red Huichol, decked out, deer head, spilled paint, playing a violin on his left shoulder, on a scarred canvas, bare bricks, half-eaten walls, hands up in surrender.

He says that as a child the panhandlers frightened him. That fear stayed with him through his teenage years and as a challenge his father used to hand him coins to give to the indigenous people and beggars. When they saw he had money, they danced for him. Now he doesn’t fear them, he admires them. He paints them, follows their struggle and their marches, and does the same with the Huicholes and other indigenous communities.

“Each time I finish painting them, I’m still busy. There’s so much about them to paint: like the fight of the Huicholes in Wirikuta, where they want to build a mine that the indigenous people oppose. They won’t be able to do that to them. They are very unified, not like us. They have power, beliefs. They resist and say, ‘go fuck yourselves.’ That’s what I am telling people with my work: they resist, they exist, they are here,” he says.

This type of expressions on the city’s walls, he adds, represents a cry of criticism, or protest, of social and collective reflection, about what’s happening in Sinaloa and the rest of the country.

“Artists have a social commitment to the people’s problems, their hopes and dreams, their needs and worries. We have to renew ourselves, too. To look for new ways forms of expression, to find new techniques and themes, to keep on creating,” he emphasized.

In Culiacán’s different corners are at least five of his works, all some sort of mural, using a spray can and acrylic paint. They express the destruction of the environment, indigenous people that fight against marginalization and injustice, to keep on going and resist.

And maybe with these lines, colors, and silhouettes they will stop the fences from being quiet, the city from staying silent, and crumbling.

Huichol

Huichol

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 article was first published under the title, “Toman muralistas urbano ciudad como lienzo,” and is available at: http://riodoce.mx/noticias/toman-muralistas-urbanos-la-ciudad-como-lienzo.

 

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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St. Jude the Apostle (Javier Valdez Cárdenas, RíoDoce)

This Malayerba column was published in RíoDoce on 15 June 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Translator’s Note: This column contains strong, some might say foul, language. PT

 

St. Jude the Apostle

St. Jude the Apostle — A Recent Portrait

 

St. Jude the Apostle
By Javier Valdez Cárdenas (RíoDoce)

Get down. I will kill you if you turn around and look at me, motherfucker. Get down and don’t move. Now you are screwed, asshole. You are fucked. You’ll see what happens when you don’t pay. For going around and asking, asking, asking for money. Now you are going to pay because you are going to pay. You are going to pay, asshole. With your life.

Click. The man loaded a clip. There were three of them. One of them had him face down, black boots in his back, pressing on him, kicking him. It was seven in the morning when he left his house to walk in the park. They were on top of him in a blink of an eye and now he was face down, headed to who knows where.

Sweat. More sweat. On the car floor, with ears stuck to the dirty carpet, he seemed to hear the rocks and the tarmac. They are going to kill me. He knew it when the car began to bounce: they were going over dirt. We are going up the mountain. Hey you bastard, your time has come. His t-shirt was soaked and he hadn’t even been able to take his morning walk.

They are going to kill me. Now he wasn’t Fernando, Alonso, or César. He was just a hulk, a sack of potatoes. For these gunslingers he was just an object. A dead dog that was suffering because it knew it was going to be put down. He ignored what they were talking about and what they wanted. He thought that maybe there was some confusion but he changed his mind when they mentioned the man who wanted him taken: you are that guy, you live here, your wife’s name is ….

He shat himself. They pulled him out by his hair. They winded him by kicking him in the stomach. He thought they were going after his jaw or breaking three ribs. Click. He heard as an echo what he was seeing. He felt the gun barrel over his neck. Fuck. They are going to kill me. One of the killers told the man with the gun that they should get further away; otherwise they were going to get spattered.

That’s what was going on when the phone rang. It was their leader. Eight hundred thousand pesos. Eight hundred thousands pesos, but right now, asshole. Or you are going to get fucked. We are going to cut you down. They came to an agreement. He asked for the phone so he could speak with the manager of his business and with his wife. He told them to give them what they want. Give them everything. Everything they ask for. If you don’t give it to them, they will put me in the ground.

They wrote checks. They got the cash together. They sold this and that. A half hour later and nothing. The cell phone rang again. The guy who answered it said it was the boss. Eight seconds of talk. Okay. We are going to let him going. They are bringing the money. You saved yourself, asshole. You saved yourself and we are going to leave you alone.

Face down again. Drooling on the dirty carpet. Sweating the sweat of four days’ walk. They got to the city. Suddenly they stopped. Get out. Don’t look back and don’t look at the plates. A kick. He fell on the ground. You did it, shouted the one who drove. Now go and pray to St. Judas, asshole. And they left.

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, “San Judas Tadeo,” and is available at: http://riodoce.mx/noticias/columnas/malayerba/san-judas-tadeo/.

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 Business Meeting (Javier Valdez Cárdenas, RÍODOCE)

This Malayerba column was first published in RíoDoce on 18 May 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

The Business Meeting
By Javier Valdez Cárdenas (RÍODOCE)

They were invited to a meeting. But they went with reluctance. Okay, see you there. They were in Bogotá: they did not want to work but poke around, walk about, watch the girls, get drunk, make an occasional pass. They had gone to walk through downtown and then they went to the miradero. Afternoons in the Colombian capital are rainy and fresh but they were wearing light clothes – they had just fled the forty-five degree heat of Culiacán, Sinaloa.

They arrived on time because they wanted to leave early. It was a large house, a mansion: white, two floors, tiled roof, and a park-sized patio filled with amusements, a swimming pool, a fountain, some pavillions where people could meet to talk and party. Five luxury vehicles in the garage. A fireplace. An army of employees.

Come in. Anything else. Those were the two words they were accustomed to hear when people from Bogotá said hello. The other most repeated word was calm: a strange word in a region punished by violence between the cartels and the government, and provoked by the guerrilla. Stay calm, keep calm. Pacifying words in periods of war without decibels. That’s how things were solved or calmed down.

They stepped in and an army of waiters descended. They wanted to take their jackets and umbrellas, pointing them to a small, open salon where the meeting would take place. They said good afternoon, offered them a tray with glasses of rum or champagne, directed them to a chair, gave them an aperitif. Just a little bit of rum. Not too much because I don’t want to miss tequila.

They had on sandals and wore tee shirts. Sweating, one of them in a baseball cap, and the other with ruffled hair. Both in shorts, showing off hairy legs and clipped nails, reached by the faint cries from the city, and the morning mist that lingered through the day. They sat almost lay down on the chair. Before them the host, formally attired. He was happy to have them there and told them so. He asked his staff to bring them tequila, for his Mexican friends.

One by one the others arrived. A couple of gringos from Washington: tall, cold, overbearing. Three from Cali and from elsewhere. All besuited or in smoking jackets. All with dark clothing. All with shined shoes, sparkling. All with kempt, short hair, and straight-backed, like columns in a monastery. Serious, at first very serious. They exchanged niceties then they wanted to talk business.

Before we start I want to introduce you all. The host spoke about the gringos, then those from Cali and roundabouts, and finally he presented the Mexicans. They had traveled from Culiacán, Sinaloa. When he said that, the others piped up. They shouted: From Culiacán. My respects. Partners, friends. How amazing, what a great job you do. Then they felt trusted. So they began to do business.

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, “La Reunión,” and isavailable at: http://riodoce.mx/noticias/columnas/malayerba/la-reunion.

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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Drugs/Love (Javier Valdez Cárdenas, RÍODOCE)

This Malayerba column was first published on 9 February 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project.

Drugs/Love
By Javier Valdez Cárdenas (RÍODOCE)

For Federico Campbell. With bursts of vitamins and hope.

The woman was driving the truck very carefully. She takes the wide boulevard, three streets from her house. She turns right. Up ahead, two blocks. Then left. She relaxes her fingers on the steering wheel. Slowly she opens and closes her legs, then moves the indicator. She lets off on the accelerator and gently moves her right foot to the brake.

She raises her right arm, opens the compartment above the sunshield and presses the button on the remote for the electric gate. She moves to some music. Low volume: Joan Sebastian sings just for her: my sadness begins today, you are already gone, packed away in your bags, you take my joy with you, how I love you like I have never loved before, nor will I love this way again.

But she wasn’t humming. She only let out a thin sound, lips sealed.

Maybe because it was Monday in the morning. Maybe because that song was on a CD in the player. Or because she was going to go for coffee with friends at 1100. Or it was nothing. But she was relaxed, absentminded, flirting between her truck’s dashboard, the songs, the voice, the nostalgia, and that peaceful morning.

That’s probably why she never saw the white car that had been following her and that stopped tailing her two blocks before she arrived. She didn’t see that car, and didn’t observe the two guys inside. One of them was talking and talking on the phone. Nor did she register the others in a grey car, in front of the railings, a few meters from her house. And she didn’t notice that a cloud had blocked the already blistering rays of the eight AM sun.

She moved the truck into the garage. She braked as if she was diving into a welcoming sofa. She stopped but sat back in her leather seat, in front of the steering wheel, with an mmm-ing sound coming from her closed lips. That mouth, cracking a smile.

Behind her, a man gets out of the grey car. He has something dark in one of his hands: he hangs up, it flashes, he puts it away, rubs his hand on the denim of his thigh, advances in the direction of death – life’s only certainty – makes a fist and walks hurriedly, in a way that does not lose rhythm or time. He slips in before she pushes the button on the remote that closes the garage door.

She pushes the button on her safety belt. She does not let go of the steering wheel. Instead she hits it in time to the ballad. Joan Sebastian tells her that he is sad, but she travels far and with eyes wide open. She doesn’t see what’s behind her, to one side, that blind, dark eye of the thirty-eight. It spits over her shoulder, her head, and her face.

Three blocks away, and half an hour later, two women are in the convenience store. The Oxxo. You know already. They killed Karla. So beautiful, that girl, and so kind. And all that. What would it have been for, what reason. Well you can guess: maybe it was because of the narco, or something to do with love.

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, “Narcopasional,” and isavailable at: http://riodoce.mx/noticias/columnas/malayerba/narcopasional.

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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Mother’s Pride (Javier Valdez Cárdenas, RíoDoce)

This article was first published in RíoDoce on 27 April 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Mother’s Pride
by Javier Valdez Cárdenas (RíoDoce)

His mother followed him everywhere. At secondary school, she pulled him from the lure of the smokers, the ones who had already started to swig from bottles, downing beer. She pushed him to study, goading him to improve his grades. She made him do chores so he wouldn’t hang out in the street.

The years passed. The ones who once smoked Raleighs now hit on weed and listened to AC/DC. The pungent smell of pot traveled in the air, permeated patios, bedrooms, the primary school, and basketball courts. His mother still followed him around, pulling him away from them. She did it for him and when she did it she never said a word. She took him by the arm and tugged at him, dragging him home to the living room, sitting him down on the couch. She told him off. Curtly.

Study. Work. Get a hold of yourself, Betito. That’s what his thirty-year old mother told him. She still looked like she was twenty-five. Selfless. Undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. A housewife and university professor. At work she acted like a professional but at home she was a mother.

Betito hit back, dug his heels into the floor. Kicking the sofa and the little wooden table, punching the door. You’re always moaning at me. Get out your homework and do better at school. Bring yourself down a peg, he warned. But she didn’t calm down: he came out with a handgun that she saw immediately. She took the gun and in minutes she had disarmed it, put it in the trash. Then she threw it out.

Betito was dumbstruck, mouth ajar. His mother knew about guns. A few days later he came home. She found him with a bag with white powder. She hid it. He didn’t know where. The next day, Betito desperately hunted for it. He threw himself on the ground and began to wail. Mom, if I don’t hand it over, they’re going to kill me. It was worth a lot of money. She warned him what would happen. When she finished, he promised her that he would leave it all behind.

One day his boss called him. The big cheese needs to see us. We’re owed a bonus and so we’re going to see the old guy. The gang got into the truck and the boss looked them all over. We’re going unarmed, he said. Surprisingly, he told Betito to get out. Why? Kid, your mother always looks for you. We’ll catch you later. He cursed his mother. He kicked and screamed.

He didn’t go home for two days and then some. He disappeared with his friends, drowning himself in bottles: downing one after another, then another. When he finally went home, his mother kissed him, rapidly smothering his cheeks and his forehead. Back in the living room they learned that everybody from the truck had turned up that morning, beheaded. He left the gang. And went back to school. But she still followed him around.

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, “A toda madre,” and is available at: http://riodoce.mx/noticias/columnas/malayerba/toda-madre.

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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Celebration (Javier Valdez Cárdenas, RÍODOCE)

This article was published on RíoDoce on 20 April 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP). In English translation, its length is 436 words.

Celebration
by Javier Valdez Cárdenas (RÍODOCE)

He’d pissed them off and he owed them. The thing is that when push came to shove in the end they charged everybody. And since then they hadn’t stopped charging. It all began with his end: his multiplied, extended, interminable death, all beginning with no epilogue: an annual party held among the graves.

They tricked him into coming. He arrived in jeans, Stetson, and gun bulging at his front, Chalino Sánchez style. He said a half hello to some guys along the way, steering himself towards the people he had come to see. But before he arrived they peppered his body with bullets and left it, lying there, smoldering, reddened.

His corpse slumped on the steering wheel. A mix of blood and glass, bits of organic matter strewn around. His killers still got down from their vehicle, checking the corpse. Nothing inside the vehicle was intact. To make sure, they blasted him once with a forty-five to the head, then three more times.

The police showed up a day later, when agents confirmed nobody else was around. They did some investigating, took notes and ordered the corpse carried to the funeral parlor. Then in his relatives’ house, flanked by thick, burning candles, cries punctuated the prayers and people threw themselves to the ground: armed, hooden men got to the coffin, readied their chambers, and blasted him again.

Kids wailed. So did relatives and neighbors. They asked why shoot him again if he was already dead. Hysteria and fear. Those already at the funeral home didn’t return and those who were thinking of going thought better of it. Next day, they went to the cemetery. Few cars in a cavalcade led by a white hearse.

They were lowering the body. Pulleys, rope, the undertakers four forearms and the ritual lowering. The ropes and pulleys whined. From a distance the dust cloud warned of another approaching cortege but this time of black trucks at high-speed. They got to the graveyard and parked close. Again people scattered, shouting, loose muscles straining and skin trembling.

Two men got out of the back of one of the trucks. They aimed and fired at the half-lowered coffin. Bullets embedded in the casket and the graveside. The rite of squaring off accounts repeated each and every year: armed men went to the cemetery to shoot the grave up, upholding the grisly celebration of multiplying the murder, burnishing the flame of the first execution.

Curious visitors to the dead man’s tomb asked why they kept killing him on every anniversary of his death: they just didn’t want the guy to rest in peace.

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, “Celebración,” and is available at http://riodoce.mx/noticias/columnas/malayerba/celebracion.

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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Shootout (Javier Valdez Cárdenas, RíoDoce)

This Malayerba Column was published in RíoDoce on 30 March 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

 

Shootout
by Javier Valdez Cárdenas (RíoDoce)

A man enters a restaurant, searching for someone he wants to see. Outside, packed sidewalk tables: coffee drinkers gather here everyday, taking a few moments to stick it to the government, to the noise, to the city, craning their necks as moving monuments of femininity stepped by.

Noise comes and goes. Thundering, breaking waves losing themselves in the waters of the Pacific, silent then at peace. And loud again, fighting between themselves against the rocks, foaming, noisy, roaring, snared up together. And so the babble rises and falls, the murmurings, the shouts.

The crockery clinks, spoons stir in cups. The coffee swirls, waiting. They talk, say “hello” then embrace. No matter if they saw each other only yesterday or just this morning. They follow the custom of celebrating friendship, conversation, talking out loud, sharing insults that mostly turn into arguments about politics, the environment, music, women, violence, entertainment.

The man barely knows any of them. He greets them, moving his right arm. There are journalists, men of leisure, daydreamers, environmentalists, experts in ignoring schedules, slaves to coffee and cookies, conversationalists and loud talkers, retirees that never worked, forty-year old experts in pensions. The whole city and its raucous wildlife, a lively bar with no alcohol. Over there, in that corner of the café.

The man enters, taking a couple of steps down the hallway and a half step more when behind him they start to push, to shove, to crash into each other. A shootout, a shootout, somebody shouts. Gunfire, says another. Somebody closer to him says he heard a machine gun.

One of the older men managed to crack open the entryway door. Two more followed, in the same position. Squatting, crashing into each other, elbowing, shoving, shouting, and searching for somewhere to hide. There’s bullets, somebody in the crowd says, wide eyed. They fall on the floor, face reddening. They keep on fighting among themselves to reach the hallway the door, trying to hide behind the old building’s thick walls, reaching the inside patio, feeling their clothes, their bellies, between their legs: making sure they were unhurt.

The three journalists in the place got up to survey the scene. Two traffic officers looked on, aghast. Over there. Workers left businesses. Onlookers transfixed. Some drivers stopped, already telling tales. They were shots. You could hear two or three. Pa pa pa. No, no, no it was gunfire. You could hear ta ta ta ta. Loud, very loud. Yet everybody knew: an old car, sputtering because of the change in the weather and because it needed tuning, made its getaway.

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, “Balacera,” available at http://riodoce.mx/noticias/columnas/malayerba/balacera.

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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