Tag Archives: violence

Diabetic, by Javier Valdez Cárdenas (RIODOCE)

Valdez published this Malayerba in Ríodoce on 12 June 2016.

Diabetic
Javier Valdez Cárdenas (RIODOCE)

Diabetico

He didn’t want to go out. He was sad and trapped between the walls of diabetes and hypertension. He felt weak, sad. What would happen if it came out he had lost the lust for life, the sugar there is in fun, love and happiness? His diet was as strict as the order to stick to it: don’t get excited, don’t jump about, don’t dance, don’t scare yourself, and don’t get too happy or too sad.

But one afternoon his friends insisted so much he gave in. These friends were always looking for him. The partygoers, the all-nighters who got drunk and listened to music and sang, the ones he trusted and who supported each other. In the rainbow of relationships they were darlings. At the same time both the usual and the rare.

It’s okay. Let’s go, he said, behind a shy smile. The hosts were more the friends of his friends than his friends, but still he could have a good time. Don’t drink sodas or eat fatty food. Stay away from spicy things. No salt. No sodas. No alcohol. Not even an alcohol-free beer. Those were his hated orders. But he had to respect them. He had to. When he arrived the music was already at full throttle and they were passing around trays of sausage and cheese with salt, chile and lime. Regular potato chips in one corner and spicy ones in the other. Sodas everywhere and whiskey, beer and too much tequila. Shrimp ceviche in a big blue plastic bowl.

He couldn’t deny his mouth was watering. Fuck it, he thought. He stretched out his hand to grab some sausage then on to the spicy chips. He asked for an amber beer, then some Chivas, then back to the beer. He was a little drunk, excited and ablaze. Dude, they said, take it easy. He said nothing. Hey man, pace yourself. Remember you need to watch it. He kept smiling his crooked smile. He danced with his girlfriends then they split and he went back to his friends.

The owner’s girlfriend kept going past him. Her fine linen dress rising up as she moved like a wave in the sea: glistening, catwalk glamorous, revealing thighs and more besides, undergarments, loose folds, teasing. She passed him again. She saw his excitement. Her boyfriend was over there with guests, a glass of alcohol and ice in hand. She went right past him. He had his dipsomaniac head on and he couldn’t stop himself from reaching out to paw at her. She saw him and told her boyfriend who became upset. He almost managed to fuck him up but his friends got involved. They broke them up and he said You will pay.

When the party ended, he wanted to walk home. They offered him a ride but he did not want it. He was close. They shot him several times, in the dark and on their own, and he barely made it home. He didn’t make it to his front door. Back at the party they washed red from the floor of the patio and off the sidewalk.

Award winning Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas was murdered on 15 May 2017 just after leaving Ríodocea newspaper he helped establish in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He was 50 years old. He published this Malayerba column on 12 June 2016. His most recent book (previously published in Spanish as Levantones), appears in English translation and with an introduction by Everard Meade as The Taken: True Stories of the Sinaloa Drug War,  appeared earlier this year by University of Oklahoma Press.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and lawyer, a journalist and translator. He collaborates with the Freedom of Expression Project at the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego. He is participating in #agendadeperiodistas, a group formed in 2017 by journalists to protect journalists. He lives in Mexico City.

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The War Against Drugs in the Tarahumara Mountains and the Demise of a ‘Robin Hood’ (Patricia Mayorga/PROCESO)

News magazine Proceso first published this article on October 31, 2012.

This article is about the war in the mountains of Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Durango that has raged for years and has only become worse. Even with stories like this one by Mayorga, or this year’s knockout crónica by Marco Antonio López, “Madera, Chihuahua: A Land Living Through War,” there is great reticence in the international community to annoy Mexico’s government by declaring the country’s situation a non-international armed conflict. Mexico has managed to avoid this status even with more than 100,000 deaths since Felipe Calderón widened the drug war in 2006 and even with more deaths from violent homicide in 2017 than in 2011.

And yet the experience on the ground, as Mayorga demonstrates, is indeed one of war: of people violently pushed from their homes, of men with guns, in the government and in organized crime, and of them firing from rooftops, or ambushing civilians.

It’s an intriguing article because it suggests that peace is possible, but not because Mexico’s state guarantees it, but because a drug warlord does. That’s not a term Mayorga uses, focused as she is on the way in which the region’s residents viewed the man who guaranteed their peace as a latter day “Robin Hood.”

Mayorga’s article – now five years old and still relevant — about the war without end in the Sierra Tarahumara has been translated in anticipation of her receiving the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Press Freedom Award this November. The Mexican Journalism Translation Project will translate more work by Patricia Mayorga into English in the coming weeks so that readers who do not readily read Spanish can familiarize themselves with the work of this brave Mexican journalist.

At least 11 journalists have been murdered in Mexico in 2017. – PT

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Uruachi Township, Tarahumara Mountains, Chihuahua


By Patricia Mayorga (PROCESO)

CHIHUAHUA, Chihuahua. – The assassination of Sinaloa Cartel capo Antonio Erives Arduño, 39, in Uruachi last Saturday has placed the region’s residents on high alert. The leader of this criminal group installed himself in Uruachi beginning in March 2011, styling himself as “protector” of its citizens because state, federal and local authorities are unable to respect and guarantee security.

Toño Erives, as he was known, used to help people with money, with supplies. He used to defend people who left him alone. He rescued teenagers from other gangs but he also enlisted or “tricked” others into his own.

For a year Antonio Erives managed to keep the town “peaceful” but last Saturday his rival arrived – one of the leaders of La Línea known as El Vaquero – to dispute the territory. People sought refuge in their houses while the confrontation raged between the armed groups.

Several people were killed, according to local authorities, although the precise number is not known. The confrontation lasted five hours.

In the Tarahumara Mountains it seems like there’s license to kill. The authorities and society blame the same families from those communities that have mostly sown and produced marijuana and poppies for decades, even though the violence has reached whole villages and left thousands of victims, many of whose names are never known.

Confrontations between drug traffickers have gone on forever. Residents say armed people have always been around and indigenous people and mestizos have always grown drugs. And that justification extends to giving permission to kill anybody, without knowing what he did or how many should be killed. The Chihuahuan mountains are a “no man’s land.”

The Power of Toño Erives

In the last week of March and at the beginning of April 2011, the confrontation between these criminal groups – the Sinaloa Cartel and La Línea – forced a whole village to spend night after night in the mountains. For a week they slept in low temperatures and at the mercy of the elements. This happened in Jicamórachi in Uruachi municipality.

On Monday April 9, Antonio Erives’ niece, Lidia, came down from the mountains. Her mother in law came with her, along with several aunts, and a group of children. They had all fled after some men they did not know burned down five of their properties.

Toño Erives and one of his wife’s uncles (who was assassinated in 2009 at age 19) rose to important positions in La Línea, the armed wing of the Juárez Cartel. Soon he began to stand out in this organization; however, the Sinaloa Cartel convinced him to join their ranks, marking the beginning of Sinaloa Cartel power in the region.

“He was a noble man,” Lidia says, “he gave people protection and he helped them, he lent them trucks so they could go to hospitals. He is a man with attractive features, a good person.”

El Vaquero (“The Cowboy”) arrived at Jicamórachi in March 2011. He was one of the leaders of La Línea and Erives’s former boss. The village held a dance to celebrate the coronation of their queen. A fight broke out among those assembled. Residents say that one of them took a truck laden with drugs and killed one of the men. Two days later a group of armed men, dressed like federal police, burned the villagers’ houses, including that of the town’s doctor, and also several vehicles. The rebel group entered the town shooting at nothing in particular. The people – the elderly, children, and entire families – ran to the mountains. Jicamórachi is tucked between several mountains.

A few families managed to flee and more than half of the 122 families in the village have not returned, says one of the former communal land commissioners. The villagers spent a whole weekend in the mountains. Delivery trucks refused to travel to Jicamórachi because of the risks along the way. Children became sick because the weather was chilly, forcing them to return home.

Almost all the villagers who had gone to the mountain and did not flee to other cities returned, except Lidia and her family who stayed on the mountain, hiding with her aunts and uncles. The houses burned by the armed men belonged to her family. They also burned a carpenter’s shop owned by Antonio Erives’s father. The Army arrived at the beginning of April and took over Jicamórachi’s primary school. Their presence allowed the villagers to return home.

Although she was terrified Lidia came down from the mountains. She did not say a word, only nodding in agreement that she wanted to stay with her in-laws. She had lived in the village for a brief time during her marriage but she refused to abandon it, confronting the violence on a daily basis and the demands for illegal payments that had for decades been normal  in the Tarahumara Mountains.

At the time the young woman avoided anybody who asked her for details about the violence. They suggested she leave the village to return to her family but she refused. She said that she did not want to abandon her mother-in-law and her aunts.

One week later she and her in-laws left the village. The State Police offered them a helicopter so they could leave. They arrived in Sonora a few weeks later. Lidia decided to go with her family to one of the state’s large cities. She found work in a department store and that brought her some piece of mind. During a lunch break she agreed to talk about her life in Uruachi.

She accepted that she needed psychological help. She had decided to take her life back. Some weeks later she got married and now she expects to have a baby.

A Wave of Shootouts

After the gunmen took Jicamórachi from Erives in March 2011, he and his people ambushed a caravan of vehicles driven by their enemies as they moved through the township. The leader of the other group, El Vaquero, was the target. He managed to flee in an armored car, according to one of Lidia’s teenage relatives who also belongs to Erives’s group.

A few days later, and by way of revenge, the men under El Vaquero’s control seized a busload of passengers including Antonio Erives’s sister. She was a councilwoman in Uruachi. The gunmen kidnapped her and began to negotiate: control over the region in exchange for the woman.

They agreed to find a place close to Gosogachi to hand her over.

A helicopter took the councilwoman and delivered to her brother. But they had tortured her. They burned her feet. After recovering his sister, “he made war.” Both groups fought each other from different hillsides. Toño’s group won.

In that same time period another of Uruachi’s villages, Memelichi, was taken. Its villagers told people by email that nobody could leave the village. The men ran away to hide themselves, they were so afraid, but the women and children stayed behind in the village.

After “the war” Erives’s enemy arrived in the township’s main village to launch a shootout lasting five hours. Apart from Toño’s group, poorly armed police and “three or four youth” participated in the violence. The young men climbed on the rooftops so their rivals would not know where the shots came from.

By shooting from the rooftops they managed to kill several people. The residents who did manage to talk by phone confirmed that they saw how they wounded and shot several people. Each group carried the bodies away with them, making it difficult to figure out an exact number of the dead or wounded.

The women told stories about seeing teenagers invade their patios with long guns. It made them afraid. The residents confirmed that several apple pickers were forced to fight in the “war”.

The mayor, Aldo Campos Rascón, realized a day later that the town was in shock. Many houses had been shot up and car windows shattered. He confirmed that at least 10 people had been injured. The mayor asked the armed forces to stay on permanently in an attempt to constrain the violence.

“If this situation doesn’t end, the Sierra will turn into a powder keg. The people are arming themselves or they want to join those groups. Young people are mostly the ones who leave.”

“They want to join up for all sorts of reasons. People are tired of living with this fear, so they go with one side or the other. It is complicated and if we aren’t careful very shortly it’s going to explode. The people are anxious and mistrustful,” warned the mayor.

Residents in the municipality soon came to see themselves as under Toño Erives’s protection. They helped the authorities with their tasks, from protecting lives, to taking people to hospital, or supporting those who needed to be fed.

From that moment on, at the end of March and the beginning of April 2011 there were some isolated and sporadic murders. This situation changed last week when Antonio Erives’s rivals killed him. He had become Uruachi’s “Robin Hood.” Fear now centers on how both groups will adjust to each other and the decisions their leaders are going to make.

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

Translator Patrick Timmons is human rights investigator and lawyer, and a journalist. He collaborates with the Freedom of Expression Project at the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego. He is participating in #agendadeperiodistas, a group formed in 2017 by journalists to protect journalists. He lives in Mexico City.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Country, You Are Watching Me Leave (Rodrigo Soberanes Santín, En El Camino, Periodistas de a Pie)

This story is part of a series produced by En El Camino by Periodistas de a Pie, and funded by the Open Society Foundations. It has been translated pro bono, and without permission, by the Mexican Journalism Translation Project.

My Country, You Are Watching Me Leave
By Rodrigo Soberanes Santín (En El Camino, Periodistas de a Pie) 

What lies behind the numbers of tens of thousands of migrants who cross the border each year? Statistics suggest that people in their tens of thousands cross into Mexico without migratory documents – mostly from Honduras. But these figures don’t explain the reasons behind the exodus, for the misery and violence that permeate their countries of origin. For those who have left, and for those about to leave, the absence of the future leaves them with few options: stay to die a slow death, or risk their lives in a hellish journey.

Progreso, Honduras.- José Luis places his artificial limb on his leg, puts on his shirt with only one sleeve, and places a bandana around the only finger on the only hand he still has from that day in the Mexican desert.

He opens the door, passes the ongoing construction site that one day, he says, will house his family when he is married, and goes out into the street in search of a family that has a story of migration to tell him. He is president of the Association of Migrant Returnees with a Disability (Asociación de Migrantes Retornados con Discapacidad), and he has a remarkable interest in familiarizing himself with all the cases of forced migration from his country; he offers himself as a guide to know their stories.

For many years, José Luis has been well known in this city. Famous at one time for his talent singing rancheros and religious songs, eight years ago he lost his arm, a leg, and four fingers when he fell from a cargo train. It was his second attempt to reach the United States as an undocumented migrant. That’s who he was when he came back to Progreso and so he became involved in accompanying those who experienced the same thing he had lived through.

José Luis, on a walk around Progreso

José Luis, on a walk around Progreso

Honduras, his country, is the place most Central American migrants leave to go north. The flow of migration from Honduras has the greatest human cost in the world. Progreso, his city, is one of Honduras’s principal manufacturers of manpower ready to undertake the journey.

The journey north seems to be everywhere but above all else in those places where the exodus begins. When the drivers and their helpers have enough passengers, the buses parked in the city’s dilapidated central bus station can leave. The first buses to go are those for San Pedro Sula, a good place to leave the country. Then, when they enter Mexico, they are in the land of murders, fatal accidents, kidnappings and disappearances.

The Mesoamerican Migrant Movement labels the region the place of “migrant genocide.”

Before 1998, when Hurricane Mitch destroyed Honduras, Progreso was a place that attracted workers from the country’s south because of its banana industry and its factories. Today, its streets bear the marks of what forced migration gives and takes: houses constructed from material but with fractured families; small businesses and fast food restaurants that mingle with this place’s customs; places to receive Western Union remittances that spring up like businesses mining migrants’ savings.

A walk around Progreso’s streets and one finds Claro telephone stalls belonging to Mexican business magnate, Carlos Slim, and brimming with clients complaining about the poor service. Further on, in the dusty peripheral neighborhoods, residents leaving work avoid the darkness so they won’t be assaulted. Day laborers from the last of the banana plantations, industrial workers, taxis, office workers, and the unemployed – all of them are somehow linked to migration.

“Most of them were, or will be, migrants,” says Javier, a factory worker.

His eleven year-old grandson Anthony is with him and asks, “Is Honduras beautiful?” He replies that it’s not because “anybody can pull a pistol on you.”

It won’t do anything for Anthony to remember all the beautiful things about his country. Neither the Copán ruins, nor the Caribbean port of Puerto Cortés, nor the marvels of the sea around Atlántido, and not even the impressive mountain ranges of Santa Bárbara. He is growing up in a crumbling country.

Meanwhile, surefooted, and dextrously dominating his prosthetic leg that hangs halfway down his right thigh, José Luis walks under the intense Honduran sun, pointing at the houses built with dollars from migrants’ remittances, the country’s principle source of income.

They are houses that break the mold, built according to their owner’s criteria. They have painted walls, space for a car, for several rooms and they are covered with anti-theft devices. Each house represents a survival story. More light enters their windows.

“There are a ton of houses built thanks to migrants’ remittances, those who risk their lives on the journey. Here in Progreso, and especially in this neighborhood are the roots of migration, where there are orphans because parents left and there’s significant family disintegration because of migration,” says José Luis.

In the same block there are other houses that are concrete blocks with plastic roofs, built by Honduras’s government through its social housing program. These are the homes where nobody sends back remittances.

Karla lives in one of these houses. She’s seventeen years old. She still hasn’t left.

Yet.

If she migrates, Karla is most afraid of being kidnapped.

If she migrates, Karla is most afraid of being kidnapped.

THE COUNTRY THAT WAS

Guido Eguiguren, a sociologist from the Association of Judges for Democracy (Asociación de Jueces por la Democracia), a Honduran human rights defender, explains forced migration in his country taking place after Hurricane Mitch, in October 1998.

“The hurricane didn’t just physically destroy the country, its infrastructure, and thousands of lives. It also showed the world a country it barely knew, with a staggering level of inequality, a country forgotten by the world of development and cooperation. A country known for the nasty role it played in the 1980s acting as the United States’ aircraft carrier.”

While El Salvador and Nicaragua were battered by civil war, Honduras lent its territory to train the armed forces of the governments of those countries.

Honduras is a country of poor people where 66.5 percent of its residents do not have sufficient income to feed themselves. It’s also an unequal country that spits on people like José Luis or Karla as they look for ways to survive: 10 percent of the richest people in the country have an income equal to that of 80 percent of its low-income population.

Honduras shares first place with Guatemala and El Salvador for pushing out migrants to Mexico, and it takes first place in the divide between rich and poor. In terms of inequality in the Latin American region, Honduras take third place, Guatemala is in fourth, and El Salvador comes in at number seven.

Central America, undermined by poverty and violence

Central America, undermined by poverty and violence

Nobody knows for certain how many Hondurans leave their country each year, and it’s a figure that the government does not want to give out. The rough estimate by the Catholic Church’s Pastoral for Human Movement comes from counting the numbers of people deported from Mexico and the United States: in 2013 it was 72,000 Hondurans, including children and babies.

From Monday to Friday, deportees arrive in two airplanes every day at the Center for Returnee Migrants (Centro de Atención al Migrante Retornado, CMAR) at the San Pedro Sula airport, 30 kilometers from Progreso. Men and women get off the planes who left the country free and who come back with their feet bound in tape, their wrists in chains, and with a half-empty sack as their only baggage.

They walk a few steps on leaving the plane, look around from side to side and leave the airport terminal. In a few days, maybe at that very moment, they will undertake the journey back, starting from scratch.

José Luis, who is normally a chatterbox, keeps silent when he sees them arrive, recently unbound and thankful that their country greets them with a “baleada,” a meager flour tortilla covered in beans.

It’s a brutal brush with reality. When they return they are even poorer, more vulnerable, and more exposed to the violence that forced them to flee in the first place.

 

THE COUNTRY THAT IS

José Luis lives in a street in the San Jorge neighborhood, a barrio established by Jesuit missionaries at the beginning of the last decade after Hurricane Mitch “positioned” itself for a day and a half over Honduras, inundating the country with the water and wind of a category five hurricane, the most furious of them all.

Today San Jorge is controlled by two spies (“banderistas”) of the Mara Salvatrucha who report to their bosses who comes and goes. Its four entrances are guarded by the “güirros”, some young men recruited by the Maras and armed with pistols that scare everybody. Instructions from the underworld that extend throughout Progreso come from the hill above, behind an imaginary curtain that marks the barrios’ borders.

Manuel de Jesús Suárez, communications officer of the team of Reflection, Investigation and Communication, an organization that tries to understand the causes of migration from Honduras speaks about the country it is now.

Previously, migration used to occur as an escape from poverty. Today it is a way of saving one’s life, escaping from the daily violence that is permanently in the street, house, and in the Honduran government.

“The causes of migration are not conjunctural but structural, meaning the lack of work and decent salaries, access to health, to education, to housing. Now the other phenomenon is violence, organized crime, and the drug business shaping the country’s structure. The causes are a cyst in the system. They are there. The system makes it so that the majority of the poorest men and women remain excluded and so they leave,” he explains.

Manuel de Jesús, a man of more than 50 years old, knows this history well. He was born in Progreso and he has seen the collapse of the factories and the banana plantations, along with the arrival of the U.S. fast food outlets that spew out their greasy odor in the chaotic streets at the heart of the city. Wendy’s outlets, Burger Kings and Pizza Huts – all have armed guards with shotguns stationed inside their branches.

In 2013, 9,453 people died in Honduras for “external reasons”, meaning they were victims of violence. Of these 71.5 percent were murdered. In this country where an undeclared war rages, 563 people die each month. That’s nineteen deaths every day.

These numbers mark Honduras with the highest homicide rate in the world.

Viridiana wants to flee Honduras

Viridiana wants to flee Honduras

 

DISPOSSESSION AND DERELICTION

José Luis walks Progreso’s streets with mastery on his only leg. The sounds of radios drift from the windows of houses. Radio Progreso was established by Jesuits. On a Sunday program serving as catharsis to confront the abandonment, the station covers work problems, neighborhood violence, the educational system, human rights and migration.

The signal that can be heard from these windows accompanies people whose families have been broken. A migrant comes on the air to tell how, when he left Honduras, “another cock feathered his wife” and his wife left him. The calls keep on coming. Mostly on the radio one hears about those who live or lived with some consequence of forced migration.

The presenters on the Sunday program are Rosa Nelly Santos and Marcia Martínez, members of the Committee of Relatives of Disappeared Migrants (Cofamipro), and on this occasion they are talking about family disintegration. Before moving to a break in the program, Rosa Nelly announced the tune Hermano Migrante (Fellow Migrant) by Natividad Herrera who sings, “Return soon and enjoy what’s yours / forget the crying and all that pain.”

Return home; fill the towns with people that migration took north. Progreso, like many communities and barrios in Central America has been slowly emptied in the past year. Houses remain behind, sometimes empty, but most half inhabited.

Behind every door and window lie fractured stories.

Floridalma's House: She hides behind its walls.

Floridalma’s House: She hides behind its walls.

 

Teodora stays behind

Teodora stays behind

 

LIFE, MUTILATED

The year was 2005, and it was José Luis’s second attempt at going to the United States. He and his friend Selvi took nineteen days to reach northern Mexico; those days were uneventful. They traveled from Progreso without stopping. They took the train in Tapachula, Mexico. They arrived in Chihuahua. They were going to cross the border at Ciudad Juárez-El Paso.

For José Luis, the success of the journey consisted in not leaving his friend while he slept on the train. He annoyed him. He spoke to him. He made him angry and he kicked him. He didn’t want him to fall asleep.

José Luis – a good footballer, guitar player, and fan of fishing in the Ulúa River bordering Progreso – sat beside the train wagon’s gears and stretched forward to tie a shoe. Strange thing: sweat covered the whole of his neck to the top of his head. He had never been in the desert. The train entered the city of Delicias and José Luis blinked.

“Suddenly things went dark and I fell. I fainted from the dry, June heat. The train severed my leg. Then I put out my arm because I couldn’t free my leg and it cut that off, too. I put out my other arm and the train wheel squashed it.

Silvi, his friend, did not realize what had happened until kilometers further on when he noticed blood covering the train wheels. He thought he was dead. He now lives in the United States where he has started a family. In the south, his friend remained behind: the man who took care of him on the train and who now moves around the streets on one leg, balancing on the arm left him by La Bestia.

 

Texts in Spanish: Rodrigo Soberanes Santín, for Periodistas de a Píe
I am a reporter who travels all around, mostly in Veracruz, Mexico, a good place for my job. Stories have to be brought out from nooks and crannies, and brought to the surface, like kites. Currently I work with Noticias MVS, Associated Press, Diario 19, and Jornada Veracruz.

Images: Moysés Zuñiga Santiago, for Periodistas de a Píe
A photojournalist from Chiapas interested in the struggle of indigenous communities and migration across Mexico’s southern border. I work with La Jornada, AP, Reuters and AFP. My work has been shown in New York University in 2010 and 2013. I traveled with young people like myself crossing the border in search of opportunity, taking personal stories with me that let me journey beside them. I do this work because of that; I want to make extreme situations of violence visible so that these situations don’t occur and people don’t die.

Images: Prometeo Lucero, for Periodistas de a Píe
Freelance journalist focused on human rights issues, migration, and the environment. I have collaborated with La Jornada, the Expansion group, Proceso, Desacatos, Biodiversidad Sustento y Culturas, Letras Libres, Variopinto, and among other agencies, Latitudes Press, Zuma Press, AP, and Reuters. My photojournalism appears in books such as 72migrantes (Almadía, 2011), Secretaría de Educación Pública (2010); Altares y Ofrendas en México (2010); Cartografías Disidentes (Aecid, 2008) and I have been published in other books: “Dignas: Voces de defensoras de derechos humanos” (2012) and “Acompañando la Esperanza” (2013). I was a finalist in the competition, “Rostros de la Discriminación” (México, 2012), “Los Trabajos y los Días” (Colombia, 2013) and “Hasselblad Masters” (2014).

Translation into English: Patrick Timmons, for the MxJTP
Is a human rights investigator, historian, and journalist. Follow his activities on Twitter @patricktimmons. Timmons has publications — translations, articles, or reviews — in the Tico Times (Costa Rica), El País in English (Spain), CounterPunch (USA), The Texas Observer (USA), The Latin American Research Review (USA & Canada), and the Radical History Review (USA). A graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science (1996), Timmons holds three advanced university degrees: a Master’s in Latin American Studies from the University of Cambridge, UK (1998); a Ph.D. in Latin American History from the University of Texas at Austin, USA (2004); and, a Master’s in International Human Rights Law from the University of Essex, UK (2013).

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Social Activist and His Wife Bludgeoned to Death in Mexico (Pablo de Llano, El País)

This article was published in El País on 6 May 2014. It has been translated without permission by the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

 

Professor Alejandro Chao at a community event. / Photo: BLOG LA HORMEGA

Professor Alejandro Chao at a community event. / Photo: BLOG LA HORMEGA

 

Social Activist and His Wife Bludgeoned to Death in Mexico
by Pablo de Llano (El País)

– The murder of a married couple respected for their social activism shocks the State of Morelos, the birthplace of Mexico’s Peace Movement

“It’s an atypical event,” Morelos’s governor, Graco Ramírez, said. The press release from the State University of Morelos defines it somewhat differently; as a high-impact crime characterized by a situation of structural insecurity: “These brutal and unspeakable murders (…) once again prick the country’s conscience about the absence of the right to life and security for citizens.” For a hurried politician what happened is an “event” but for the professor’s colleagues and friends the murders were a crime. The politician says it was “atypical” but to the friends and colleagues it was appalling evidence of a problem with shared public responsibility.

The lifeless bodies of the renowned psychology professor and social activist Alejandro Chao (77) and his wife, Sara Rebolledo (71), were found Monday morning in their home in Cuernavaca, the capital of the State of Morelos. On their heads they had marks of being bludgeoned by a stone. A window to their house was broken. Morelos’s Prosecutor, headquartered two blocks from the crime scene, has suggested an assault when the couple returned home at night and came upon the intruders. Morelos’s security chief, Alberto Capella, has said that the people who carried out the crime reacted violently because they knew the couple, and were surprised to see them arrive, “outside their routine.”

Bordering the south of Mexico City, the small state of Morelos has two million residents. It’s not one of Mexico’s regions overwhelmed by organized crime but it is an area preoccupied with small-scale criminal activity: mostly, kidnappings and extortions. In 2013, it was the Mexican state with the highest proportion of abductions: 8.5 per 100,000 people. If the states of Michoacán and Tamualipas provide the actual paradigms for the authorities for trying to combat the power of the large drug trafficking mafiosi, Morelos epitomizes the problems of structural deficiencies to protect citizens from crimes committed by smaller criminal groups. In the wake of the violent dynamics within Mexico stemming from the fight against drug trafficking and fed by the fatal combination of socioeconomic marginalization and criminal impunity, these lesser groups look on everyday citizens as a way to make money.

Professor Chao’s university has called for a march this Wednesday in Cuernavaca. Three years ago, the city’s displeased society symbolically turned itself against crime; in March 2011, poet Javier Sicilia’s 24-year old son was assassinated. A famous Mexican intellectual, Sicilia headed a march from Cuernavaca to Mexico City, sparking the Movement for Peace, Justice, and Dignity, the country’s most relevant social phenomenon of recent years. Three years later, with Sicilia retired to a supporting role after two years of unceasing activism, and because of the victims’ stature, Cuernavaca’s society finds itself with a new high impact case: a respected academic who after a life dedicated to social progress ends up murdered in his house beside his wife in an alleged assault by common criminals.

Chao continued to serve as director of the School of Social Work, after 36 years spent training psychologists, facts recognized in the University’s press release, which also mentions that Chao served as Mexico’s representative on UNESCO’s Council of Higher Education. According to the University, Chao “throughout his long and fertile life, gave voice to historically excluded communities and groups.” The press release ends by announcing this Wednesday’s march, and with a slogan: “Towards a humanity based on culture.”

Professor Chao was also a promoter of culture and edited a published collection of poetry called Voices Against the Wind (Voces al viento), bringing together young poets. He published one of his books of poetry in this collection: he called it Canticles of the Kabbalah (Cántigas de la cábala). The academic collaborated on a literary and political blog called La Hormega. After learning of his murder this Monday his fellow bloggers published one of his poems. By telephone this morning, Juan Pablo Picazo, who is responsible for La Hormega said the professor was involved in a process of re-writing his canticles. “He used to say that the more you grow, the more you learn, in the vain of Walt Whitman.” The last paragraph of the canticle published yesterday on the blog says:

The poet revives to the tune of pipes and flutes made of hemp;

I leave the garden where the fireflies excite the quantum world,

the lively rainbow color of the hummingbird sucking bottlebrush flowers

Three years after the tragedy of Javier Sicilia’s son, Mexico proves it still has problems with poetry and life.

Journalist Pablo de Llano reports for El País from Mexico. You can follow him on Twitter @pablodellano. This story first appeared under the title, “Asesinados a golpes en México un luchador social y su esposa,” available at: http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2014/05/06/actualidad/1399400912_102565.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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“It was a massacre.” (Octavio Vélez Ascencio, NOTICIASNET.MX)

This article was first published on Noticias, Voz y Imagen de Oaxaca on 18 May 2013, and was republished via that newspaper’s portal NoticiasNet.Mx on 21 March 2014 in recognition of its author winning the 2013 Premio Nacional de Periodismo (National Journalism Award). Vélez Ascencio has worked as a reporter for 30 years, with the last two decades at the same newspaper. He has been covering agrarian and social conflict in Oaxaca for the past ten years.  This article has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP). 

“It was a massacre.”
By Octavio Vélez Ascencio (NOTICIASNET.MX)

CERRO METATE, San Juan Mixtepec, Oaxaca.- “There was no confrontation. What happened was a massacre,” confirmed the President of Communal Property in this Mixtecan village, Paulino Hernández Paz. He was talking about the latest incursion from Santo Domingo Yosoñama into his community’s land, leaving three elderly villagers dead.

“They entered the village and the old people couldn’t run. That’s why they killed them. It was murder,” he said.

Agrarian officials say that the inhabitants of Santo Domingo Yosoñama belong to the municipality of San Juan Ñumi – who are in conflict with San Juan Mixtepec for a dispute about ownership rights to 1,740 hectares – there’s been shooting on the Cerro Metate for the past two weeks, and they have penetrated around 100 of the community’s hamlets.

“They came in to burn several houses and rob livestock, but the saddest things was that they killed the elderly just because they could not run.”

He states that the dead were identified as Bonifacio Vicente Hernández and Porfiria Salazar Gómez, both 70 years old, and also Margarito Santiago Ramírez, 75 years old, all of whom were shot at close range and not from afar.

“They grabbed them up close, one of the grandparents – Margarito Santiago Ramírez – couldn’t see; and he couldn’t run or walk,” he said.

He mentioned that the woman among them survived for three hours after the violence that took place at 15:40. She could not be transported to the county seat for medical attention because of her wounds.

“It was something terrible,” he said.

He emphasized that the Cerro Metate community normally places guards on the border with Santo Domingo Yosoñama, but only three or four villagers were there at the time of the attack.

“Since we don’t want everybody to kill ourselves over them, we don’t place guards every day. That’s how they got in. We don’t want a war with them because we are as fucked as they are,” he said.

Cerro Metate’s other inhabitants saved themselves because they were working the fields while others fled to the mountain when they heard gunfire.

“Several families live in the village. Fortunately, most managed to escape,” he said.

He underlined that the whole of San Juan Mixtepec is upset about the violence, especially for the murder of three elderly villagers. They are ready to take revenge.

“People are really angry and want to do something. We’re larger than Santo Domingo Yosoñana and we can do a lot. But that’s not what we want. We are calling for calm because they’ve also got old people and children. Some families have relatives in each town,” he pointed out.

He thinks that it’s not only Santo Domingo Yosoñama’s residents who are responsible for this and other previous violent events but also gunmen from Antorcha Campesina, a community assistance organization.

“We want them to apply the law and punish them, which is just as it should be,” he observed.

Even so, he called on the federal and state governments to apply the law and carry out an operation in the disputed area to arrest those responsible for the events, bringing the violence to an end.

Hernández Paz said that the lands demanded by Santo Domingo Yosoñama legally belong to San Juan Mixtepec. Its ownership must be respected according to the ruling by the Tribunal Unitario Agrario (TUA) of district number 46, dated 15 May 2000.

“That land belongs to us. They’re demanding it knowing it’s ours. They just want to bribe the government,” he noted.

Armed Men Arbitrarily Detain NOTICIAS’ correspondents

The team of reporters from NOTICIAS, Voz e Imagen de Oaxaca sent to San Juan Mixtepec to provide journalistic coverage of Santa Domingo Yosoñama’s violence against the Cerro Metate community were illegally detained by a group of its officials and villagers, as well as by people from Rancho Viejo.

Reporters Octavio Vélez Ascencio, Mario Jiménez Leyva and Uriel López Salazar identified themselves to officials and villagers, informing them of their presence in the region to record the events.

But when they were returning at around 2:30, they came across a vehicle blocking their way.

Tens of villagers had gathered, some of them were armed and obviously drunk. They harassed the reporters, even taking their IDs, cell phones and reporting kit.

Four hours later, the reporters were taken to the Municipal Building, to be presented in front of the assistant receiver.

Residents drawn from San Juan Mixtepec recognized the reporters and intervened on their behalf, recognizing the reporters professional work conducted in 10 previous visits to the township, through the conflict with Santo Domingo Yosoñama.

Some officials and villagers groundlessly accused the reporters of having broken and entered into a home, suggesting they had trespassed in a victim’s house to ask questions. But even the son of one of the victims remembered that his wife had given the reporters permission to enter.

The assistant receiver even said that he knew of the journalism published by the reporters and agreed that they were not in the wrong, had committed no crime, and so could leave.

Journalist Octavio Vélez Ascencio has spent the best part of a thirty-year career reporting for NOTICIAS, Voz e Imagen de Oaxaca. This article was first published under the title, “Fue una masacre,” available at: http://www.noticiasnet.mx/portal/general/agropecuarias/152005-fue-una-masacre.

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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Breakfast with… Adrián Alejándrez, A Pastor Fighting Against Drug Trafficking in Michoacán, Mexico (Paula Chouza, El País)

This article first appeared in Spanish in El País on 31 January 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Breakfast with… Adrián Alejándrez, A Pastor Fighting Against Drug Trafficking
by Paula Chouza (El País)

“Michoacán’s violence comes from shared blame”

– The pastor fights against drug trafficking in the Mexican city of Apatzingán

Father Adrián Alejandro Chávez (Tepalcatepec, Mexico, 1979) was studying law in Rome when abuses by organized crime began to wear down the population of the Tierra Caliente, in southern Mexico’s violent State of Michoacán. “When I left – in 2010 – the cartels were fighting each other.” On 24 February 2013, residents of neighboring townships decided to take up arms because of “the authorities’ inaction.” Father Adrián is the priest in the cathedral of Apatzingán, a city of 80,000 people, the economic heart of the region, and the stronghold of the Knight’s Templar, a group formed in 2011 after a split from La Familia Michoacana. “When I returned [from Rome] a few months later, the atmosphere had changed completely.” His family hails from Tepalcatepec, one of the townships that decided to take things into their own hands. “As we have said in several published letters, the Church opposes violence, from whichever side.” For this reason, the priest does not support the militia movement of armed civilians.

In a chat in his office after enjoying an uchepo (a maize tamal served with milk) from a street stall in front of the Cathedral, Father Adrián says that over the past decade Apatzingán’s people have borne the brunt of drug trafficking violence. “They’ve managed to put themselves in every institution because they resolved problems rather than the government. They have taken power everywhere but the Church. They don’t leave us alone.”

“We are suffering the consequences of shared guilt,” recognizes Alejándrez Chávez. “Blame doesn’t just rest with the government but also with the Church and civil society. We’re used to staying silent, covering things up. Many of these people were baptized and they took the catechism. They are part of the problem, yes, but they aren’t alone. For example, in the community these people helped build a basketball court and that shut the neighbors up. It’s just too easy. When the government began to negotiate, that’s when things worsened. We were all wrong,” he admits.

Apatzingán’s diocese has been threatened because it dared speak out against the violence. Some of the priests officiating at mass have for months tried to reassure themselves by wearing bulletproof vests. “I can’t really go on talking about God and about life when everything stinks of death,” he told the press a few days ago. “Yes, death is all around,” ponders the priest during our interview, “but I do believe that we must continue talking about God. Statements like the one I made to the media come from being worn out, from listening day in and day out to violent stories: disappeared family members, rapes, beheadings, or dismemberments. I don’t justify why people think like that, but I do understand it.”

This pattern of painful stories repeats itself throughout the region’s townships. Father Adrián heads up the recently created Compassion Pastoral, a 14-person group that accompanies victims’ families. The priest confirms that Michoacán’s situation has forced people to seek refuge in the institution. “The Church is packed. Our membership has increased.”

Journalist Paula Chouza reports from Mexico for El País. Follow her on Twitter @pchouza. This story first appeared in the series, “Desayuno con… Adrián Alejándrez, Vicario en lucha contra el narcotráfico,” available at: http://sociedad.elpais.com/sociedad/2014/01/31/actualidad/1391193813_031851.html

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist based in the Americas. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP). Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

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The Fausto Effect: Sidelining Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte

This article first appeared in La Razón. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

The Fausto Effect: Sidelining Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte
by Salvador Camarena
(Translated by Patrick Timmons)

Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto has a special technique to sideline a state governor. The uselessness of Michoacán’s governor Fausto Vallejo was obvious and unsupportable (translator’s note: the President sent federal troops to Michoacán last week to try to calm an acute dispute between organized crime and the popular militia). To capitalise on the time the president has left in office, the tactic is to swap the issue of violence for the theme of progress.

Other state governors in Mexico – like Veracruz – should take note of what just happened in Michoacán. A new scandal is brewing in Veracruz that will likely hobble the state: the official version of events has cracked under pressure from the victim’s story.

The weekend discovery of two bodies in Veracruz has become immediately notorious because one of those found dead participated in a popular television show. That fact crucially explains why this crime, instead of getting lost in the sea of infinite crimes, has drawn national attention. The fleeting fame enjoyed by one of the victims isn’t the only thing that makes this case different. The father of singer Gibrán David Martiz Díaz made a timely and brave complaint that showed up the so-called state government of Javier Duarte: before the two youths turned up dead, Veracruz state police kidnapped them.

What defies logic is that exactly when these crimes were occurring – the kidnappings happened on Tuesday 7 January – one of the country’s best-informed officials went to Veracruz as the representative of Mexico’s federal government. In a fawning speech, Mexico’s Interior Minister eulogised Veracruz’s security.

At a police graduation on the night of 14 January, Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong emphasized, “today we already have results in Veracruz. There’s a show of force and of promise here. It’s always possible to make speeches but the important thing is the result. What’s said in a speech has to be backed up by facts.” Osorio went even further: “Today I want publicly to recognize the governor for his work. The people of Veracruz long for better security forces, and the governor is making good on his promise. Governor Javier Duarte, you have the federal government’s recognition. I want to end by saying that Veracruz’s accredited state police force provides a benchmark for the transformation of policing in the country. It has turned itself into a secure, trustworthy, efficient force.”

The police force once praised by the Interior Minister as a “benchmark” now finds itself mired in major scandal. And we mustn’t assume that this case in an isolated one. Not in Duarte´s Veracruz.

“Results are the most important thing,” said the man from Bucareli one night in Veracruz. (Translator’s note: Bucareli is the Mexico City street where the Interior Ministry is located.) If Javier Duarte re-reads the words of the country’s security chief, he would know that he’s in trouble. The news of the singer murdered in confusing circumstances hasn’t just shown Duarte up – his government had dismissed the complaints by the singer’s father but now the governor has to investigate his own police officers. The case has also attracted international attention, something President Enrique Peña Nieto did not want just as he arrives in Europe. The sidelining of Michoacán’s governor Fausto Vallejo offers a lesson to all. So let’s see who learns and who doesn’t.

Journalist Salvador Camarena contributes to Spanish newspaper El País and is a columnist for Mexican newspaper, La Razón. You can follow him on Twitter @salcamarena or email him at salvador.camarena@razon.mx. This column appeared in Spanish in La Razón on 22 January 2014 with the title, El Faustazo y Javier Duarte at http://www.razon.com.mx/spip.php?page=columnista&id_article=203219.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits mexicanjournalismtranslationproject.wordpress.com. You can follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

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