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The Dangerous Roads of Mexico

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The Blood of the Sierra Madre

January 3rd 2013

Deceased Sinaloa Cartel Member Miss Sinaloa Maria Susana Flores Gamez,

As 2012 drew to a close, violence was down from previous months and years in the northern Mexican urban centers of Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez. But in several rural zones of Chihuahua state, drug-related mayhem is on the rise. A major flashpoint is in the Sierra Tarahumara, the mountainous region internationally renowned for the Copper Canyon and the long-distance runners of the Raramuri indigenous people.

Among Mexico’s prime opium poppy and marijuana-producing regions, the Sierra Tarahumara has also been known to harbor clandestine air strips that transport cocaine to interior markets. And new sources of profit are thought to be lurking under the ground in the form of gold and other precious metals.

Since the end of November, violence between rival criminal organizations identified as the Sinaloa Cartel and La Linea, a group affiliated with the Juarez Cartel and allied with the Zetas, has intensified over control of the strategic zone.

Located in the southern tip of the Sierra Tarahumara, the small municipality of Guadalupe y Calvo is high on the list of violence-stricken places. According to residents, executions are frequent in the town of Guadalupe y Calvo proper as well as in the nearby, smaller communities.

“Every day, there are dead outside of town, on the ranches, many of which are not even reported,” recently wrote La Joranda reporter Miroslava Breach. “It’s not even well known how many die and who they are…”

On December 7, terror gripped Guadalupe y Calvo when an estimated 50 gunmen said to be working for the Sinaloa Cartel took over the town, burned homes and killed as many as 11 people. Many residents then reportedly fled the town, joining the ranks of Mexico’s displaced populations. Local police did not resist the assault, or for that matter did the soldiers stationed in El Zorrillo, an army base situated 15 minutes away from the scene of the attack.

It should be noted that Guadalupe y Calvo has been a notorious narco enclave which has suffered numerous bouts of violence for decades, without effective intervention.

Recent flare-ups in violence- possibly linked to the earlier arrests of two Sinaloa Cartel lieutenants-have likewise destabilized other parts of the Sierra Tarahumara. A month ago, the bodies of Moises Velderrain and three of his sons were tossed on the Creel-San Rafael highway. On December 5, Delfina Rodriguez Gonzalez and her 14-year-old son were murdered in Creel.

A former councilwoman for the National Action Party (PAN), Rodriguez was a local representative for PAN Senator Javier Corral at the time of her murder. Some press accounts have linked the double slaying to revenge over the alleged money-laundering activities of Rodriguez’s sister, who has since dropped out of sight.

The upsurge in violence is impacting the daily lives and economy of the Sierra’s residents. Cristina Munoz Alcocer, president of the Chihuahua Tourism Confederation, attributed the cancellation of 50 percent of the hotel reservations in the Sierra for this year’s Christmas holiday season to violence.

Residents, who are fearful to use their names, assert that narco bands effectively control many of the mountain highways and frequently put up checkpoints where citizens are harassed, robbed and even murdered.

Norma Ledezma, president of the Chihuahua-based non-governmental organization Justice for Our Daughters, contended that criminal groups maintain camps where women are taken and sexually abused.

Public outrage flowed in the aftermath of the killings earlier this month of four women who were believed to have been abducted at one of the illegal checkpoints outside Creel. Two of the victims were sisters: 32-year-old Marisa Aide Diaz Peinado, a supervisor at the Technological Institute of Cuauhtemoc, and her 39 year-old sister Mayra Lorena, who worked as a production manager at a maquiladora plant. Their companions were identified as piano teacher Josefina Diaz de Rempening and Eliza Diaz Martinez, a retired secondary school teacher.

Challenging government contentions that violence was on the downswing, local priest Javier Avila characterized the multiple murders as part of the “daily bread” of the region. Ledezma criticized the official investigation of the murders of the four women as limited in scope.

“It’s a stupidity to say that this is about a robbery when the women were tortured and each found with a gunshot to their head,” Ledezma said. “It speaks to the position and control that the cartels have in the Sierra, and the collusion of some authorities.”

The activist said indications of a broader violence, against women and against innocent individuals, was sweeping the Sierra, and urged the authorities to issue a gender alert. Last year two young women, Nancy and Daisy Caraveo, were in the wrong place at the wrong time when they were kidnapped along with a man and later recovered from a “narco-fosa,” or narco-grave, Ledezma said.

More recently, the body of 16-year-old girl with her throat slashed was reported found December 25 on the San Juanito-Creel highway. In response to the murders of Marisa Aide Diaz Peinado and company, the Chihuahua state police set up a checkpoint and increased patrols in the zone. While the operation did not net any major arrests, it re-exposed another long-standing problem that’s sometimes been linked to drug trafficking and the undermining of rural society and ecology in the Sierra Tarahumara.

On December 17, state police on the Creel-San Rafael highway detained a truck driver accused of transporting 12 tons of pine logs without the proper permit. A few days later, a second but smaller shipment of allegedly illegal lumber was confiscated by state police in Creel.

Kent Paterson is the editor of Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news provided by the Center for Latin American and Border Studies at New Mexico State University.


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