Tag Archives: Guanajuato

Prepping in Mexico–Give a Wide Berth to Cartel Violence

We live in the state of Guanajuato, which has the dubious honor of having the highest number of homicides to start the year in 2020. The current issues stem from the hostile takeover of areas controlled by Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel. The shoot-outs are sometimes random, and civilians are sometimes caught in the cross-fire.

On the other hand, some instances of cartel violence are targeted attacks. Extortion, kidnapping, and murder are the three primary methods of control. While most of the time the focus is on someone from a rival cartel, sometimes innocent family members are involved.

A high-profile incident occurred in 2019 when nine women and children were murdered in Chihuahua, all members of the La Mora Mormon community that has been in the area for decades. The Mexican government claimed the murders were a case of mistaken identity, however, both local police officers and cartel members have been arrested leading to the speculation that it was a targeted hit.

Mexican saying which translates as “They wanted to bury us, but they had forgotten we were seeds.” Original artwork by Clau Guzes

It should surprise no one that the cartel and certain officials of the Mexican government are in cahoots. The 43 teaching students that disappeared in 2014 were arrested by the police then turned over to the Guerreros Unidos cartel by whom they were tortured and murdered. The mayor of the town Iguala and his wife were later arrested for their involvement along with several high-ranking police officers. The bodies of 42 of these young men have not yet been found.

From 2006 to 2012, the cartel have been responsible for between 60,000 to 100,000 deaths in Mexico. Between 2007 and 2014, the Mexican government has been linked to 23,272 reported disappearances. Not all disappearances are reported because of the fear of repercussions, therefore, the actual number could be significantly higher. Mass graves throughout Mexico are the final resting place for the bodies of thousands of those who have disappeared either by order of the government or the cartel.

Ties between Mexico’s political party PRI and illegal drug traders can be traced to the beginning of the 20th century during the US period of Prohibition. The political, police and military infrastructure that was subsequently designed in Mexico was intended to support the cultivation, manufacturing, and distribution of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana for export to the United States. The Dirección Federal de Seguridad (DFS) organization was formed to organize and control drug trafficking.

For decades, this system functioned without restriction. In the 1990’s PRI’s 70-year reign ended. The addition of new political players with no prior connection to the cartels upset the system. Sections of the Mexican government began to challenge the set-up. Thus began the government-sanctioned assassinations of drug-enforcement agents, governors, mayors, clergy, citizens, lawyers, judges, social activists and journalists. And there we have narcoterrorism in a nutshell. While cartels battle over territories, dissenters are silenced by the government.

Our family has been personally affected by cartel violence. My husband’s 25-year old nephew and a friend were taken from his home in our town after he was trespassing on a rival’s territory. His decomposing body was found outside a nearby village a month later. The other young man who was taken with him has not been found. Officially, the murder investigation is still open. However, we know that no one will be held accountable for his death.

Many young men and women that are recruited by the cartels are not willing participants. Cartels sometimes conduct raids on alcohol and drug rehab centers as a form of conscription. Other times the cartel itself is running a rehab center, making it that much easier to recruit vulnerable men and women.

Yet another way that the cartels add to their ranks is by kidnapping migrants from other Central and South American countries who are crossing Mexico with the hopes of claiming asylum in the United States. Approximately 20,000 migrants a year are kidnapped by the cartels in Mexico. Some are sold, some are murdered, and some are recruited.

If you find yourself in an area that is experiencing cartel violence, you may want to consider relocation. Mexico is a huge country and there are many areas, even those controlled by the cartel, where life is relatively peaceful. If you choose to remain in an area that has the potential for violence, you must develop your situational awareness.

Situational awareness is being aware of your surroundings. It involves identifying potentially dangerous situations. The first step in developing a situational awareness mindset is recognizing that there is a threat. These days, any activity you engage in, from grocery shopping to heading to a wedding, can become life-threatening if cartel violence breaks out in the area. Just because you yourself are not involved in drug distribution or trafficking does not mean that you are safe.

The second step in becoming situationally aware is to realize that you are responsible for your own security. The Mexican government is often involved with the cartel. Even if arrests are made, Mexico has an extremely high rate of impunity. Relying on the police is not a safe option.

Situational awareness does not mean you are hyperfocused to search out danger, every minute of every day. No one can maintain that level of vigilance. Rather, it refers to taking your surroundings into consideration as you go about your business. If you are in a restaurant, take note of the exits, for example. If you are walking, pay attention to sounds that indicate danger, like shooting or shouting, and take evasive action.

Practicing this state of relaxed awareness will help it to become second nature. The idea is to have a window of opportunity before a dangerous situation explores for you to take action to protect yourself. Being tired, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or being distracted will reduce your overall situational awareness and should be avoided as much as possible when you are in a potentially dangerous situation.

If a violent situation develops, get as far away from it as possible, as quickly as possible. Then stay away from the area for as long as it takes to return to some form of normalcy.

Situational awareness is something that even children can learn to develop. Back to the LeBaron incident, a 13-year old boy helped six of his siblings to safety, hid them in bushes and walked 14 miles to get help from relatives. He understood that the situation was deadly. He did not freeze in panic but took steps to ensure the safety of his younger brothers and sisters, who are alive today because of his efforts.

¡Cuídate mucho!

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August Updates

The topic of COVID-19 has me a bit overwhelmed. So I’ve been avoiding it, well, like the plague. However, to try and unravel the current situation in Guanajuato, I thought I’d take up the gauntlet today. 

Unless you’ve been sheltering under the proverbial bushel basket, you should know Mexico has moved up in the death race. Mexico now has the third-highest death rate from Covid-19, right after Brazil and the U.S. 

To celebrate this grand event, the state of Guanajuato has moved into orange. This means, places like movie theaters, churches, and gyms can reopen, with precautions, of course. The church has disinfecting mist spray entrances, requires face masks, and is limiting occupancy to 125 people to allow for social distancing. The gyms are taking temperatures at the front door. 

These reopenings are going full steam ahead despite the Pan American Health Organization predicting a new peak in new cases in August. In fact, July 31 saw a new high of 8,458 cases that was topped August 1 with 9,556 cases. The accumulated case tally in Mexico is the sixth-highest in the world. 

Mexico City, of course, has the most active cases, followed by Mexico State. Guanajuato is in the third position, followed by Veracruz, Coahuila, San Luis Potosí, and Nuevo León tied for fourth. As if these statistics weren’t alarming enough, it’s important to take into consideration that these numbers are completely inaccurate. There is no widespread testing taking place, so it’s really anyone’s guess on the true count. 

More or less SEP’s plan for back to school

Mexico made the decision a few days ago to not return to classes. Instead, school will be available online, on the television, and through radio broadcasts. As prudent as this seems, there are some economic repercussions. On the 15th of this month, teacher contracts expire. If they will not be teaching for the foreseeable future, will they get paid? Then there are the small businesses that earn their pesos providing school uniforms and school supplies. What will happen to their livelihood? The future seems bleak for these sectors. 

Moroleon, you survived looting, flooding, the devaluation of the peso in 1995, Chinese clothing imports and you will make it through the pandemic.

Coronavirus aside, Guanajuato has also been declared a safer area with the capture of Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel leader “El Marro” this week. Apparently it took all of 15 minutes to make the arrest. Personally, I have some doubts about the whole situation. Perhaps El Marro felt it was safer in police custody for the moment. The cartel-related violence in our town hasn’t diminished with his arrest, that’s for sure. Last week a man was killed at the barbershop, another in the market, and a third in a moto-repair shop. 

So how is this affecting our daily lives? More of the same really. We dash to town as early as possible and pick up our supplies, then hunker down in La Yacata for the rest of the day. More and more groups have also been gathering in our little corner of the world, since gatherings are still prohibited in town. In fact, this weekend, there were so many people sitting around on buckets, that my son felt the need to put on his mask to bring the horses in from the pasture. 

Fortunately, we have plenty to do to keep us busy. I am still writing and teaching to make ends meet. My son continues with his online prepa courses. Our animals entertain us when they can. Plus we have plenty of good movies to watch and unlimited books via kindle. Overall, we are in a much better position than those that tried to avoid the plague in the middle ages. Wouldn’t you agree?

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The New Normal

Last month we had quite a few shootings in town. I’m sure there were more, but these are the ones I know about.

A teenager sitting on the curb in front of his house was gunned down not a block from my sister-in-law’s tortilleria. The guy who sells raw chicken whose stand is next to the woman that we buy our raw chicken from was shot 22 times. The chicken lady and the fried fish lady who had stalls on either side packed up their wares that day and haven’t returned.

We had a coordinated attack straight from a bad action film in town a block from where we had gone to buy our vegetables. We missed the action by 15 minutes. A car was set fire near the glorieta (roundabout) on the edge of town. A string of fireworks was set off in the mercado (market). Someone shot the employee of the shoe store on the corner. At the same time, several masked marauders ransacked the jewelry store in front of the presidencia (town hall). The military hummveed into town about an hour later. I have no idea why. The perpetrators were long gone.

Tuesday, the guys that ran the “auto paint shop” were shot. We drive past there every day on the way to town. Then the person running the “auto lavado” (car wash) next to Soriana was shot on Thursday. Both were obviously front businesses. The other shootings were reportedly all drug-related as well. Does that reassure me any? Hell no!

Our area is still in the midst of a turf war that began a while back. Guanajuato, being a center state, is considered an easier passage north than the mountains of Michoacan, although Michoacan has its own issues. 

The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), under the leadership of El Mencho, el rey de metanfetamina (meth king), wants clear passage through the state which is currently held by the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel, headed by José Antonio “El Marro” Yépez, el rey de huachicol (fuel theft king)

Last week, El Marro’s mother and sister were arrested but released because of “insufficient evidence.” Retaliations for the arrests include a few bombed cars and a bomb attempt at a PEMEX facility. Police tried to rearrest dear old mom a few days later. Three of the four officers attempting the arrest were shot and killed. Odds are the authorities are working with El Mencho to clear the area for takeover. It’s not going to well so far.

It’s enough to stretch already taut nerves to the breaking point. The local police and government are silent about the shootings in town. Their broadcasts focus on wearing a mask in public and using an antibacterial gel. Businesses have been given the green light to open up with precautions. We mustn’t let the economy collapse now, right?

Our personal strategy is to go to town as little as possible. We try to go to the grocery, carniceria, and fruteria stores as soon as they open in the morning. In and out, then back home. The idea, at least in my mind, is any shootings will occur a little later in the day, once the thugs rolled out of bed. This is the new normal in our area where masks and bullet-proof vests are suggested daily wear. 

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