Tag Archives: safety in Mexico

Fighting for Flowers

flowering tree

Yesterday afternoon, I turned into the neighborhood where I live and came upon three men with machetes cutting down the flowering trees at the entrance. Without thought, I stopped and demanded to know what they were doing

The leader of the two said he was beautifying the neighborhood since the branches were low hanging and ugly. I asked if he had permission. I meant permission from the owner of the lot who borders the trees, although I suppose the trees were technically in the public thoroughfare. He thought I meant permission from the Departmento de Ecología (Department of ecology) since cutting green trees is a fine-able offense. He said he didn’t need permission to tidy up the place.

So I asked who he was. He said he was the owner of the trees–of course. I told him I didn’t believe him. As I am part of the community board of directors, I know nearly all of the people who own lots in the community. These three men were strangers to me. Not that my neighbors in La Yacata are any better.  (See Good Fences make good neighbors, unless your neighbor steals it) He told me that I should contact the town council and tell them to come and trim the trees in the neighborhood.

My Spanish failed me at this point. I wanted to say eloquently that the town council would not come and trim trees until after they installed water, sewer and electricity in our community. I wanted to say that cutting such beautiful trees is a crime against nature. I wanted to say that he was a lying piece of poop that really had some gall thinking I would believe his altruistic motives for cutting the trees when we both knew he would take and sell the leña (firewood) in town.

tree cutter

What I said was that I would take pictures and show them to the owner when he asks me who cut down his trees. So I did, not that it did much good. One man turned his back to me, the other partially covered his face. I thought maybe I could get some identification from the moto (motorcycle) that was parked there, but it didn’t have any license plates.

I remained on edge the rest of the afternoon and into the next day. I tried to go and see the president of the neighborhood, but he wasn’t in his office. So I sent an email with the pictures and an account of my interaction with the men. He wrote back and said that he would investigate the matter.

My husband scolded me afterward. I shouldn’t be going around taking pictures of men with machetes. What was I thinking?

I have to admit to being impetuous at times. These men were destroying that which I enjoyed every day. The flowers on these trees and the scent they emit are my welcome home. How DARE they destroy that?

You see, that morning the mother of three of my students was shot and killed while heading to the gym. Last week, the father of a former student was kidnaped and is being held for ransom. Last month, someone in front of Waldo’s (a local discount store) was shot “accidentally” by police officers. The month before that two transito (traffic) officers were shot and killed by “unknown” assailants. Not so very long ago, my nephew was taken and tortured by rival drug members. Before that, my mother-in-law was run down by a police vehicle and killed. And before that, my husband was kidnapped right in our own neighborhood.

Those are the local issues. Looking beyond the borders of my own town– Last month, 42 people and one police officer were executed by the police just a few hours away in Michoacan. Last September, 43 students disappeared in Guerrero.  Mexico averages nearly 100 murders a day. In the past three years, more than 10,000 people have disappeared. Last week, a reporter and 4 female activists were tortured and murdered. Femicide is commonplace.

tree stump

And I can do NOTHING about any of these things. This place that I now call home is lawless, corrupt, and dying. The beauty that has existed for thousands of years is threatened by the unethical actions of man.

However, I could threaten the bejeezus out of these three men. Maybe word will get out that a crazy “gringa” (white lady) lives in La Yacata that goes around hugging trees and dancing in the rain–someone these would-be wrongdoers should steer clear of. It’s a small, unrealistic hope. The truth is there is no enforceable consequence for their actions. They know it. I know it. The government knows it. The world knows it. But I have to try.

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Just another weekend adventure

It's a good idea to keep one of these in your wallet when driving in Mexico.

It’s a good idea to keep one of these in your wallet when driving in Mexico.

Saturday started out rainy, which never bodes well. The amount of rain that falls is proportionately related to the number of classes I have.(See Failing at your own business–Saturday classes) Sure enough, I had only half my classes show. Well, I put my time to good use on other projects for the school until the rain let up and my son and I raced home on the moto before the next storm hit.

My husband arrived shortly thereafter for lunch. As it was clouding up again, he thought it best to take one of the vehicles back for his afternoon shift at the viniteria (liquor store) instead of his moto. Butch, the truck, had a slow leak in the back tire. He loaded the tire into Myrtle (See Placando Myrtle) to have it repaired in town before his shift. Then Myrtle, the VW bug, wouldn’t start. So he and I pushed her out of the garage, only to discover the back tire was flat. There was nothing to be done but put some air into the tire with the bicycle pump. That finished, Myrtle still wouldn’t start. We gave her a running push down the hill and nothing. My husband opted to take the battery out of Butch and connect it up, hoping that Myrtle’s battery would charge with the drive. We think maybe there’s a loose wire someplace but didn’t have time to run a full diagnostic during lunch break.

Joey posing for the camera!

Joey posing for the camera!

The rest of the afternoon passed quietly enough, except for an incident with Joey. (See Joey) Joey, as the biggest male in our animal kingdom, fully believes he is the head mucky-muck around here. Joey’s dad lives across the way in my brother-in-law’s B partially finished house but is seldom out and about. Joey’s dad is a full-fledged, ornery stallion. His bad-tempered self happened to be tied out near our house for an afternoon grazing session. Not thinking much about it, my son took out Shadow and Joey for their dinner grazing. B hollered over and told my son to take them back in until he got his horse back in his stall. Shadow obediently trotted back inside. Joey didn’t. He sniffed the air, snorted and was off, rearing and neighing. Of course, Joey’s dad didn’t take kindly to the upstart challenger. There was a lot of horse screaming, bucking and running about for the next 10 minutes or so. Joey’s dad was tied, so Joey felt brave enough to get right up next to him and throw some shadow kicks. My son and B had the lasso out and were trying to catch Joey before Joey’s dad broke his rope and caused some real damage. Throughout it all, Shadow was carrying on in the stall, eyes rolling in her head. All of a sudden, Joey gave up the fight. He ran right through the neighbor’s corn field and back to his stall. Joey’s dad snorted and huffed, then went back to his dinner. Of course, we waited until the coast was clear before taking our two horses out again.

While my son was out with the goats and horses, I cooked dinner. I wasn’t expecting my husband until about 11 pm but I didn’t want to be cooking at that hour, so I made his favorite cacapapa (fried potatoes, garlic, onion, and tomato) so I could just heat it when he got home. Well, 11 pm came and went. Midnight came and went. By 12:30 am I was starting to get worried. I tried calling his cell phone, but he didn’t answer. I dozed a bit, woke up to find that he still wasn’t home, and called his phone again. The next morning, he still wasn’t home. I called his phone at least 30 times during the course of the day.

We checked with my father-in-law, who went to town on his bicycle to see if he could find out anything. We drove around between torrential rain showers, checking his regular route and hang out places and found no trace of him or Myrtle. By mid-afternoon, we were pretty sure he was dead in a ditch somewhere. I started worrying about how to get the truck out of the garage for the wake since the back tire was in the back seat of Myrtle. (See Mass and burial Mexican style) My son and I talked about which animals to sell to cover the funeral expenses. Joey, after his little stunt, was at the top of the list. Then I started to worry that nobody would inform us of his death. None of his documentation in his wallet has La Yacata since the community doesn’t have any street names. Neither is Myrtle registered at our home address, for the same reason. (See Getting Legal–License to Drive)

My father-in-law came by to say that none of my husband’s buddies had seen him since yesterday. He also told us that my husband’s nephew L, who had only been out of jail for a few weeks (See More thoughts on Safety and Security) had been in a serious moto accident on Saturday and was in the hospital. The passenger was in a coma. Due to the nature of the laws here in Mexico, should the passenger die, L will be charged with homicide (See And Justice for all?) Since he had been to the hospital, he was able to confirm that my husband had not been taken there. He suggested we contact the police. I told him that if he had been arrested, surely he would have been allowed to call to let us know where he was. Unfortunately, there isn’t a one phone call rule here in Mexico, but I didn’t know that at the time.

I sent messages to my sisters-in-law T and P. T hadn’t seen him. P didn’t answer. A little while later, T called to say that a muchacho (young man) had just been to see her to tell her that my husband was in the jail in Uriangato, the neighboring town. I didn’t even know Uriangato had a jail. T didn’t know where the jail was, nor had transportation to go and get him out. B, who is currently living with his sister T, knew where the jail was and had transportation but wasn’t interested in doing anything about getting his brother out of jail. My son and I went up the hill when the rain let up to see what my father-in-law had to say. He’s always full of good advice. He didn’t know where the jail was either, but his son C, who was visiting, did. I couldn’t follow his directions, but understood it was just minutes from where P had moved to recently. So I called P. From the noise in the background, it seemed like she was at the hospital. She sent her brother M and her sister L on the moto to check the jail and called me back. Yes, my husband was there (which I already knew) and that the fine was 200 pesos, which nobody was willing to pay. In any case, he could only be held 24 hours and as he had already been there more than half, he’d be released soon. I had the money to get him out, but I still had no idea where the jail was and no one was willing to take me.

About an hour later, my husband himself called me. He said that he had just been released from jail and was walking home. I told him to take a taxi home. He said he didn’t have any money. I told him that I would pay the taxi when it arrived. So 30 minutes later, he was home. The taxi ride was $70 pesos.

Here’s what happened. My husband got off work at about 11 pm. Myrtle’s tire was low again, so he started towards the gas station a few blocks away to put air in it. The car stopped. The battery was dead again. It wouldn’t start, so he tried pushing it. As he was doing that, a police car came up and asked what he was doing. They checked the car out, saw the truck battery in the back seat, arrested him and had the car towed to the police station. Apparently, someone had reported a truck battery stolen or so they said. Sounds like the time my husband was arrested when getting a load of water because someone reported a stereo stolen in Ojo de Aqua en Media (See Christmas in Mexico–La Aguinaldo)

While waiting for the judge to hear his case, he was put in the holding cell with 4 other hardened criminals. Three of the four were from Cuitzeo and had been arrested for changing their clothes. Yep, you read that right. Most of the manual labor workforce and domestic servants in Moroleon are from Cuitzeo, a small town just across the Michoacan border. They have the curious custom of changing clothes. They take the bus to Moroleon, walk to their job sites from the bus terminal, change their regular clothes to work clothes, work their shift and at the conclusion of their shift, change back into their regular clothes to take the bus back to Cuitzeo. That’s what these three men had been doing. It seems the walls of their job site weren’t finished yet, so their changing could be seen from the street. They were seen, arrested, and charged them with indecent exposure.

The fourth delinquent was the young man who runs the papeleria (stationary store). He had been arrested because his music was too loud. You know those paper store types, always causing a ruckus. Once he paid bail, he stopped by T’s house to let her know where my husband was.

Meanwhile, one of the three from Cuitzeo paid my husband’s bail of $341 pesos, a bit more than the 200 quoted to M and L. He told my husband to pay it forward. When he went for the return of his personal items, the $400 pesos formerly in my husband’s wallet was nowhere to be found. So the judge gave him 10 pesos to take the bus back to Moroleon. Unfortunately, by now, it was late Sunday afternoon and the buses weren’t running anymore. Thus the $70 pesos taxi ride.

On Monday morning, my husband took the car title and my identification, because Myrtle is registered in my name, back to the police station to get the car. In order to regain possession of the car, he had to pay the police grua (towtruck). That bill was $850 pesos. He borrowed a battery from el plomero neighbor and brought Myrtle home. Since the money was gone, there is the very real concern about his debit card. On Tuesday, he went to the bank to see what could be done since his card number has been stolen once already. That time we did not have to pay for the resulting mystery shopping spree because we had informed the bank and changed the card prior to the date the charges were made. So far, no strange charges have been credited to our account.

I have to say that I am mighty impressed with the local police force. They certainly know how to clean the riff-raff off the street and keep its citizens safe. I mean, just last month alone….the mother of three of my students was gunned down on her way to the gym at 9 am….oh wait, no one was arrested. And just after that, the father of two other students was stabbed and his taxi stolen…but no, no one was arrested in that case either. And before that, the father of another student was kidnapped, his dismembered body returned to his family even after the ransom was paid…yet again, no one was arrested. However, committing the heinous crime of having two batteries in your vehicle or changing out of your work clothes or playing your music just a bit too loud, well, the police all over that. Thank God!

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More thoughts on Safety and Security

Last week my husband’s nephew L. was kidnapped and tortured. He was taken from the street along with his mother’s moto and held just a few blocks from his aunt’s house. He was stabbed twice in the back and had his ear nearly cut off with a machete. He escaped after 3 days of torture, naked and handcuffed. He was picked up and taken to the hospital where he was stitched up. Three of the four sequestradores (kidnappers) were arrested according to police. His mother sent L. into hiding.  He has just turned 20.

Is this boy evil enough to be tortured?

Is this boy evil enough to be tortured?

Being the mother of a son, this incident awoke a deep-seated fear in me, albeit my son is only 12 and a good boy. But you see, when I met L.,he himself he was 12 and a good boy too. So as parents, my husband and I began rationalizing away our fears. L. must have done something to deserve this treatment. Therefore, it was karma, justice, etc. And as our son hasn’t done anything so bad that he would be kidnapped and tortured, he would be ok.

We had some rationale for our thoughts.  This isn’t the first time L. has been involved in a violent attack. A few years back, his liver was damaged during the 13-second initiation beating rite of Sur 13. (See On Safety and Security) Then his mother’s boyfriend did a stint in jail for possession not so very long ago. (See Failing at your own business–Taxi Service) Part of his gang membership obligations included selling pot. He also used pot to cope with the constant pain he still has from his injuries. Is that enough to deserve torture? It hardly seems so.

If it wasn’t hedid, perhaps it was who he was involved with. As a street pot distributor, he would know who brought the drugs into town. Three days after L. escaped, two suspected drug distributors were murdered in Moroleón, one of them a transito (traffic cop).

You won’t find much of this information in the local newspaper, although other newspapers in Guanajuato have picked up on some of the assassinations and have reported on them or rather reported the gory details after the bodies have been found. But as Moroleón is a small town, no matter how much it wants to believe it is a city, the information spreads, although in whispers now.

The story being told is that someone turned traitor against those who previously were in “charge” of Moroleón and have been given permission by los estados (State Police) to eliminate those still remaining with the understanding that future control will be given to this person. These bodies that are “found” are executions. No one is ever arrested. No one is brought to justice.

Aliada al cártel de Sinaloa, La Familia domina Guanajuato

Ejecutan a 5 personas en Moroleón

Una menor de 16 años entre los ejecutados en Moroleón

Balacera en Moroleón; al parecer hay cuatro muertos November

Lo ejecutan amarrado de pies y manos

Ejecución múltiple; hallan a cinco sin vida

Ejecutan a hombre en Moroleón

The body count has become so high, that the powers prohibited the local radio station to announce “fallecidos” for a time, which is how most friends and family members learn the day and time for the funeral and novena. (See La novena)  I expect their reasoning is, see no evil, speak no evil, and hear no evil.

So as parents of a pre-teen boy, we hope that the executions end soon. We increase our vigilance over our son, although he resents the restrictions. We look for talismans to hold out as wards against evil. Be home before dark. Come straight to where your dad is working from school. Don’t visit L. Bring your friends to our house rather than going to their houses. Will it be enough?

students

My son is not involved in gangs or drugs, but that wasn’t protection enough for the students in Iguala. And we already know that there is no justice to be found in México. (See On Life and Liberty) (See Justice for All) What more can we do?

Así fueron los últimos momentos de los estudiantes desaparecidos en México

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