Two years ago there was a massacre that shook the nation and the world. In an abandoned ranch in the Tamaulipas municipality of San Fernando, Zetas murdered 72 migrants. Men and women (one of these a young girl) who refused to cooperate with the mafia were machine gunned to death, a few miles from the border they were trying to reach to escape poverty.
In Pasaquina, El Salvador, there were two parallel lives that did not come together until the end: Yedmi Victoria Castro and Francisco Antonio Blanco, born 15 years apart. She, a 15-year-old who wanted to study medicine. He, 30 years old, looking for work to provide for his wife and children. They both began a trip that ended in this municipality, where they were murdered along with 70 other Central Americans in August, 2010.
This was the mass murder that uncovered the “sewer of migrant abuse, although those massacres had been happening for several months previous (to this),” states psychologist Alberto Xicotencatl, director of the Saltillo shelter Belen, Posada del Migrante.
Yedmi and Tonito (as he was called) lived in the Department of Pasaquina, near the border with Honduras. She, in Penitas, and he in El Tablon, housing areas where misery and neglect predominate.
She lived with her grandparents, was in her junior year in high school and was going to New York to join her mother, Mariluz Castro. Yedmi had just celebrated her 15th birthday feast. A 20-year-old who had come from Nicaragua was courting her and wanted to take her to live with him. When her mother heard about this, she decided that her daughter would join her.
Tonito wanted to play soccer with his children and teach them his love for the Barcelona (team), but poverty was asphyxiating him, so he decided to emigrate. He and Yedmi’s mother sought out a coyote (migrant smuggler) and agreed to pay him $7,000.00, half of it in advance and the rest of it when they got to the United States, two or three weeks later, with a guarantee that they could make three attempts.
“In El Salvador there are three ways to emigrate. The safest way costs around $20,000.00; the traveler arrives by airplane at a private airport in the United States,” explains Edu Ponces, an expert in the Central American migration phenomenon.
The majority of the 500,000 Central Americans that cross through Mexico every year choose the cheapest way: La Bestia (The Beast), the freight train where organized crime robs, rapes, kidnaps and kills. Mexico’s National Commission on Human Rights documented 9,758 kidnappings in six months, from September, 2008, to February, 2009, but it is estimated that adding up the “black number” (the kidnappings not reported), the number could reach 18,000 per year, about 50 per day.
There’s another option. It costs $6,000.00 to $8,000.00 per person, and it involves traveling by highway from Tapachula or Tenosique along the gulf coast up to the northern border. It’s a little over 2,000 kilometers, plagued with police and criminals who often work together to extort travelers, from each of whom they get from $500 to $5,000 dollars.
This is the way Yedmi and Tonito traveled, on freight trucks, hidden among cargo, or in buses, passing themselves off as common travelers wearing Mexican soccer team jerseys. When they were told they were entering Tamaulipas, the young girl called Penitas.
“She called me here at school one morning. She said, ‘We’re almost there, we’re doing very well, we’re traveling with a bunch of people,’ and I told her that was great, that, God willing, they would get there OK,” recalls Aracely Flores, the principal of the Penitas school.
On the Tampico-Reynosa stretch, Yedmi and Tonito were traveling with 70 other Central and South American (travelers) distributed between two freight trucks. Some of them had paid up to $10,000.00 dollars to get to the border. They thought they were safer this way. The shortest route was on Federal Highway 101, which goes through the San Fernando municipality. That’s where the two freight trucks were headed.
During most of 2010, the San Fernando municipality had suffered from constant confrontations between Zetas and members of the Gulf Cartel. General Miguel Angel Gonzalez, Commander of the Eighth Military Zone based in Tamaulipas, tells this journal that this isolated town is very important because “it is a node where several highways — strategic for drug smuggling — come together.”
In addition, the highways and roadways in the area are connected by dozens of local roads and trails known only to the locals; these roads form a great grid that takes you to the cities on the Tamaulipas border. Despite its privileged location, San Fernando is a neglected area, affected by ongoing droughts that weaken agriculture, without businesses to create jobs and with commerce affected by the violence. The large businesses have left the town that years ago was a bustling place, attracting tourism due to its proximity to the Laguna Madre. Today, it is a town where one breathes fear.
“The lack of opportunities forced the young men in the area to become involved with organized crime,” says an older man who asks us not to reveal his name. In contrast, the prosperous organized crime activity needs an “army:” in addition to the drug trafficking, this “army” is in charge of extortion, kidnapping, large scale theft of gasoline, control of pirate (videos), illegal businesses and car theft.
After the break up of old alliances, , the area was disputed for several months. “That’s what caused the confrontations to get bloodier in the area and that’s what affected the population…the cartels charged piso (extortion), this would affect production and force businesses to close. San Fernando has a fishing industry, but they would charge fishermen extortion payments. The production of sorghum was also affected,” emphasized General Gonzalez.
The narco war divided the city. Neighbors, friends, even relatives, would accuse each other, not with the police but with rival cartels. Mafias marked their territories and would impose controls. They placed roadblocks and “even cloned military uniforms,” so that (people) could not even trust the traditional Army checkpoints.
In the end the Zetas took control and imposed their rules. The group’s high command, Heriberto Lazcano, El Lazca, and Miguel Trevino Morales, El Z-40, appointed Salvador Alfonso Martinez Escobedo, La Ardilla, as chief of the area. He in turn placed a former soldier, Edgar Huerta Montiel, El Wache, as lieutenant for San Fernando, along with Martin Omar Estrada Luna, El Kilo, who, in practice, acted as the the area chief.
El Kilo is one of the best examples of the barbarism that today characterizes Mexican narcos. He was born in Mexico but lived in the United States. His first “schools” were the gangs in northern California, among them “Los Nortenos.” He also lived in the small town of Tieton, Washington state.
Toward the latter part of the 90′s, he was imprisoned for breaking and entering and illegal carrying of weapons. The police classified him as “narcissist and extremely violent.” He was deported for the first time in 1998. He came back (into the U.S.), was recaptured and he was placed in a prison where he helped four inmates escape, although, due to his size and his weight of more than 220 lbs, he couldn’t use the hole they opened on the jailhouse roof to escape.
They deported him again. He went to Tamaulipas, where he had relatives. There, the Zetas recruited him to be a “burro” (donkey or mule transporting drugs that came in through the Laguna Madre and were taken to the border). He was quickly promoted after a year due to the arrest of several Zeta leaders and the deaths of others. He quickly became the head of a drug distribution network in the streets of Reynosa.
From the day he got to San Fernando, Estrada went all over the town openly carrying weapons. He’d get out of his vehicle with his weapon to make purchases in the stores on the main square, where the mayor’s office is located. He had 20 of the 34 San Fernando police officers on his payroll. Among other measures he took was establishing a curfew that forced people to stay indoors after 9 p.m. He also created an army of young girls who worked as “guards.”
The strict surveillance and controls they imposed were so the “golfos” would not come in to retake the town. The Zetas were aware that early in 2010, the Gulf Cartel had formed an alliance with Sinaloa to eliminate them.
The strict measures included El Kilo inspecting every bus that arrived at the municipality. “A bus would arrive every day, and every day they would make the passengers get off the bus to investigate them, to find out where they were coming from. They would inspect the messages on their cell phones. They would allow any people who were not involved to leave. The rest we would kill,” said the Wache when he was interrogated by the Federal Police. From his paranoid point of view, all the young men who were going to the border could be recruited by the rival cartel. El Wache confessed that they had killed the 72 Central American migrants on Lazcano’s orders, because they thought “they were going to Metro 3,” the Gulf Cartel boss in Reynosa.
End of the Foad
That afternoon in August 22, 2010, the two freight trucks were traveling on Highway 101. About nine miles north of San Fernando, the hopes of the migrants ended and their nightmare began; they encountered three vehicles blocking the highway carrying armed men with their faces covered.
“We’re Zetas,” they identified themselves, then asked the migrants to get off the trucks. Then they took them in pickup trucks to the warehouse of an abandoned ranch. There, 58 men and 14 women were taken down off the trucks and placed against the walls in the storeroom. First, they questioned them to find out where they were coming from and what they did for a living. They all denied they were working for the Gulf Cartel.
Their captors wanted to force them to work for them, but the migrants refused the offer. In the face of such a refusal, the captors made them lie down on the floor with their faces (facing) down. They told them not to look up and then shot them with bursts of bullets from assault rifles. To make sure nobody was left alive, they fired the coup de grace into their heads.
A man from Ecuador who was not hit by the bursts of gunfire and whose coup de grace went into his neck and came out through his jaw pretended he was dead and waited until the executioners left. He left the ranch and walked almost 15 miles until he found some marines and asked for help. “The massacre was a little while ago,” he told them, but they didn’t believe him.
The incident was reported to their superiors, who ordered an aerial reconnaissance of the area. That afternoon, when the Army helicopter was flying near the store room, they were attacked by criminals who were going back to the site get rid of the bodies.
It was getting dark on August 23 and the Marines withdrew to Matamoros. But they came back to the ranch the next day with reinforcements. There they found the 72 bodies.
After the murders of the migrants were discovered, El Kilo and his staff fled. They hid in Ciudad Victoria. Nevertheless, he was arrested there along with 11 accomplices on April 14, 2010. Two months later, they captured Huerta Montiel in Fresnillo.
The masterminds of the massacre are still free: La Ardilla and the two Zeta leaders, El Lazca and Z-40, who ordered the murders.
Yedmi and Tonito returned to Pasaquina in September, 2010, in coffins draped with the flag of El Salvador.
Graphics by Chivis
Friday, 2 August 2013