The drug war in Mexico is so much more than cartels battling each other and the military fighting them all. On any given day you can open a newspaper or go on internet and bare witness to the inhumane acts which are repeated day in and day out throughout Mexico. You can pour over thousands of images of aftermath: shootouts, kidnappings, and torture, they're all there. What you can't and don't see, at least not many, is the life of a common citizen in Mexico.
There are over a hundred million innocent people caught in the middle of this war. These people, the living, have more often than not, been forgotten amongst morbid images of the dead. I want their stories known, I want to hear those and give voice to those who now only whisper within the confines of their own homes. I want to share with you the lives of those casted to the side and forgotten: the innocent families, workers, students, and children of Mexico: The living.
Being a narco in Reynosa is almost like being a hero; this much has been made clear to me when I was forced to open my eyes and really see all that was happening around me.
I come from one of those few families that has yet to become completely infiltrated and I say this because Tamaulipas is a state where everyone has at least a distant relative in some way involved with them, or is an acquaintance or has a friend or neighbor that you know or suspect to be a narco.
What ever happened to those peaceful Saturdays and Sundays where as a teenager we would hang out with friends, go to the movies, or simply pass the day skating or walking at the park?
In what moment did our teenagers in Reynosa stop looking up to and admiring their fathers or an uncle and decide to instead jump into this organized crime labyrinth of no return? Maybe all this happened when their fathers or uncles started becoming involved in these businesses, thus it is fair, my conclusion: being a narco in Reynosa is almost the same as being a hero.
If you don't believe me, you can take a drive down one of our well known boulevards and you'll find the altar which was erected in the place where a well known narco criminal was shot down and killed by the bullets of the National Army.
We, as a society, idolize and glorify these criminals and then complain about all the side effects their actions have and continue to cause us.
This past year has been traumatic for me, especially shortly after midnight on February 8, 2010, which I now refer to as: "The night we removed our masks".
After weathering through a terrible day and an unusual series of mishaps, I was finally ready to rest. The events of the day had been so physically and emotionally exhaustive that by the time I was able to finally put my head on the pillow, I felt as if I had been graced by God.
It was 11:30 p.m., February 7, 2010; I was finally able to put the frustrating day behind me, I slept.
Before I knew what was happening, my parents came running into my bedroom. They were panicked and screamed "Drop to the floor". I remember wrapping myself in a blanket and dropping to the floor, I didn't ask questions.
The sounds of explosions, shots from different caliber weapons, and bursts from machine guns filled the room. It felt as if the moment I opened my eyes I had somehow awakened somewhere in the Middle East. I can say this easily, without lieing, the scene, passed before me, was nothing short of a war report.
Municipal Public Security patrols passed chaotically in front of the house with their sirens wide open. All of the telephone lines collapsed, I still don't know if the lines fell or if the desperation in people to communicate with their loved ones simply over-saturated them.
The explosions continued. When they calmed a bit, I realized they were not close, but this worried me more. The sounds seemed to have been coming from a neighborhood that is fairly distant and removed, yet the intensity of the explosions and burning cars still caused the our night sky to glow bright.
Little by little the noises began to cease; soon after, I watched from my front balcony, as local police began to escort trucks full of sicarios to safety.
It is well known in Reynosa that some elements of public security have been bought, but for me it was traumatic to actually bare witness, as the same elements who protect us cleared the path for the narco's escape.
Very early the next morning I began driving to work. I looked around and thought it strange to see the streets and avenues so void of movement. The sky was a color I have never seen before and huge helicopters seemed to hover above each major artery of the city.
When I got to work, I was puzzled, but it didn't take long to be filled on everything I didn't know.
The war scene we had lived through that night had actually been a Marine operation to capture cartel members who operate out of Reynosa.
Until that moment, I knew just about as much about drug trafficking as a three year old knew about astrophysics. The day passed and with it came the comments and experiences of people who lived the hell firsthand.
Officially, only 4 or 5 deaths have been reported from this area, but inhabitants talk of more than a hundred by hands of organized crime. Up until that point, I was reluctant to give credit to all the stories I had just been told, the carnage described to me seemed absurd, completely implausible. I still didn't see reality, nor did I realize the worse was yet to come.
While driving home from work that evening I saw convoys of armed men as they took to the streets with their trucks marked with signs, their windows down exposing their automatic weapons and bulletproof vests to all who dared to look.
The convoys were lead by Public security patrols whose agents screamed at civilians to move to the side. As fear and panic left some drivers stupefied, machines guns were shoved in their faces to force them from their catatonic states and clear them from the convoy's path.
That day I wasn't alone when I took off my rose colored glasses, as many here in Tamaulipas did the same. Our bubble burst as we realized who controlled our city.
I was outraged. How was it possible that our authorities allowed these people to do this to us? How could they permit these people to kidnap and extort us, if we are only trying to earn an honest living?
It was a long month, every night we heard shootouts and explosions. The days passed and friends and family began to disappear. Some were "picked up", their double lives exposed. Others simply disappeared on their way to work or home. The criminal gangs stormed universities in search of people involved with rivals and/or relatives of wealthy families they could pressure through kidnapping.
The entire month rival gangs clashed, night and day. Social networks exploded with outrage, images and cries for help forced the military to become active in the matter and their patrolling the city became more constant.
Since that day, nothing has been the same. The citizens of the Tamaulipas border no longer go out to have fun in bars or discos, night life is dead. It is no longer common to see many people out and about after 8:00 p.m.
If you are a woman, you are prey to the public security officials. they will stop you only to find out your name and make it clear to you they are part of the "organization", as so, you should practically worship them, the might powerful "almost heroes".
If you are a man, the risk involved with being stopped by these officers is even greater. Using obscenities and threats, they will force you to submit to a "routine search" which is often backed by armed civilians who will beat you and "confiscate" whatever they please.
School children panic at the sound of a firework, even more so those who have witnessed a shootout. In this war, so many lives have been lost, some where innocent, some not so much. It's painful to see how children's lives, many of which I watched grow up, are cut short by bullets fired by the Army, Navy, or rival gangs.
No more than three weeks ago I was made aware of a family mourning the death of their youngest son. The boy was, what is now commonly known as, a "halcon" and had successfully integrated an armed criminal gang. At the time, his family and friends applauded his achievement and happily posed in photos with the weapons and vehicles the boy continuously acquired. The boy felt lucky.
He wasn't lucky, at just 19 years old, he was killed by the Marines in a shootout. His family wasted no time in denouncing them as murderers and were soon joined by families from nearby neighborhoods (which many also have some degree of involvement with narcos)as they protested and demanded the departure of all military troops.
I don't personally know this family, but I feel the degree of social illness we, as a society, have fallen to has converted narco family relations (being the child, spouse, or friend, of someone in organized crime)into something to be proud of.
The fear, this newfound pride has caused, has reached the point where we are afraid to talk about such matters in the open. One never knows if they are talking to a family member or friend of someone in the "business" with strong enough ties to actually hurt you, or worse.
Acceptance of the organized crime phenomenon in a society as corrupt as our state has reached the point becoming protective of these families who are unable or unwilling to denounce their son, daughter, uncle, husband, father, cousin, etc. I have seen many entire families suffer because one of them decided to enter this dark world. At the same time I've seen even more families welcome the actions of one member simply to share in the illicit benefits of their fleeting pass through the high life. I say "fleeting" because they end up dead or in prison, it never lasts.
People from this border no longer have the peace of mind to even buy groceries or stop quickly at a convenient store, you never know when or where the bullets are grenades might strike.
The fear of new people in this town, whether they be man or woman, causes us to "respectfully interrogate" and analyze everyone we meet. It used to be enough if a person had a decent appearance, was well spoken, respectful, and seemed at least somewhat financially secure. Now finances and incomes are the most scrutinized, were they earned legally or are they the profits of others misfortunes and pain? You must determine this without raising suspicion or you could die trying.
Nine Months ago today, November 8, 2010, Reynosa learned the truth. We were terrorized and learned who was who, everyone removed their masks. Nine month ago today, many families were forced to begin the horrific process of searching and praying for missing loved ones. November 8, 2010 marks the ninth month Reynosa has been held completely captive by criminal hands. Sadly, with every day that passes, the light at the end of the tunnel gets dimmer and dimmer.
Victoria de Anda, Reynosa, Tamps.