By Patrcia Davila
MÉXICO, DF.- February 12, 2010
Nuevo Ideal is a municipality in Durango but it seems like a branch of hell: kidnappings are an everyday occurrence, committed by the neighbors and acquaintances of the victims. At the beginning of the month, Don Polo traveled from Nuevo Ideal to Proceso to share the torture he had lived in the face of his son’s kidnapping.
His desperation brought him to denounce the crime to the army, the State Attorney General, the SIEDO, the Marina…and even at Los Pinos. No one paid him any mind. Now Don Polo is dead. He was assassinated.
“We’ve come for you, compa,” the men dressed like soldiers yelled while they pointed their cuernos de chivo at Leopoldo Valenzuela Escobar, Don Polo. He pulled his pistol out, trying to defend himself, but the rounds from the AK-47s shot him down. He died minutes later upon arriving at the hospital.
It was a Friday morning, February 4. He had just opened his auto parts store in Nuevo Ideal, Durango. Four months before, his son Leopoldo, Leo, had been kidnapped. And although he paid the ransom, his son was not set free. He asked for help from the governor and the attorney general of Durango as well as the army, but everyone ignored him.
He took matters into his own hands and found the kidnappers. He discovered that they were protected by state functionaries as well as the army. It appears that his execution was revenge for having denounced his son’s kidnapping.
Four days before his assassination, Don Polo arrived at the offices of Proceso to speak about his case. His tired countenance was more a reflection of the burden of 130 days of not having news of his son, than his eighty years of life.
He sat down and placed his documents on the table. His hands trembled. He accepted a cup of tea. He calmed down and began his account:
“It was 7 p.m., the 23rd of September, 2010. My son, Leo, was at the yonque (junkyard) taking care of the clients; all of the sudden a sand colored Tahoe truck stopped in front. Four hooded men dressed in military uniforms got out. They went inside after him. They beat him with their guns and they loaded him into the vehicle, and took off toward Santiago Papasquiaro.”
About 200 meters from Leo’s business there is a military roadblock with about 20 soldiers. Don Leopoldo ran towards them. “I asked them to tell me why they had taken my son, they looked into it and then fifteen minutes later they said: ‘We are sorry. We can do nothing.‘ ‘Why not? I said, but they said that I had to file a complaint with the anti-kidnapping police.
“My daughter, Hilda, shows up and asks the soldiers to please go with us to rescue her brother. Very cynically one of them says: ‘Get the money together and pay so that they will set him free.’”
Don Polo went back to his business where Leo’s wife had arrived and was speaking to the kidnappers via cell phone. They ordered them not to notify the police, and to get together ten million pesos because if they didn’t they would kill him (Leo—the son.) “I took the telephone and told the kidnappers that that was a lot of money, and that we didn’t have it. They answered saying that in that case they were going to break him to pieces and string him from the door.”
“The kidnappers called almost daily to see how much money we had gotten together: At 10:45 the morning of the 26th of September, my daughter-in-law got a text message. It was my son: ‘I am fine. They are waiting for the boss to arrive. Don’t call this number. I don’t like this. I love you guys, Polo’ At 11:17 another text arrived: ‘Don’t say anything to Eloy because there’s a problem with him.’
His hands began to shake again. Don Polo continued: “The next day (September 27th) the kidnappers called and asked how much money we had. I told them 466,000 pesos. They said for me to hand it over. They called again saying that it was very little money and for me to get together 3 million. The 30th they say that when I have at least 500 thousand pesos, for me to turn them over to them.”
At 6:14 in the evening the same day another text message arrives (to Leo’s wife’s phone):
“They have me at Las Palmas, on the right hand side, in a bodega with a laminate roof. There are lots of lookouts, talk to the soldiers….give it your best shot with the money, in any case, let it be as God wills it. Come early, around five in the morning; have the visas in hand. But you guys don’t come in case something goes wrong. I hope you understand me. Tell father.” Minutes later the kidnapper called to tell Don Polo to give the owner of the cell phone ten thousand pesos, although he did not indicate who that was.
Don Polo continues his account:
"I contacted Ernesto Velázquez, ‘mayor’ (presidente municipal) of Nuevo Ideal, and read him the message and he told me that he would meet me in Durango (capital city) to file the complaint with the attorney general’s office. My daughter, Hilda, went accompanied by Juan Orozco, the syndicate of the municipality.
“It was about midnight. At 3 a.m. we were received by the district attorney, Ramiro Ortiz Aguirre; my daughter explained to him everything that had happened since the kidnapping and asked him to help us rescue her brother. He said he wouldn’t endanger his police without first launching an investigation. The mayor and the syndicate tried to convince him, but he ran us off: ‘What don’t you understand?!?” he yelled at us as he walked off.”
From the moment of the kidnapping, the first thing that came to mind for Don Polo was the safety of his wife, their four daughters, his daughter-in-law, and his little two year old granddaughter: "Instead of closing shop at 9, we started closing at 7. We were afraid because we could see that they were watching us. Night and day trucks passed by the shop and by the house. They would stop in front and make a bunch of noise. They were right on top of us.”
October 2, one of Don Polo’s sisters went to the tenth military zone to file a complaint, but they advised her against it since the father of the victim is the one who has to file the complaint. They gave her the number 01800 so that he could do it via telephone and Don Polo called immediately.
The next day he also called the 71st Infantry Battalion in Santiago Papasquiaro, where he was helped by Colonel Zambrano who stated: “If in reality you know the exact location where your son is being held, come here to the barracks and I will go with you and finish those criminals off.” In little over an hour, Don Polo arrived at the barracks.
"At the barracks he took down my information and told me that they would go in the middle of the night to rescue Leo; but when I showed him the text message he was surprised: ‘How is it that they sent you the message from this number?’ he said and immediately changed his mind and said that the rescue would take place at four or five in the morning. I was ready and waiting. The sun rose and they never went,” he remembers.
So Don Polo and his daughters gathered their courage:
"Dressed as men, my daughters jumped the fence and alluded security. We setup watch on the same kidnappers that were watching us. As the days passed we discovered that some of them were from town, and others no: on one street we identified Flavio Quiñones, who, after standing watch on the corner, would meet with Arnoldo Nevárez. Flavio would be relieved by Rafael Fernández and then he would meet with Gustavo Gutiérrez and Jaime García and his wife…"
All of these people weren’t just neighbors and acquaintances of Don Polo in Nuevo Ideal, but the members of a gang of kidnappers.
October 4th, the kidnappers called to ask for more money; the family turned over 1.6 million pesos more. One of the kidnappers called Don Polo’s daughter-in-law to let her know that they had received the money. She asked when and where Leo would be set free. The man stated that he would call her back after he counted the money, then he let her speak momentarily with her husband.
Without any news regarding Leo, “On the 9th of October I went to the office of the district attorney. They directed me to Public Ministry agent Ezequiel Arreola González.
"I gave him all of the information I had regarding Leo’s kidnapping, including the names of those in charge of protecting us. When I went to sign my declaration I noticed that he had omitted that I place blame on the law for what happened to my son, my family and I. ‘Why do you want me to include that?’ he asked. ‘Because I know how you guys operate,” I said. ‘What?!’ he said. ‘[you guys] kill the person so the problem goes away,’ I answered him.”
October 11th, Don Polo turned to the SIEDO of the PGR where he filed another complaint.
November arrived without further news of his son. He did his own investigation, hiring people to help him. “That is how I found out that Jaime García was the one who hired and paid the lookouts. I found out who the alleged bosses were: Felipe Martínez, Basilio Mares and Eloy Carrasco or Barraza", he said.
He offered 100,000 pesos as a reward to anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of his son. Someone showed up and informed him: “Two hours before the kidnapping of my son, Eloy, Felipe and Basilio met with the kidnappers in the Tahoe [truck] on the outskirts of town, in front of a well known place known as El Arco de la Concha. After a half hour, he saw them leave. This past December that person went to the SIEDO to give his testimony.”
Another person gave their testimony to the SIEDO: "They kept me for five months before I managed to escape. The kidnappers kept us in [a cave] La Cueva del Pino, at a place in the sierra known as La Ulama, in the municipality of Nuevo Ideal.
"In the morning they show up early and give us our breakfast, then they take us to the mountains to work harvesting marijuana. They don’t let us speak to each other, much less gather in groups. There were 18 young men, four women, and one old man with me. The old man died in the cave.”
With trembling hands Don Polo pulled out a map and spread it out on the table where he pointed out the locations he had visited in search of his son: La Palma, 16 km from Nuevo Ideal, La Ulama 112 km away, and one other, Coneto de Comonfort which he never visited; they assassinated him before he could.
"This whole region is protected by the military, but they play the fool and never catch anyone. It’s clear that they protect the criminals,” he affirmed as he folded up his map.
NEITHER LOS PINOS NOR THE GOVERNOR
The 12th of December Don Polo met with an agent of the Public Ministry, Ezequiel Arreola:
"He made an appointment to meet me at the El Portón restaurant to talk about my case. Once there he tells me that the chief of the anti-kidnapping unit, Enrique Díaz, would be attending too. When he gets there, Díaz says: ‘Listen, Don Leopoldo, you already know who the wrong-doers are; look I have people who can take of them, it’s just a matter of you talking with them and agreeing on the price.’ Oh, really!, What a great deal you are offering me!! What….are they going to charge me by the dozen?’, I asked them. ‘Ah, cabrón!, how many of them are there?’, he said.
"I found out after that the anti-kidnapping police where picking up the people I had mentioned in my complaint: the first one they got was Jaime, then Manuel González and after Rafael Fernández. They told them that I had accused them, they even showed them the documents. They let them go right away.”
Proceso: How did you find out about that?
Don Polo: Because Manuel told my daughter-in-law. He told her: ‘So Don Polo is the one who is throwing the book at us.’ She asked him who had said that and he said the police.
"Do you understand what those scoundrels want? What they want is for me to get mine,” Don Polo told Proceso.
Proceso: They want them to kill you?
Don Polo: Yes, they want them to kill me. Once I am dead, everything is finished.
Kidnapping victims from other municipalities warned Don Polo: “Don’t investigate or cause a stir because the same thing is going to happen to you as happened to Manuel Pineda, who filed a complaint and was murdered.
“Because of this, many maintain silence. In Nuevo Ideal alone last year there were more than fifty kidnappings. The same situation exists in other municipalities.”
The night before he was murdered Don Polo spoke with his wife. He told her that he was very tired and couldn’t take it anymore: “This is no way to live. If they kill me, they will be doing me a favor.”