'EXPROPIA' EL NARCO CASAS DE CAMPO EN NL
Monterrey (March 21, 2011) .- The wave of insecurity that plagues the state of Nuevo León has brought with it drug traffickers that expropriate and occupy rural estates and country cottages. According to testimonies collected from several victimized property owners and Mexican Army reports, cases continue to grow where members of organized crime have expropriated rural properties for use as safe houses to hide weapons, drugs and kidnapping victims, and as staging areas for their movements.
A realtor interviewed by Reforma said that in municipalities like Santiago, Allende and Montemorelos the insecurity has resulted in an extensive abandonment of such properties. The sales of these properties have plummeted by 80 percent, which has resulted in a drastic devaluation, with properties worth 2 million pesos remaining unsold at a price of 400 thousand peso, according to the agent.
"The owners will say 'No, I didn’t return because once we got there we saw men inside', or 'No, my kids are too scared' or 'The narcos have been through here and they stole two trucks while we were inside'."
Even as the traditionally important family vacation period of Holy Week approaches, caretakers doubt if any owners will make their annual family trek to their rural getaways during Easter.
"They asked me to drain the pools, and it’s the same with my friends who work in other estates," said Don Pepe, a caretaker at a country cottage in the Santiago area. "It’s really dead here, you don’t see anyone on the roads.”
Previously, Don Pepe serviced several farms and estates in the area, but all that work is gone. In the past 200 trips per month for groundskeeping was not uncommon for Don Pepe but now even 20 visits in a month is a rarity.
"Another owner said, ‘Man, just let the yards dry up, nothing will happen to them’. They expect things to cool down at some point but that’s not happening, who knows when it will?” Don Pepe explained.
The caretaker explained that higher up the road are two late-model luxury pickups that have been abandoned for days. “Man, no way am I getting close to them. Who knows whats inside?”, he says with a nervous smile.
Another caretaker in the community of Cieneguilla comments that an owner has not been to his farm in over a year. "The worst thing is that they haven’t shown up and I haven’t been paid. I’m here because someone has to feed the dogs."
On a tour of Santiago and Allende, the site of ongoing clashes between rival cartels and against police and military units, most properties in the rural areas are visibly vacant, many of them with ‘for sale’ signs. The owners of country homes in these areas say that while the Army patrols have helped the presence of criminals continues.
An owner whose property is currently occupied by criminals in northern Nuevo Leon said that drug traffickers will leave the property when soldiers arrive, but as soon as they leave the criminals reoccupy the estate.
A woman named Esther spoke of her sister Lidia’s experience. Lidia, her husband and her family had driven to their country residence only to find it in possesssion of gunmen. Their worst fear had become a reality.
"If you return we will kill you” said a gunman as his colleagues pointed their weapons at Lydia and her husband. They did not return. Esther says her sister and her family are devasted over the dispossession of their land.
Their property, like others in the villages between Cadereyta and Allende are increasingly being expropriated by criminals. Other areas such as those located behind the Presa La Boca and the junction to San Mateo, where continued fighting and assaults are taking place, are suffering the same fate.
The same thing has happened to other friends of theirs, who left their homes and businesses in the wake of expropriations, kidnappings, robberies and murders.
Esther has not returned to her property either. It is a modest residence built by her father and surrounded by orange trees. Esther and her husband finished paying off the estate through belt tightening and hard work and named it the "home of the grandparents", a resting place where they saw children and grandchildren grow until what she calls "the nightmare" began.
"We don’t even go anymore," she said saddly. "How?, If we know the criminals will reach you in their pickups and take away your car or kidnap you. Hopefully one day we can return and our home will not be occupied.”
Like them, there are hundreds or perhaps thousands of cases in the rural areas of Nuevo León. People like Esther who, seeing how the violent tide rose, stopped going to their farms and estates that have passed from generation to generation or were built with great effort ... only to be inhabited by criminals.
This is occurring mostly in Allende, Montemorelos, Linares, Cadereyta, Juarez and Santiago. In the particularly beautiful mountainous rural setting of the municipality of Santiago, where the popular “Cola de Caballo” or Horsetail waterfalls are located, you now rarely see anybody except gardeners and caretakers in the large estates in the communities of Los Canelos, La Boca, La Tinaja and San Francisco.
It is not difficult, however, to identify the “halcones”, or informers for the criminal gangs, who park on the roads for hours in their taxis and other vehicles. Their mission is to alert criminal cells of the presence of military convoys or of what local residents complain are the now extremely rare State or Municipal public security patrols.
This Easter will be very different to many owners of these country estates who long to enjoy the pool, barbecues and family gatherings. For others, it will simply be another year that they will not enjoy your property.
A resident of Santiago acknowledges that he, out of fear, will not visit his country cottage this Easter holiday. "On my property nothing has happened, but soldiers raided my neighbor’s property, supposedly looking for criminals" he says.
"Another neighbor had narcos invade his property, they broke the lock and stayed there for days,” the resident added, "Then they left, but the problem is also that when soldiers come and discover narcos there with drugs or killing someone, you are accused as an accomplice just for being the owner and you have to prove your innocence. Its better not go."
The resident ends the conversation by saying that although authorities deny it, the insecurity is stronger than ever, and the dispossession of properties, kidnappings and thefts continue.
These images are from a previous Borderland Beat posting on August 2010
This is what the owners of Nuevo Leon’s rural estates are up against when cartel cells expropriate their lands. In this case a cell of suspected La Familia Michoacana members who had occupied an estate were discovered and detained by the Mexican Army at La Boca in the municipality of Santiago during a dragnet following the assassination of its Mayor, Edelmiro Cavazos Leal.
This cell was apparently not connected to the Mayor’s murder but was suspected of involvement in other kidnappings.