Friday, July 8, 2011

Deserted Villages Left to Become Ghost Towns

Story by Michel Marizco
Fronteras, NPR

A sparse crowd gathers for a festival in the Mexican town of Tubutama. Many residents have been driven away by that country's drug war. Photo by Michel Marizco


In northern Mexico’s smallest towns, cartel violence has led to a diaspora as people flee to larger cities. Along the U.S.-Mexico border, villages in the Mexican states of Sonora, Chihuahua and Tamaulipas are emptying out, leaving lawless ghost towns.

In some of those towns in Sonora, residents say the government can no longer protect them.

The long ribbon of highway outside of town stretches for miles. Desert scrub grows out onto the cheaply paved road in the mountains of Northern Sonora. Locals warn don’t go too far up into the hills. Even the Sinaloa Cartel stays out. So does the Mexican Army. They circle them instead.

In the hills, their target is a narco-trafficker who has successfully fought both the Army and the cartels off for the past year. He goes by the name “El Gilo”. Mexican federal law enforcement sources identify him as Arnoldo del Cid Buelna; he’s a holdover of the Beltrán Leyva cartel and has been in the mountains south of Arizona for years.

In 2010, the Sinaloa Cartel, the most powerful cartel in the Western Hemisphere, moved against him, trying to roust him from the hills. He ambushed their convoy. Officially, he murdered 21 cartel gunmen. Unofficially, local reporters say there were so many dead that police used bread trucks to haul the bodies down. Since then, both the government and the cartel stay at a respectful distance.

The largest of the towns in these hills is Tubutama. A 300 year old mission town. Father Anastasio Franco Gómez gives the Mass on this day.

“The last census counted 1,750 people; right now, I doubt there are 500 left,” Gomez said in Spanish.

The town’s last local cop was shot dead in mid June. The police station, closed down. Companies stopped delivering goods to the local stores. School teachers have left; businesses locked up.

Empty roads, empty houses sit in the middle of town, their windows shattered out. Maria Luisa Galvach has been the mission’s keeper for 18 years.

“There are no medics. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing,” Galvach said. “The health clinic that served the region is closed down.”

Travel further into the hills and closer to the U.S. border in Arizona. The last Army checkpoint is miles behind now. Pull into the pueblo of Cerro Prieto. This is Gilo’s territory. The town is nearly deserted.

Leonardo, 11, is helping his dad work on a house. He grew up in Phoenix where they lived illegally before returning to Mexico. He hoses the sweat off on this hot day and goes to stand shyly behind his father. “They come with guns here. Like … people. Scary,” he said, quietly.

Like the other towns here, there is no gas station or large grocery store. For those, one must drive down into the cities. But people have been killed by the cartel for trying to bring fuel or food back up. The assumption is it will go to Gilo. The Mexican Army? It stands back and watches.

It leaves Leonardo’s father angry, frustrated. “They don’t allow us to bring provisions, fresh vegetables, nor gasoline,” he said in Spanish.

The boy Leonardo has clear instructions for when the gunmen come. “Just go to … like inside the house and stay there,” the boy said.

And then, Gilo comes.

“Who are you looking for? Gilo? I’m Gilo,” the man says as he approaches.

He’s a large man; huge. Blonde hair clipped short, wearing a black button-down and strings of bright yellow and orange plastic beads. He’s driving a beat-up maroon pickup truck with five men inside. Six men sit in the bed, staring like cats. Their hands grasp the rails of the truck as if they’re ready to leap out. His eyes are blue and he’s angry. At the government, he says.

“The government brought in mercenaries,” Gilo said in Spanish. “They’re arming a war.” He’s prepared, he says.

Back down the lawless road into the main town, the few children left are warming up for San Pablo Day: A historic festival that’s always drawn a crowd from both sides of the border. The crowd is supposed to spill out from the mission and onto the church square for the celebration.

This year, it barely filled the pews.

15 comments:

  1. Good story. Liked the insight on El Gilo, I wonder what is going on up there. Didn't Sinaloa try to roust them one more time? Anyway, how much longer can they go on? Passing small shipments thru, how does the money get back? Are they still working with Beltran Leyva;s, what does that even mean these days?

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  2. Sinaloa doesnt even let them take food and gas in? That's dumb like all those people are gonna give all their food to him!

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    1. No, he wanted to drive the people out to make it his town. Hehas a lot of men with him, a lot of cold blooded men that dont even know what they are doing. I just heard today that it looks like he has been killed along with a couple more men of his. I dont wish death on anyone, but i do hope he is gone and this stupid nuissance drugwar will soon be over

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  3. I'd like more info. on El Gilo. He must have a bunch more men besides those men in the maroon pick up truck if the military doesn't mess with him. And like so much else having to do with this drug war fiasco-what a waste of a nice old town.

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  4. Much respect Michel Marizco. Good stuff.

    T_R_C

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  5. YES, this is Calderon's 'war'....

    'Like the other towns here, there is no gas station or large grocery store. For those, one must drive down into the cities. But people have been killed by the cartel for trying to bring fuel or food back up. The assumption is it will go to Gilo. THE MEXICAN ARMY? IT STANDS BACK AND WATCHES.'

    In these 2 sentences describing the ..uh..'fighting', the writer shows exactly why Mexico's population has such ever growing contempt for the Calderon government and it's increasingly obvious and seen, US government handlers.

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  6. Was wondering about this guy...I too read that the sinaloa cartel made another run at these guys and fared a lot better. Guess not. Pretty ballsy move to go up in there to get a report. Nobody seems to be off limits for these guys.

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  7. That is Marizco's territory (Arizona and south), and he has never minded going into Mexico to get a real story. He is the author of the Border Reporter site. Back when it was very active, there was a lot of good information coming through, not the todays standard "send the marines to Mexico to do away with the cartels DEA, military BS. Good info and feedback about cartels!

    TRC

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  8. I just found this from another blog I suppose like most Americans I knew the situation in Mexico was bad, but nothing like this. I wonder how long they’ll keep things together.

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  9. Remember reading about the first gilo/sinaloa massacre over on borderreporter when it happened. I actually had read in a few place that this Gilo guy was killed in a Sinaloan second assault. Couldn't ever get any good info on that though. Would think if people really wanted to take Gilo out they could. It's not like they don't know where he is.

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  10. People should had left these towns a long time ago if you ask me.

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  11. Many are quick to bash Calderon, so can we agree Mexico has had a growing crime problem for the last 30 years,we see what Calderon has tried,WHAT IS YOUR SOLUTION??

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  12. US customers of the cartels couldn't care less how many children, women and men on both sides of the border are slaughtered as long as they can get high. Too bad they cannot be charged with accessory to murder. Perhaps there will be karmic retribution on them and their spawn for the cataclysm they cause.

    P.S. Curse the governments of the border countries that stand back and watch and curse the scum that elects them.

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  13. WHAT IS YOUR SOLUTION??

    legalize plants Sherlock boom problem ends ala ending the first idiotic prohibition (alcohol).


    Anonymous imbecile said... (well actually I made some corrections in fact and logic please follow)

    US *customers of the cartels*-- actually it's the drug warriors and neo-prohibitionists couldn't care less how many children, women and men on both sides of the border are slaughtered as long as they can get high on their fat federal paycheck/pension for hindering free trade and skimming confiscated drugs/money. Too bad they cannot be charged with accessory to murder. Perhaps there will be karmic retribution on them and their spawn for the cataclysm they cause.

    P.S. Curse the governments of the border countries that *back and watch* No, they cause this whole fiasco with their evil and stupid neo-prohibitionist policies abandoned 80 years ago, and curse the scum that elects them.

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  14. It's true about Tubutama, it's a ghost town nowadays? I went up there with my fiance not long ago and it's deserted compared to several years back? Took some pictures, but when your cruising around those hills your head is on a swivel and you avoid contact with any vehicles with more than one guy in them? Sometimes we would see trucks with openly armed men riding in the back, looking like they were just itching for action? I used to wonder why the Mexican soldiers at the checkpoints on the roads pointed their cocked weapons at you before they actually stopped you? Now I know why cause the guys who are in the 'business' so to speak, shoot first and will not hesitate to kill anyone who interferes in their business including any law enforcement or military personnel! It's a very sad situation, there are a lot of good honest people who live around those parts and are unfortunately caught in the middle of the drug war? I don't think legalizing drugs at this point in the US would make much difference cause the 'legal' drugs would still come from the same places as the illegal ones thus you would still have the same organized elements involved, all fighting each other to supply the legalized drugs? It would still be a money game, just less money to go around which wouldn't be a good thing?

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