Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

Mexico drug war displaces families in Sinaloa highlands

Friday, June 1, 2012 |


In Mexico, at least 1,500 Sinaloa families in the Sierra Madre highlands have fled fighting between the Zetas gang and the Sinaloa drug cartel in the last month.

Violence between Mexico's Zetas gang and the Sinaloa cartel displaces families in Sinaloa state's highlands.
Members of the Hernandez family fled their home in the highlands of Sinaloa state after 10 relatives were slain in two days (Tracy Wilkinson / Los Angeles Times)

By Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times

CULIACAN, Mexico — For generations, the extended Hernandez family tended fields of marijuana high in Sinaloa's western Sierra Madre highlands.

They sold their crops to representatives of the Sinaloa cartel for a fraction of what the drug would bring at the U.S. border and eked out a pittance.

Barefoot children never went to school; they just helped their dads with the planting and harvest. Women washed clothes in the river. They burned pine sap for light at night because there was no electricity.

But a couple of weeks ago, the fighting that has raged as the Zeta paramilitary force tries to encroach on the Sinaloa cartel's turf reached the string of ranchitos where the Hernandezes and scores of other families farmed.

In a single day, the new bad guys in town killed five members of the Hernandez clan. A couple of days later, five more.

"We knew we had to run," said one of the women, Consuelo. "We barely had time to bury the dead."

The Hernandez clan of four adults and 15 children ages eight months to 17 years piled into a pickup truck and drove for days to hide here in Culiacan, the state capital. As they fled, they grabbed four frying pans and a branding iron and left behind crops, cows and chickens.

All are crowded now into a windowless and abandoned two-room concrete house on the southern edge of the city.

They are among at least 1,500 families, some with 10 or 15 members each, who have been displaced in the last month by fighting in the pot- and poppy-growing Sinaloa hinterlands alone.

Nationwide, according to a recent study, drug war violence drove at least 160,000 Mexicans from their homes in 2011, a displaced population that the government largely refuses to acknowledge.

The study by the Norwegian Refugee Council, which has observed conflicts all over the world, was released in April. It says Mexico in 2011 saw a 33% increase from 2010 in the number of "internally displaced" people.

The government of President Felipe Calderon has been slow to recognize the problem and adopt internationally recognized ways to deal with it, United Nations officials say.

Reluctantly, the state government of Sinaloa began counting its displaced in May. Gov. Mario LopezValdez traveled to the battle zone between the Sinaloa cartel and the Zetas, today a string of veritable ghost towns. He announced he would deploy more troops to "restore security," not exactly the cure sought by many of the hiding farmers. For them, more men with guns only seem to exacerbate the problem.

The governor reached the zone by helicopter; a group of reporters traveling to the event by land were intercepted and turned back by drug traffickers who control the roads with their own checkpoints.

In an interview, Sinaloa state prosecutor Marco Antonio Higuera sought to downplay the problem, saying people flee for many reasons. He also seemed to suggest that the displaced shared at least part of the blame for their plight because they coexisted and cooperated with traffickers for so many decades.

"The custom was not to denounce the presence of armed gangs," Higuera said. "They never imagined the monster would turn on them."

The entry of the Zetas to the drug-producing Sierra Madre highlands, part of a cataclysmic battle with the Sinaloa cartel to become the last gang standing, radically altered a long-sustained and tolerated way of life.

Consuelo and the rest of the Hernandezes have known nothing else. Families in the Sierra Madre worked together, intermarried, supported one another. There was no education or healthcare anywhere near. Only some of the older men can read and write. Children can't do math but know how to separate the seeds from the marijuana plants to boost their value.

In the last days of April, the Hernandez family heard of newly arrived gunmen who were terrorizing their neighbors. Then, one afternoon last month, someone brought Consuelo the burned chunks of a human body — a not-so-subtle message.

It was hard to imagine that a drug war that has raged in other parts of Mexico was finally arriving at their ranchitos, Consuelo thought.

"People told us we could not live there anymore," said the 35-year-old mother of seven, a compact woman with curly hair and short, thick arms who had her first baby at 14. "The evil people were taking over."

When 10 relatives were killed in two days, the Hernandez family knew it was time to flee. The women gathered up clothes still wet from the river, a fistful of kitchen utensils and the children, and piled into a pickup truck.

It took three days of precarious travel through uncertain countryside to reach this capital, about 200 miles away.

Wrenched from their livelihood, they now pass listless days in the abandoned house, without beds or chairs or a future.

They have no way to earn a living, nor is there a system in place that might give them donated food, or put the kids in school.

"What will we do here?" Consuelo asked. "How will we live?"



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31 Borderland Beat Comments:

Anonymous said...

That response from that idiota prosecutor is typical of Mexico officials....just a bunch of idotic morons that will never find a solution to end this cartel mess while the poverty stricken populace has to endure more hell.

Ther are two ways to end this hell. A citizen's revolution (with firearms) or the USA getting out of Afghanistan to kill off these terrorists....yes, terrorists..right next door to us.

The Mexican government should be ashamed of their corrupt selves to not do something else other than to continue to send the mexican military in.....it doesn't work you idiots!!!

Anonymous said...

These people had to work in these fields to survive, not justifying their actions. But in their region, very limited opportunities.

Least CDS could do was offer thier workers protection, the sierra madre y la gente Sierrena have always had the last straw. The do the dirty work and always end up getting killed by either military or contras.

It's a dirty biz....

I think the Z's and Beltrans maybe knew they weren't going to take over, but distrupting some of the plantation areas definately has got to have CDS pissed.

Anonymous said...

why doesnt the cds help them shit they are billionaires. help the people that make you money fuck goes to show all cartels are greedy!

Anonymous said...

it means they are slaves of chapo

Anonymous said...

.
This type of presentation and coverage is just what is needed to REALLY get the WORLD'S ATTENTION on the plight of the Mexican people. And this wonderful close-up fotograph of superb quality rich in color & details connects our humanity with that of the family seen in the foto, one that has LIFE, it radiates with the energetic atmosphere of a very very 'real' family. THANKS Borderland Beat writers and contributors.
.

Anonymous said...

Educate these people and give them opportunities to be productive citizens instead of Servants ot the narcos...

Anonymous said...

I am born in Sinaloa.and have family in Culiacan.

From what they say there are no Zetas in Sinaloa most of the commandoes are from the Beltran and Carillos so the whole Zetas being in Sinaloa its bullshit,they are only brought in when the plaza bosses want to show muscle.

Anonymous said...

MAY GOD BE WITH THESE FAMILIES WITH YOUNG CHILDREN. WE PRAY FOR FAMILIES DOWN IN MEXICO AND WE PRAY FOR THE PROTECTION AND STRUGGLES FAMILIES HAVE TO FACE. MAY GOD BE YOU ALL.

Ovemex said...

@3:01 pm Hey, thanks for the info, amigo! I've been trying to get more info and find out if Z's were in fact there, and if so, exactly what are they doing or how are they being used. So you're saying there is no actual real Z presence, they just "offer muscle/support" on a as needed basis??

Anonymous said...

There are zetas in Sinaloa, not many but they do work with some of the gavillas that are against the C.D.S my grandparents live in the sierra of Cosala and he was recently shot and asked to leave his ranch. He survived and pretty much said FU to them and returned to the ranch although the rest of the family had to leave to Culiacan. The ones doing most of the dirty work in the sierra are the people of ramon gallardo also known as "el gato" one bad mutha that even chapo can't get too- el cosala

Anonymous said...

I am in choix. They about the z being here but I do not see them or really think they are around here. Could be!

Anonymous said...

Another Story of how stupid the entire Mexican government and military truly is the zetas and sinola are fighting for a mountain in a city and the military cannot take over that Territory's how about some gun ship and night vision support to fight these cartels

Ovemex said...

@3:33pm y 4:38pm: Gracias compadres!

Thanks for sharing your valuable insight!Please, Keep it coming, or if you ever want or explain to me what's happening a little more, send me an email!

Otra vez, Gracias Compas!

Stay Safe-

Saludos y Paz

OVE

Anonymous said...

You gotta laugh reading the story. The idiot governor flying in by helicopter and meanwhile the roads are controlled by the cartels. Fucking worthless stooge. Too bad they didn't shoot down his chopper with him in it. The whole thing is so typical of the corruption and worthlessness of the entire Mexican society. It's fucking Somalia in Spanish.

Anonymous said...

You contradicted yourself.And yes Zetas are in Sinaloa like it or not!!!!

666 said...

The cartel thought process is like this, why help those people if they don't own land anymore therefore no more crops to buy from them. They're disposable one family of crop growers gone another ten take they're place. The cartels are all about money now back then they helped the people now it seems like we're all just sheep to be led to the slaughter when the different cartels want to leave another banner and make innocent people look like contras. Or when we get picked up for ransom. Were just sheep to them, the government and the cartels are the hearders. God watch over that family. And hope one day this ends.(i very much doubt that though)

Anonymous said...

There are no real zs in Sinaloa these cowards are hangovers from the Beltrans and Carillos who want public perception to think its zs infiltrating Sinaloa to cause panic in the foothills so that people will think twice about working w CDS. Lets be honest the z recruits who apparently come from other states couldnt put two legos together let alone go to Sinaloa find families in the sierras and target them appropriately. How many guns for hire isnt there in Culiacan, u round up some local scum tell them to target certain towns and its a done deal. If the zs are really in Sinaloa then lets see them take Culiacan or even try. Or better yet why dont they go into the golden triangle where you know people are packing in the CDS stronghold, because this shit wont happen.
This is a perfect case study of why Mexicans should have the right to pack. This topic should be at the forefront of the presidential election.

Anonymous said...

Nope, no zetas keep wishing.

Anonymous said...

Hey chapo you going to fork out some money and build a nice gated community for these families. They were doing the work that makes you all that money. They lost dads, sons, wives, homes, everything. Where are you now mister sinaloa? Yeah right.

Anonymous said...

I sincerely doubt any out of state zetas could infiltrate golden triangle, their accent would give. Them away, only zetas from sinaloa or durango could infiltrate culiacan,and i never heard of any zetas from chihuahua,so it has to be beltran carrillo factions!

Anonymous said...

The Mexican govt doesn't recognize the problem? Hell, el chapo himself, hero to the peasants, salt of the earth sinaloense doesn't recognize them either. He doesn't take care of "his people", he just uses them and throws them away like every other greedy, murderous gangbanger.

Anonymous said...

Where on the internet could a page be set up for such accounts of tragedy to Mexican familes be posted along with Donation Buttons so that these victims re at least guaranteed enough money for food, comida? It's one thing to read about these poor families and to share sympathetic words here but the families you did a great mini report on are in need of provisions. Could such Donation Buttons be added to Borderland Beat's web page interface? And to get the money off TO these people is the other necessary factor involved in my proposition.

sensiblero

Anonymous said...

sensiblero
June 2, 2012 11:07 AM
I CAN DIG IT sensiblero.YOU A GOOD MAN.
BREAKS YOUR HEART TO SEE THE LITTLE KIDS JUST GETTIN ON WITH LIFE,NOT KNOWING ABOUT THE HORRORS GOIN ON.
sensiblero HAS MADE A GOOD POINT,ANY MONEYS AT ALL WOULD HELP THESE KIDS.I WOULD HELP WITH MONEYS AND IM THE HATED GRINGO.ITS ABOUT THOSE KIDS AND FAMILIES.

Anonymous said...

Lol @ zeta recruits couldn't put 2 legos together.

Anonymous said...

That's a great idea, but it would be a logistical nightmare to set up. I wonder if we all wrote letters to the red cross or some other already established organization if there would be a way to ensure the cash went to the families. The system is so corrupt, anyone with a dollar down there becomes a target. Hmm...still good idea.

Anonymous said...

to:

- > June 2, 2012 2:35 PM

and to:

- > June 2, 2012 4:07 PM

I truly appreciate your responses and feedback, your presence, and participation.

I may write a letter to the Red Cross after doing a general online search regarding the subject matter, el asunto.

This has been my hang out lately so, I'll be back, maybe with some news on possibilities of sending something to help the needy 'victims' caught in the middle of an idiotic war. Chau amigos

sensiblero

666 said...

We have family of there and they say there is some military presence but they're the ones telling these people where thefamily's are

Anonymous said...

sensiblero .
SEE WHAT YOU CAN FIND OUT BROTHER,IT WOULD BE GREAT IF WE COULD PRESS A BUTTON,AND MONEYS TAKEN FROM OUR ACCOUNTS AROUND THE WORLD,TO HELP"THE PEOPLE WHO NEED IT"BUT WE KNOW IT IS NOT AS SIMPLE AS THAT.Breaks my fuckin heart to see these kids,kids anywhere on our rich,developed and so caring planet.ANYWAY,sensiblero,GREAT IDEA MAN,REALLY.

Anonymous said...

Dude Fuk the Zetas but everyone knows the zetas are in Mazatlan & all of North Sinaloa with the Beltran Leyvas. They been trying to get into Culiacan but fail most of the time.

Anonymous said...

El Gato, you think Chapo or Mayo tolerate him? I have read for years that he had kidnapped, stole loads and killed. But he was always backed by AFO. Might be strategic on BLZ tag team to be utilizing their muscle. Makes a lot of sense, those guys are from la Sierra so they know their land just as well as CDS people. That's some interesting stuff. And shows you have some insight.
Saludos

Anonymous said...

Zetas, Beltran or Chapo. this are all scums and should be terminated like bugs, but Felipe Calderon and the entire police department are to stupid to go after them. this is an easy fix, let the US arm forces step in. this will have all the scums running around

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