Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

Mexican drug war's innocent victims: 'They tried to kill me with my kids'

Monday, August 13, 2012 |

Borderland Beat

Claims that 90% of Mexican drug war victims are criminals is a statistic far removed from Cristina Roman's experience in a country where police and military have fallen into corruption.

Daniel Hernandez
The Guardian


Cristina Roman is a member of Mexicans In Exile, a network of activists and ordinary working-class citizens, who arrived in the US seeking asylum. Photograph: Daniel Hernandez.

Missing persons poster in MexicoMissing persons posters in Juarez. Photograph: Daniel Hernandez

Cristina Roman didn't know where to begin. When asked how the epic violence and criminal impunity in her native Ciudad Juarez invaded her own life, she paused, then asked: "How far should I go back?"

She decided to begin from May 2010. It was then at the height of the bloodletting there in Mexico's deadliest city when, one night at 4am, she, her husband and three sons awoke to a terrible pounding at their front door. "My husband went to see who they were. Then he said: 'Go hide with the kids. They have guns,'" she recalled.

"By the time I had my baby in my arms, the gunmen were already in the house."

Roman, 28, is a member of Mexicanos En Exilio – or "Mexicans In Exile" – a network of Mexican activists, journalists, politicos and ordinary working-class families like hers, who arrived in the United States seeking asylum from criminal assassins in Mexico.

These are innocent victims of the Mexican drug war. In the words of their immigration lawyer, Carlos Spector, an immigration lawyer in El Paso, Texas, where most of these exiles end up, they "risked their lives for truth and justice in Mexico" and were "forced to leave because of the Mexican government's failure or unwillingness to protect them".

Cristina's case is different, however. She didn't protest against corruption or document violence, but fell victim for a rather banal reason: being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The incident that put her in a drug cartel's crosshairs was a mass shooting she escaped as one of few surviving witnesses. From a small home in New Mexico, where she now lives in hiding, Cristina reflected on that event, but noted it wasn't her first brush with violence in Juarez. That's how she began describing the night three gunmen broke through her front door.

Personal accounts like hers, while isolated, provide shocking glimpses of the trauma and tragedy that exist for people living amidst Mexico's brutal drug war. These stories also reveal a state of lawlessness that experts say is unlikely to stop any time soon.
As gunman entered her home, Cristina told her sons, aged eight and six, to stay calm.

The men soon called for her to come out. She did, and was immediately grabbed and thrown to the floor. The men then pistol-whipped her husband, who collapsed next to her. "They asked for money, jewelry, car keys, everything they wanted," she recalled. "I said: 'I don't know what you're looking for, but you can take whatever you want. I only want my children.'"

One man – "El Vato" – hovered over her saying he would execute them all. Another gunman then said: "What are you doing? We came for him. Don't get out of control."
He said: "Go to your kids' room, close the door, and no matter what you hear, don't leave, don't speak." Cristina did as told. And for the next half hour heard them beating her husband. He groaned and wept through the assault as she huddled with their sons in silence.

After 30 minutes, when the noise finally ceased, Cristina came out to the awful realization that her husband had been kidnapped. Two hours later, her brother-in-law received a phone call with ransom instructions.

Cristina's husband owned a small used-car dealership, and over the next two days, she and her brother-in-law hustled to sell his lot, liquidate assets, raise funds, withdraw savings. "We did everything we could to get all the money together and paid half the ransom the first day, the other half the second day," she said, her voice quivering. "The third day they were supposed to return him and they didn't. The fourth day they threw his dead body in the street."

Mexican president Felipe Calderon often claims that 90% of the drug war victims are criminals. That vague sentencing of 60,000 people naturally enrages victims' families.
Nik Steinberg, a Mexico researcher for Human Rights Watch, also disputes its validity. "The government has not produced empirical evidence to back up this claim," he said. "Instead what we have found in the overwhelming majority of killings in Mexico is that the government has not even opened a criminal investigation, let alone charged or sentenced someone."

The men who killed Cristina's husband were never brought to justice. There is no way to know whether they worked for the Zetas or Sinoloa cartels, which are active in Juarez Valley. That is a strong possibility, however. According to Ben West, an analyst for geopolitical intelligence firm Stratfor, the cartels have increasingly diversified their criminal activity to include extortion, kidnapping and human trafficking, in response to losses incurred in the drug trade.

Ironically, this means that Mexican civilians are becoming victims of their government's success.

West added: "You have criminal groups taking advantage of the overall security situation and basically pulling people at gunpoint and saying give me your money. With the police all caught up in this, there is no rule of law."

Cristina took a job at a Juarez nightclub after her husband's murder. She went from stay-at-home mother to single breadwinner for three overnight, and moved in with her parents so they could help.

And for almost a year, they managed. Then the cartel violence found her again.
On 31 March, 2011, at about 8.30pm, a group of federal police officers entered the bar telling everyone to line up against the wall. Searching for weapons, they padded men between the legs, looked up women's skirts, emptied handbags and checked bathroom stalls. That level of scrutiny was unprecedented, Cristina said. At one point an officer even began groping a colleague of hers. She intervened, saying: "Hey – we respect you and your work, you should respect us. You can't treat us like that." The man backed off, but not before delivering an ominous message. "You haven't seen anything yet," he said. "The worst is yet to come."

And truly, it was.

A few minutes after the police left, two men entered the bar carrying automatic weapons. A man near entrance lunged for the doorway and they shot him. "That was the first person to go down," Cristina recalled. "I dropped to the floor. Everyone was screaming with fear."

With ruthless abandon, the assassins opened fire in every direction, killing all they could, shooting everyone in sight. "I could see people around me in pain, some people dead," Cristina recalled. At some point the men lit the bar on fire. A waitress next to Cristina ran as soon as they left, saying: "I'd rather be shot to death than burn."
"When it sounded like all the shooting had stopped, and you could smell the place was starting to burn, I had to go too," Cristina said. She ran outside, where several cars were on fire.

She ran to the parking lot and suddenly froze when four pairs of headlights turned on. They were four federal police trucks. They had never left. "The only thing I thought at that moment was: Sin Madre," she said – a phrase that literally means "motherless" but is also slang for "goddammit."

Feliz Viaje sign entering Mexico
A sign wishing travellers a good trip, between Ciudad Juarez and the United States. Photograph: Daniel Hernandez
  

Incredibly, municipal police pulled up just then. They jumped from their cars, hurling curses at their rivals. "They turned their attention to them," Cristina said, referring to the federal police, who refused to let the responding officers through. "That's the only reason I got away."

Despite serious efforts to purge corruption from their ranks, reports of Mexican law enforcement engaged in criminal activity are rampant. "What mostly happens is police officers work by day for the city, then as a side job also do security for the cartels," said West, of Strator. "And that obviously creates all sorts of conflicts of interest."
"All levels of police are implicated," he added. "But what is probably most alarming is that the military is also falling into corruption. The government is running out of tools to fight this problem."

Cristina showed great poise escaping the El Castillo bar massacre; she fell into a daze, however, immediately afterward. "I was just wandering," she said, "lost, till 4am when I finally got back to the house."

The following day, three survivors gave statements to police about the event. Too intimidated, Cristina refused. She had no plans to talk, but that wouldn't make a difference, unfortunately. About a week later, a friend from the bar – another survivor – called Cristina to warn her that "sicarios" – assassins – were asking for them at nightclubs downtown.

Cristina had no intention of going to work at a nightclub again. "I just couldn't," she said. Nevertheless, they found her one afternoon driving on a highway. They drove a Dodge Ram, and tried to bully her toward the shoulder. They wore masks, her son said, and tried to run her off the road but somehow she pulled away.

"I'm still not sure how I managed to keep control of the car," she said. "They tried to kill me with my kids."

She stayed up that night thinking about what to do. "It had gotten to the point where I was very scared, always worried that people were looking for me," she said. "I was terrified for my children."

"I talked to my oldest son Raul about the possibility of coming to the US," she recalled. "I thought about it all night, and then on the 13 April I took my boys and what I could pack and went to the bridge."

According to the department of homeland security, 4,400 Mexican nationals have applied for US asylum in 2012. That number already exceeds the 4,000 requests filed in 2011, and is more than three times the 1,200 made in 2005, before the drug war began.
These people represent a fraction of the displaced, of course. And only a fraction of them will see their requests granted. Over the past six years, only 11% of asylum cases from Mexican nationals were granted. And that average is trending downward. As Crystal Massey, an activist in Spector's office, explained: "Unless you can show that you belong to a particular social group that is not the whole country right now, you don't qualify for asylum."

Cristina's first hearing is this fall. With federal police implicated in the massacre she witnessed, she hopes a immigration judge will find her government complicit in her persecution.

Her mother, sister, brother-in-law and nephews will go through asylum hearings too. They followed Cristina across the border after their own tragic run in with "sicarios". Gunman showed up at their door recently demanding to know Cristina's US address. Her father refused to reveal it, and for his loyalty he was taken with the promise that the rest of the family was next.

Her father was never seen again and is assumed killed. When asked for her full name and age – "Cristina Roman Dozal, 28" – Cristina offered his name too: "Manuel Roman."

And it's deaths like his, and her husband's, and the ruthless killings of innocents at the El Castillo bar that cause Cristina to grow upset when confronted by the claim that 90% of Mexican drug war victims are criminals.

"In their crossfire they're getting innocent people. In the bar where I worked, maybe they were going after one bad person, but they killed innocent people too. And then there is more bloodshed when they pursue the witnesses," she said, her voice quivering. "They go for a person, kill their mother, kill their brother. They kill lots of innocent people. They killed my father. It just keeps spreading out and it's mostly innocent people."

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35 Borderland Beat Comments:

Anonymous said...

This was the work of el chaputo's humble n nice cartel cleaning. They would wipe out anyone that they suspected of being against them. Well now they are being wiped out in Chihuas and sinaloa. La Linea is taking back the plazas of east and south chihuas.I cant wait til the U.S does him like bin laden. I guess he's ran out of shit to snitch about.

Anonymous said...

Makes me want to go to Mexico and find a nice lady that has children and marry her just to make her a US citizen so she can escape that hell...

Anonymous said...

....>"VENGENCE IS MINE SAITH THE LORD"...

....Someday soon, all corrupt, evil, goat-people, satans ambassadors, will get theirs, sooner than later, i hope and pray for that...

Anonymous said...

This is Chapo's doing.....its his fucking greed for more power and more money and more territory. the Gulf Cartel turned on the LosZetas and joined the Sinaloa Cartel....and look at the mess they caused on the innocents.

Anonymous said...

Good luck going to mexico youll be lucky if youre able to come back with the nice lady or you alone so many sad storys well remember this incident was back in 2010 in my opinion I say it was la linea or juarez i kno its the same people but to say chapo I wonder why extort to kidnapping during a war only juarez knowing they were losing the battle so you extort to other means of revenue

Anonymous said...

This story is upsetting....damn these cartels, just leave the innocents out of all this, what the fuck is wrong with you guys?..

Anonymous said...

Why the fuck would you put her full name and address? Please tell me those are false facts about her. Even a picture? Come on, that's telling these guys how she looks like and where to find her. You might as well put the Google map while your at it.

Anonymous said...

The CIA is behind the drug war in Mexico.

Anonymous said...

"... the cartels have increasingly diversified their criminal activity to include extortion, kidnapping and human trafficking, in response to losses incurred in the drug trade."

That keeps being repeated...has there been a documented and steep increase year over year in seized drugs and precursor chemicals causing bigger losses to the DTOs, or are they diversifying because 1) they can and 2) with the impunity going on, it's an opportunistic free for all at this point?

Anonymous said...

This has nothing to do with chapos people..its la linea..chapos people make a living running dope,not extorting or kidnapping.I go to Juarez every now and then,and the CDs don't bother anyone except rival cartels..

Anonymous said...

"One man – "El Vato" – hovered over her saying he would execute them all. Another gunman then said: "What are you doing? We came for him. Don't get out of control.""

Cocaine - Because I want to be a complete idiot with no control.

Anonymous said...

You are lying my friend chapo uses the federal police as his own sicarios and security to bring in gente nueva from southern chihuahua. Please do not say that u know chapos ppl dont kidnap unless ur one Of them u would never know. La linea is with judicial police,federal police are always fighting with them. Calderon brought them and the troops in to fight with la linea. After jl kept raising taxes juarez cartel did kill people. They killed anyone owing money or caught doing business with chapos ppl. If anyone knows willie moya they know what i mean.

Anonymous said...

100% true

Anonymous said...

When these thugs are captured. People need to respond to their families in much the same way. Do on to others. Seems these thugs fear nothing in Mexico. Mexican Politicians make a large percentage of their income from these thugs and their illegal activities. Wake up.

Anonymous said...

I dont think we need her nephews and cousins here.
I also think half of this is made up.

Anonymous said...

At least Cancun is still safe :) !!

With the security situation in Mexico slowly degrading, I really do not see how the country has a way out of this war any time soon.

People worry about Syria, but no one, especially Americans seem to care what happens to Mexico.
Ironic considering that the US and Mexico share a border, and yet people bury their heads in the sand thinking the conflict in Mexico is between the government and criminals, when in fact it is more like a civil war.

Anonymous said...

Re revealing location details - Firstly this was written originally for the Guardian news paper in the UK, whilst we all know the narco's monitor blogs such as this one they don't tend to monitor UK papers and both the sinaloa and zeta's only have relatively small operations in europe at present.
So there is an assumption that it is safe to publish such details here, maybe that needs more thought now.
I completely agree with the sentiments of the article on the large number of innocents getting caught up and targeted in la violencia, My friends in one of the major cities tell me its happening all the time and that reported incidents make up just a small percentage of whats really happening there.

Anonymous said...

Most likely juarez linea or loz aztecas

Anonymous said...

Bunch of fucking pussies. Oh, let's make sure no one is armed before we go in there and shoot them up because heaven forbid they might shoot back. That's exactly why the US has the 2nd amendment. Try to car jack someone in Florida and you'll get your fucking head blown off, bunch of worthless cheerleaders.

Anonymous said...

Yet Mexico and it's fucking bureaucracy still so fucking afraid of a revolt by their good citizens that do not arm them.. they rather kill them then arm them. Living in the US with a couple of very legal, very leathal weapons, u come to my house with guns and unannounced I will protect my family, no and I am not Rambo or any shit like that, I just know how to use my guns very well in case I ever need it... Legalize guns in Mexico

Anonymous said...

no, you have to go to mexico and talk to the people. They know who the cartel members are. They are drug traffickers. These random acts of violence is done by bandits. Just poor people tryng to make easy money. They claim to be With the Letter but their not. And when the real people of the letter catch them they beat the shit out of them and make them to hard work. Theres narco traffickers out there and then theres bandits

Anonymous said...

http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/02/opinion/garcia-illegal-immigrants/index.html

Anonymous said...

Alright its time for the people to turn on all the law enforcement cuz its obvious there not gona help any fuck them time to kill them little by little n take there guns n weapons n when the bastard cartels try to come out take them out to cuz its time to fight back n defend ur selfs cuz the government aint gona do it the U.S aint gona help n god is bizzy helping others. so go down fighting or crawl into a corner n wait for death cuz either way its coming .
NOTORIOUS M.E.X

Anonymous said...

"One major challenge for Mexico's police when fighting drug violence is corruption - drug gangs infiltrate the very agencies that are supposed to be fighting crime."

The drug profits give them the money to do this and will continue until they take away their money supply when drugs are made legal.

Anonymous said...

Any fact checks on this storey?
I really doubt it.
More scam stories to get american citizenship.
Her husband probaly dumped her and she was sick of working as a bclass hooker in a juarez whore house.
Use your brain BB retards.

Anonymous said...

"West added: "You have criminal groups taking advantage of the overall security situation and basically pulling people at gunpoint and saying give me your money BE MY SANTA CLAUS or I'll kill you!" Tyrants who have no sense of responsibility, no shame, nothing. How upsetting it is to see such dirt get away with every crime in the book against their own neighbors.

Where do those animals come from? HELL ¿right?!

Anonymous said...

I really agree this is such BS: she lost me on the "sicarios failing to bully her off the road in a car." If they were looking for her, then they found her, she would be dead. Don't believe this one at all, including the 4-car police-guided nightclub fairytale: come-on!

Anonymous said...

Son los putos de sinaloa todos los sabemos, llegaron a matar no les importo q fueran ninos solo para calentar la plaza y asustar ala gente. Vinieron solo a desmadran la paz en todo mexico. Que maten al puto del chapo por vieja y culo

Chivis said...

10:35...well, I thought I was the only one feeling the snow.

Either she is the luckiest or unluckiest person on the planet. either way this has too many huge holes. Perhaps her husband was killed but from that point on......

As for asylum, that is to be given to people where in their country there are no safe places for them to reside in, Mexico has many places without violence but people like this would rather be in the US. I personally know dozens of people with tragic run-ins with narcos, kidnappings and persummed killings, one friend had both is teen aged sons taken, only one returned. He literally left overnight and told no one where he and his family went. That is what people need to do, if this woman gets asylum then all the others deserve it. Most people do what is necessary to survive and be safe...Paz, Chivis

Anonymous said...

This was not la linea, in 2010 the federal police were killing people just becauae they had tattoos even the military made news a lot of times for just taking random people on the streets to ask about la linea and most of them were killed. la gente nueba are the ones that started extorting to heat up the plaza but la linea took ove because they were not gonna let another cartel take money they could be getting themselves.

Anonymous said...

To the person who said, "Makes me want to go to Mexico and find a nice lady that has children and marry her just to make her a US citizen so she can escape that hell..." If we had more beautiful people like you in this world, it would be a better place. Thank you for your sentiments.

Anonymous said...

Why in the world would this lady go to work at the brothel/cantina after she knew they were coming to get her. There has to be other jobs for crying out loud.

Anonymous said...

"There has to be other jobs for crying out loud"
Er,no there isn't,why do you think a lot of this is goin on?Yes,im sure she could get a job doin a million other things,she just likes workin at the shittiest jobs goin?

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone. I'm the reporter who wrote this story - @danielgene - Thanks for reading.

Regarding the woman's picture and biographical detail, I consulted her and her attorney on how much to share. They said her name and state were fine. The cartels already know what she looks like, and she already went on the record anyway with pictures for a story in the El Paso Times. There was a press conference after she crossed to raise awareness on this issue. People like her are bravely speaking out. But we can only hope US law enforcement and asylum judges keep them here, and keep them safe.

http://www.elpasotimes.com/news/ci_19983041

Anonymous said...

Every other country in the world has tight immigration laws and they say Aussie jobs for Aussies, Mexican jobs for Mexicans, Kiwi jobs for Kiwis, etc. But let an American complain about any immigrant taking any American job and all you hear are complains about those nasty Americans and their...elitism, prejudice, racism, racial profiling, exploitation of foreigners and on and on and on.

Everybody wants something for nothing. Sorry about your country but we can't fix everybody's life.

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